Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Attack of the Giant Leeches

(1959, 77 min.)

Starring Ken Clark, Yvette Vickers, Jan Shepard, Michael Emmet, Tyler McVey, Bruno VeSota, Gene Roth, Dan White, George Cisar.

Written by Leo Gordon.

Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski.

Despite being a diehard urbanite, I’m a sucker for swamp movies. (Heh. ‘Leeches.’ ‘Sucker.’ Sometimes I want to smack myself with a wet mop.) It’s probably partially because swamps are one of the few remaining links to our primeval past in which man has less power than he does (or thinks he does) in this hyper-developed world, and subsequently interesting from both a literal and symbolic viewpoint. It’s also probably because the first swamp movie I ever saw was this one. Yep, time to haul another bucket out of the old nostalgia well.

I first saw this torrid ‘monsters in the backwoods’ affair many years ago on Creature Double Feature while visiting my grandparents in Massachusetts, along with The Leech Woman. Both films had an impact, not because I found them particularly boo-scary, but because they were the first films I’d seen that involved characters who represented human beings at some of their lowest points. In Woman, aside from the general air of cruelty that prevails, I was quite affected by moments like the quicksand murder and especially the scene in which the title character condemns her (admittedly scumbag) husband to death so she can use his essence to make herself young for the first time. The venomous viciousness with which she orders his murder – right in front of him no less – made me queasy.

With Attack I think the bit that most disturbed me was the sequence in which Big Dave (Ve Sota) finds his wife Liz (the luscious Vickers) fooling around with his supposed friend Cal (Emmet). He chases them through the swamp with his gun, forces them to wade into the water, and then, having gotten them good and scared, tells them to get out, only to watch them get pulled down into the water by the title creatures. There were several aspects of this sequence that got to me. One, the overall sleaziness of it. Two, the way Cal, who up until this point has been “playing it cool” suddenly dissolves under stress into a sniveling mess, even stooping so low as to start getting all nasty with Liz, as if he’s trying to ally himself with the man he’s just cuckolded. Three, their pathetic pleas for mercy when he first orders them into the water, which then turn into more desperate supplications as the creatures pull them down, a look of horror on Dave’s face as he watches the impossible unfold before his eyes. And finally, as if the whole scenario weren’t cheery enough as it were, Dave ending up hanging himself in his jail cell for what he did.

But the disturbing piece de resistance remains the way the leeches keep their victims alive in their cave the better to suck their blood whenever they get peckish. While nowadays this makes me want to make a joke about the leeches gathering around an Yvette-shaped water cooler discussing the previous Sunday’s episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, back then I found that mighty creepy. (Truth be told, it does still creep me out a bit.)

So, yeah, Attack of the Giant Leeches is a nasty little piece of work at its heart, and actually all the more effective for it, though that, of course, is a matter of taste. And while the monster costumes are pretty goofy, and our hero, Clark, maintains such a consistent tone no matter what the tenor of the scene he should receive some special award for Performance Most Seemingly Influenced by Mood Stabilizers, the damp, bayou atmosphere is consistent and effective, and the script, by actor Leo Gordon (The Haunted Palace, The Intruder), is better than ever could have been expected.

So all in all, not a bad way to kill an hour and change, provided you can handle the unpleasantness, and fans of scream starlets will want to visit it at least once (and likely hit the rewind button) for the scene where Yvette lotions up her legs alone.

Go back to Plate O' Shrimp

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