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Attack of the Giant Leeches
Tonight's Feature Presentation

ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (1959)

Starring: Ken Clark, Yvette Vickers, Jan Shepherd, Michael Emmett, Tyler McVey, Bruno VeSota

Written By: Leo Gordon Directed By: Bernard L. Kowalski

The Short Version

Read the title; you know what to expect.

The leech costumes are pretty awful even for their day.

Some of the character material is actually pretty edgy for its day.

Really, it’s all about Yvette Vickers.

Though heavily flawed, Attack of the Giant Leeches is worth it for the established genre fan.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

RICOTTA.

In a word: unripened.


Pairs Well With...

MOONSHINE.

It’s all anyone drinks in this movie, and there’s a joke about Moonshine and the leech costumes waiting to happen.

“Aw, go soak your fat head.”


For fans of that subgenre of low budget horror defined by the naming convention of “Attack of the (Giant/Killer)(Monster Name Here),” Attack of the Giant Leeches (also just called The Giant Leeches) has established itself as something of a sentimental favorite.  I’m not going to go that far – even providing all allowances for the fact that you know it’s a “bad” movie going in, it’s still mediocre at best – but, despite the fact that the overall movie is flawed, it has certain moments that do command attention.  The fact that Yvette Vickers is on the screen for all of them surely must be a coincidence.

Our story begins out in the swamp.  I’ll admit that I spent almost the entire movie thinking that the swamp was in Louisiana, but eventually you’ll get confirmation that it’s in Florida.  (This becomes important later.  Oh, and if you listen, you’ll hear those famous Floridian monkeys making noise.)  Anyway, good ole boy Lem Sawyer (George Cisar) is out on his boat in the middle of the night when he spots something near the surface of the water.  Since this is how any sane person reacts when he sees a large animal that isn’t making any move to bother him, he gits out his shotgun an’ he shewts dat dang- er, he gets out his shotgun and he shoots the thing.  He gets five slugs off before the water starts to bubble and the creature sinks out of sight.

The next day, Lem is at the local saloon/general store chugging moonshine with his buddies, and he tells them what he saw.  Amazingly, he is able to describe the creature in far more detail than any member of the audience would be thus far:

“It was sorta different looking.  Had arms on it like a man.  Like one of them octopuses and things!”

We also find out that he shot at it not just because he’s a redneck and that’s what rednecks do, but because he’s a poacher, and that’s what poachers do.  (It’ll take about a half an hour or so before it’s made clear to the audience that this swamp is also a nature preserve.)  His drinking buddies don’t believe him, of course, so Lem decides to go back out into the swamp to shoot another and bring back the body this time.

No points for guessing how that is going to turn out.

What you’re not going to expect, though, is the fact that a lot of this movie is going to have very little to do with giant leeches.  Indeed, the most memorable stuff here is going to involve a subplot surrounding the personal lives of secondary players.  Sure, the leeches will show up there eventually, but that’s not what you’ll remember.

Let’s go back to the saloon/general store, which also doubles as its owner’s house.  That owner is Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota).  There’s no getting around this description: Dave is fat.  We’re talking waist twice the size of inseam fat.  While he’s trying to chat with drunks in the store, he’s distracted by the loud music coming out of the bedroom.  He asks his wife to turn it down; his wife ignores him, much to the fun-poking delight of the store patrons.

His wife is Liz (Yvette Vickers), or, as he continually calls her, ‘Liz Baby’ or ‘Liz Honey’.  Again forgoing politeness, she is not the lady you’d expect to be married to Dave.  She is fit, she is stacked, and, to borrow a phrase the origins of which I can’t remember at the moment, she has legs that go all the way from her ass to the floor.  She also appears to have Dave completely, totally, one hundred percent whipped, and is something of a bitch about it.

Her introduction is one of the three scenes you’re going to remember after the movie is over.

The setup is simple enough.  Dave goes into the bedroom and asks Liz again to turn the music down.  Pacing the room in a silk robe that barely goes down far enough to cover her butt, she ignores him, and then sits down, stretches her bare legs, and under the full attention of the camera, puts some lotion on them.  To modern audiences, this may not seem like a big deal, but back in 1959, this was steamy stuff.  This was the equivalent to a gratuitous shower scene, at a time when the first toilet wouldn’t be shown onscreen for another year and most couples were depicted as sleeping in different bedrooms.  Even to 21st Century eyes, Yvette Vickers sure does sex this up for all it’s worth.

Yeah, that beats the giant leeches.  But hold that thought; we’ll get back to them later.  We’ve still got Liz to follow, and she’s still got some more moralistic conventions of the 1950s to break.

Nowadays, the idea of Liz cheating on her husband would seem par for the course, but in the 1950s, adultery is still a massive taboo.  Nevertheless, that’s what she’s up to with young muscle man Cal (Michael Emmett).  This entire line is something to follow, not only for its novelty to its era, but also for how effectively it’s directed, and how genuinely tense it gets as this progress.

Dave’s just left the store to make a delivery.  Cal chats him up outside, confirms that he’ll be gone a while, and walks into the store as soon as Dave is clear.  Liz is slinking around near the bedroom door and asks, “You want something, Cal?”  He replies, “Oh, I sure do.”  The intent is just dripping from the screen.

Soon after, they’re in a clearing in the swamp, lying in each other’s arms.  Yeah, they’re dressed, but there can simply be no mistaking that they’ve been naughty.  Just the implication that they’re engaged in adultery is scandalous enough; to actually catch them at it onscreen takes it to an edgy new level.  Liz even ups the ante further be telling Cal that Dave is her second husband, not because she’s widowed, but because she divorced the first one.    The “D” word?  Some people might have been having fits.  She follows that up by suggesting that it might not be too late for her to start over with a new man – this one, of course, being Cal – yet again.

“You’re wrong, woman.  It’s too late for the both of you.”

That would be Dave, with his shotgun.

Things get genuinely tense at this point, and what follows is both surprisingly well directed and well acted.  Both Liz and Cal, of course, fall apart when caught in the act, and both scared, as is only proper when staring down a redneck with a shotgun.  Cal dares to act like a victim, of course, and blames Liz for everything, even daring to yell at her for disobeying her husband.  Dave, meanwhile, doesn’t want to hear it.  He just wants them to run.  “Run ‘til you drop!”

The following chase feels very much like what one would experience in a slasher film a generation later.  The chase does drag probably about thirty seconds or so longer than it should, but the guy we first thought of as fat, harmless Dave is bringing some genuine menace to things, so the tension stays up.  This being a swamp, and thus not the ideal environment for running, especially after already (cough) tiring oneself out beforehand, Liz and Cal exhaust quickly, and are backed up against the waterline.  By now, Cal is a blubbering mess, though he still has the gall to call the woman he’s been cheating with a tramp.  Dave, who’s been steadily herding them with blast of his shotgun, now directs them into the water.

Intellectually, you know that the leeches should now be coming after either Dave or the couple in the water, but because of the tension of the chase at hand, you actually aren’t thinking of that first and foremost.  It started off being an interesting sequence for the novelty of its scandalousness, but by the end, it’s genuinely interesting.  It’s almost anticlimactic when the leeches come for Liz and Cal with no shots fired.

The third memorable scene shows you what happens to them.

The giant leeches don’t kill their prey all at once.  Rather, they exsanguinate their victims just enough to make them tired, and then leave them on a rock shelf inside of an air chamber of an underwater cave to snack on later.  The first view that the audience gets of this chamber is genuinely creepy, and really, the only moment in this entire movie that lives up to the label of “horror.”

Sounds good so far, right?

If you’re already a fan of this genre, then the three sequences I’ve described above absolutely make Attack of the Giant Leeches worth seeing from a quality standpoint.

Beyond that, this is strictly Bad Movie Night material, only good for making fun of.  If it’s not covered above, it’s really bad.

The most vexing part about what’s bad is the direction.  The above scenes are all well directed, but the rest of Attack of the Giant Leeches is so bland, point-and-shoot, and just plain dull that it’s hard to believe that the same guy was responsible for all of it.  (Then again, it’s a Corman production; maybe the same guy wasn’t.)  Overall, this movie is really slow, and actually induces quite a few yawns.  Pacing?  What’s that?  Certainly nothing that Attack of the Giant Leeches has ever heard of.

It also doesn’t help that the lead cast is completely upstaged by secondary players who basically amount to nothing but leech bait in the final analysis.  Our actual hero is supposed to be Game Warden Steve Benton (Ken Clark), and there’s just no polite way to say it: he’s boring as hell.  The character is badly written to begin with, and Clark’s acting is slightly less exciting than folding laundry.  His girlfriend (whom one can easily be forgiven for thinking of as his wife for the first half of the movie) is no better; indeed, she has the additional handicap of being written so that she changes her mind every other scene.

Not that the writing is helping anyone or anything here.  The script waits until the final two minutes to suggest how giant leeches came to the swamp; it would have been better off leaving things to the imagination.  Fallout caused by the use of “atomic powered” rockets being fired off at Cape Canaveral?  What?  Wouldn’t it have been easier to just dump some barrels?  And what’s with the dynamite being able to force only dead people out of the underground cave and up to the surface?

And moving on to the worst thing of all, what’s up with the leech costumes?  These have seriously got to be some of the worst monster outfits in bad movie history.  Apparently, they’re made of old raincoat material; really, they look like body bags that have been decorated by schoolchildren.  Any time you see one of these things close up, it’s an automatic facepalm.  When they’re obstructed, they at least have the advantage of being under poor lighting in grainy black and white.  But up close?  They’re just embarrassing.

As is, unfortunately, almost everything else about this movie.  It’s a shame, because there’s some real potential here for something good.  Play with the script, develop the primary characters just as well as the secondary, recast the hero, get some decent costumes… something could have happened here.  Alas, though, save for three very specific sequences, it just wasn’t to be.

Bottom line, Attack of the Giant Leeches may have a few good things going for it that will attract the attention of some genre fans, but really, it’s just Bad Movie Night material.  Yvette Vickers adds some steam, but otherwise, consider this one fodder for some bad movie drinking games.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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