Sunday, April 12, 2009

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Any good history book will tell you that that for millennia, going back even so far as ancient Greek and Roman times, leeches were once used for medical purposes in a process known as “bloodletting” which involved putting leeches on a sick patient’s skin in order to suck the diseased blood out of them. For more than a century, however, this ignorant viewpoint has largely been dispelled and leeches are now put to more proper and useful purposes, namely dumping salt on them and watching them melt. And, if you’re Roger Corman, they make a damn fine (and relatively inexpensive) movie monster!

Attack of the Giant Leeches (aka “The Giant Leeches” aka “Attack of the Blood Leeches” aka “Demons of the Swamp” aka “Swamp Hickey from Hell”) tells the saga (in just over an hour) of one town’s battle with the forces of darkness in the form of giant, mutant leeches. After the credits roll, the movie opens up with what at first appears to be a rather depressing episode of “Hee Haw,” complete with hicks, overalls, a general store, and lots of “corn licker.” We are soon introduced to Dave Walker (played by Bruno VeSota looking like a cross between Hoss of “Bonanza” fame and William Conrad of “First Alert” fame) who is married to young, hot, and white-trashy “Liz” (played by Yvette Vickers). [Note: You might think that the prime “suspension of disbelief” necessary for this film comes from the acceptance of the giant mutant leeches, but that is far outweighed by the disbelief that the young and hot Yvette Vickers would be in holy wedlock to this man without the cultural impetus of arranged marriages.] Despite Walker’s intense love (lust?) for his wife, it’s soon learned that Liz has long since tired of cold, doughy sex with her husband and has recently been filling in the gaps of her sex life by engaging in extra-curricular activities with another man (played by Michael Emmet who also played the shrimp-infested victim in “Night of the Blood Beast”). When Dave discovers this, he becomes insanely jealous and chases the two adulterers into the local swamp with a shotgun only to lead them into the mutated-arms of a couple of oversized, blood-sucking, leeches! The leeches pull the doomed lovers under the surface of the swamp and take them to their underwater cave where they proceed to feed off of their blood. Walker tries to convince a few of the townsfolk of the horror that he’s just witnessed but they, of course, laugh it off and instead lock him up for murder. Then, in the supreme head-scratching moment of the film, he proceeds to hang himself not out of guilt, but out of fear of the leeches (Here’s a better idea: just stay out of the swamp you big, dumb bastard!). When some of the residents hear of Dave’s death, instead of concluding that he was either guilty of murder or crazier than a dog-shit casserole, they start wondering if the monsters might be real after all.
Enter Game Warden Steve Benton (played by Peter Graves doppelganger, Ken Clark) whose specialties include knowledge of wildlife, warding locals off from using dynamite to catch fish, telling the local law enforcement to go soak their fat heads, and being covered in more chest hair than your average yeti. Initially Benton is under the impression that Dave simply murdered his wife and her lover, but when a couple of other people go missing, and after some further investigation, he comes to a shocking conclusion. It turns out that every 50s horror film’s good friend, radioactive sludge, has been up to its old tricks again by allowing itself to be dumped into the local swamp and this has caused the resident leech population (but nothing else for some reason) to mutate into enormous, bloodthirsty monsters! Not only this but they have also grown fairly intelligent (as demonstrated by their newly developed human-harvesting abilities), sprouted arm-like appendages, and begun to emit a sound not unlike an outboard motor slogging through tapioca pudding. Now it’s up to Benton and the rest of the town to rid themselves of the slimy monsters before they are all sucked to death!

Here are a few points worth noting (Warning: Spoilers are for suckers!):
  • This is a heavy contender for the award for cheapest movie monster ever. The giant leeches are clearly people inside large black trash bags which have had a few items glued onto them (including anus-like blood sucking appendages) to turn them into the unconvincing leech-monsters. But you gotta hand it to Corman who was truly a master of milking a budget but still turning a profit!
  • One of the movie’s taglines, “Massive Blood Sucking Monsters!” sounds a lot like one of my former bosses.
  • This film was directed by Bernard L. Kowalski who also directed “Night of the Blood Beast” which came out the previous year. And that’s not the only thing these films share: Both were also produced by Roger Corman, shared some of the same actors, and even used the same musical score! On top of that, both films have been used for episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K).
  • Here’s a little known fact: leeches, like earthworms, are hermaphrodites. This means you can tell a leech to go fuck itself and it can!
  • Although this movie is in the public domain and can be readily obtained at, there are a number of “for sale” editions that I highly recommend. The first is the aforementioned MST3K version (part of their “volume six” set) which is supremely hilarious. The other is the “drive-in” disc from Elite Entertainment which allows you to view the film as if you were at the drive-in, complete with trailers, concession stand ads, and cartoon shorts. The “surround sound” version of the DVD even recreates the drive-in experience by putting the film’s audio only in the front left speaker while the other speakers have the sounds of cars driving by, crickets chirping and annoying people talking. Ultra groovy!
Although this movie breaks the goof-o-meter at just about every point possible, it does provide some fairly good entertainment for a midnight movie or a “scary” family movie night (though perhaps not for very young children). Despite its extremely low budget and ridiculous plot, it actually provides a few decent chilling scenes, mainly when showing the blood drained victims being helplessly sucked dry (though kept just barely alive) or the shots of dead bodies floating to the surface of the swamp. And considering it’s only 62 minutes in length, you can watch it and not feel that you’ve sucked too much of your day away.

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