Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
To me, as far as b-films go it doesn’t get much better than Roger Corman’s notorious Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959). I remember watching this film via the wonders of UHF broadcasting and rabbit-eared television, as a kid, and being totally mesmerized. Leeches was special because 1) I knew I was getting away with something by checking out Yvette Vicker’s gams and other features, and 2) the film scared the shit out of me. I think more than anything it was the sound that the leeches made that left an impact on my psyche. It was a wobbly gurgly noise with intersperses of a large feline cry:
Some monsters just have a definitive sound. The killer plants from The Day of the Triffids (1962), the giant ants from THEM! (1954), the Rhedosaurus from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Gojira (1954) and the title blood-suckers from Attack of the Giant Leeches all have effective and creepy sounds. The sound of a lightsaber is probably more recognizable than the actual device.
Remember the flying apes from “The Wizard of Oz? I think the sounds scared me more than the visuals. The same goes for this Roger Corman gem.
However, in Leeches, we get the kitchen sink including one amazing set of lobby cards, smut, sex, exploitation, monsters, hillbillies with shotguns, hillbillies in dugout canoes, hillbillies taking a swig of shine from a jug, a subaqueous cave, blood-letting, dead people, floating dead people, and explosions.
On this one Corman closed the deal and delivered the goods. At the center of the story is the incredibly sexy Yvette Vickers…
This is the first time I have watched Leeches since Vicker’s unfortunate and gruesome passing in 2010 (the press handled this disrespectively and in poor taste). The woman was talented and was at her sleezy best as the lecherous Liz “Baby” Walker in Leeches. Her symetrical 36-24-36 Playboy Bunny attributes wrapped up in a 5’3″ 105 pound frame certainly helped solidify an unfortunate stereotype. I think she could have easily played comedy as well as Jayne Mansfield (maybe) and was certainly more reliable than Marilyn Monroe. I wonder what Billy Wilder would’ve done with her cast as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Some Like it Hot (1959)? Vickers got leeches and Monroe got fame.
Leeches has a perfect cast. Ken Clark is good as the game warden Steve Benton. He reminds me a bit of Peter Graves and I wish he had made more monster flicks. After this film he made several TV appearances and a few Italian sword-and-sandal flicks. Gene Roth (Sheriff Kovis) made a zillion of these movies. He’s immediately recognizable to western and monster b-movie film fans from roles ranging from Have Gun – Will Travel (1957-1960), opposite Richard Boone as Paladin, to Earth vs. The Spider (1958) to Captain Video (1951) and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). He was a veteran of over 250 film and TV appearances.
I also like greaseball heavy Bruno VeSota (Dementia, 1955) as Liz’s porky husband Dave. I still wonder why that guy was with Liz, but that’s the whole point —you just know Liz Baby is gonna screw around on Dave and the big bad leeches are gonna levy some serious whoopass down on the lovers. Corman gives us exploitation, but there is morality here at work.
Leeches follows a standard drive-in theater process flow:
Show monster > redneck dies > show slutty girl > slutty girl cheats on husband > monster kills lovers > sheriff or specialist tries to figure out deaths > monster kills more rednecks > community gets involved > more monsters appear > the hero kills the monster…
What sets Leeches apart from the run of the mill is of course the title creepies, which look and sound like nothing ever fabricated in the holy canon of b-movie horror films. They don’t look like segmented annelid worms —leeches, but are more akin in appearance to cephalopod molluscs with tentacles and suckers. I always thought the giant leeches looked a bit like garbage bags. The attack scenes in the water cave are truly horrific —even by todays standards. These claustrophobic moments, with blood-drained victims crying in agony remind me alot of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
Check out this image…
The bodies lofting out of the cave and ascending through the water column also give me the creeps. These are effective horror sequences.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the story. I think Leeches was sharply written and it holds your interest. The casting certainly helps and I’m not convinced that Corman didn’t get behind the camera. The writer was Leo Gordon, better known as a reliable cowboy heavy in countless TV shows and movies. How he dreamt up this tale of giant leeches terrorizing hillbillies and fornicators is anyones guess. The film just works.
Seductive Yvette Vickers showing off
B-Movie Heavy and “Leeches Writer” Leo Gordon