What a ridiculous movie. I loved just about every shitty minute of it.
Released in 1959, Attack of the Giant Leeches comes to viewers from the Roger Corman stable. He didn’t direct, but he was the executive producer. The movie was helmed by Bernard L. Kowalski from a screenplay by Leo Gordon (who had a prolific career as a television actor).
The movie takes place somewhere in the Florida Everglades. Rotund general store owner Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota) has a problem. His wife, Liz (Yvette Vickers) is young and attractive and he is neither. She has a killer set of gams and a disdain for her husband. All he wants to do is make her happy but he’s no idiot. He knows that he married a vixen.
While Dave is away Liz’s wandering eyes turn to Cal Moulton (Michael Emmet), one of Dave’s closest friends. Cal and Liz head off into the wetlands for a little private time, but Dave follows them, intending to put a little scare into them with a shotgun.
So far, to this point, astute viewers will have noticed that half an hour of running time has passed and there hasn’t been a giant leech to be seen anywhere. This feature has a very short running time of 62 minutes, but Kowalski and company treat setup and character development like they have a full hour and a half. It ends up taking over half the film for the leeches to show up. The good news is that when they do, they’re such an absolute howler that they turn a floundering b-flick into something special.
Back in the swamp, Dave has forced Liz and Cal to beg for their lives, when, all of a sudden, a pair of human-sized creatures appear out of the water and drag the adulterous couple down into the depths. We have our leeches!
The creatures in the film are great. They’re not regular animals processed into shots, stop motion models, or even puppets. Rather, the leeches are costumed actors. It looks like they’re wearing garbage bags with bits of foam rubber attached to them. They’re kind of like demented and oil-slicked nightmare versions of Patrick Star. Unlike monsters in other films featured this month, they don’t dispatch their victims immediately. Rather, they take them to a cave, the entrance hidden under the waters of the wetlands, and feed on their victims at leisure. That means that Liz and Cal, despite being attacked, are very much alive.
Back in the daylight, Dave is accused of killing Liz and Cal in a jealous rage and disposing of their bodies in the swamp. Doubts begin to surface that Dave was responsible, pushed most vigorously by Doc Grayson (Tyler McVey), who works hard to convince game warden, and the film’s resident hunk, Steve Benton (Ken Clark) that something is amiss out in the glades that has nothing to do with marital strife. Of course, we viewers know the leeches are out there. Eventually the cast comes around and a swift final act takes care of the baddies.
There is a lot of promise in this shitty movie. It has a clichéd and melodramatic setup with Dave and Liz. The dialogue these two have to spit out is simplistic in the extreme, part of a total package of kitsch that only pays lip service to realism. The lack of talent all around in the dialogue-heavy sequences can be a drag on a viewer’s attention, but remember that there are giant leeches just over the horizon.
What’s unfortunate is that these absurd creatures are underutilized. That’s not a complaint that can be made with most monster movies. It’s pretty well understood in monster films that holding back the threat creates tension, and low budgets make it that much easier to not overindulge the effects. But in this film, the leeches are on screen for no more than a couple minutes, total. There’s a lot of missed opportunities, here. Most noticeably, down in the leeches’ lair.
It’s a watery cave, with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere. When the leeches appear after hunting for new victims and get down to feeding, we get some genuine horror. At this point, the movie cries out for sequences of the leeches pursuing victims through the caves or other some such b-flick nonsense. But this flick didn’t seem to have the resources to even provide filler, much less extended action. Possibility is all we get.
Still, as an example of cinematic ineptness, Attack of the Giant Leeches is tip top. It’s not as good as Alien: Resurrection, but there are moments of sublime stupidity that scratch the shitty movie itch quite well.