Friday, December 5, 2008

Attack of the Giant Leeches (AIP, 1959)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I had come home from the library movie and run a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 presentation of something called Attack of the Giant Leeches, a 1959 drive-in co-feature from the bowels of American International — indeed, the same unit at the studio that had given us Night of the Blood Beast the year before: Roger Corman as executive producer, his brother Gene Corman as line producer and Bernard Kowalski (and this time the MST3K crew did make the obvious Tennessee Williams jokes around his name) as director. Night of the Blood Beast — despite a rather disgusting title that made the movie sound considerably gorier than it turned out to be — actually had an intriguing concept that faltered in the execution, while Attack of the Giant Leeches was just plain bad and didn’t even have the potentially saving grace of an even remotely credible monster.

To create the giant leeches (of which there were only two, played by Guy Buccola and Ross Sturlin), the Cormans and Kowalski just took the usual American International monster suits, dyed them black and put on giant funnel-like mouths that supposedly sucked the blood out of the bodies of their victims. As usual, these things were much more funny than scary, and if Attack of the Giant Leeches has any appeal at all it’s in the rather oddly Tennessee Williams-esque backstory (so having a director named “Kowalski” helm it was actually somewhat appropriate!). It’s set in the Florida swamp country and features Yvette Vickers in a surprisingly good performance as Liz Walker, blonde bimbo out of Carroll Baker’s Williams-scripted Baby Doll role (though at least she forebears from sucking her thumb) who’s chillingly child-like and, though married to tub-o’-lard Dave (Bruno VeSota), starts an affair with the far hunkier (and slimmer) Lem Sawyer (George Cisar) — only Dave catches them in flagrante delicto (or as close to it as the Production Code would still allow in 1959), grabs his shotgun and drives them at gunpoint into the swamp, whereupon the giant leeches duly make their appearance and eat them both.

Once Vickers’ role is over (about midway through this film’s seemingly interminable 62-minute running time), so is most of the interest in this film; the good guys (Ken Clark as federal ranger Steve Benton and Jan Shepard as his girlfriend, Nan Greyson) are dull as usual, there’s the usual stupid pseudo-scientific explanation of where the monsters come from (ordinary swamp leeches artificially enlarged by radioactive debris from the rocket launches at Cape Canaveral — yeah, right) and a final sequence in which the monsters are presumably vanquished, though the movie ends so abruptly it’s hard to tell and it’s a mystery whether the filmmakers were trying to keep it daringly open-ended (are there more giant leeches in that swamp?), setting up a potential sequel or — my guess — just being sloppy. The MST3K crew filled out the meager running time of this one with the opening episode from the 1936 Republic serial Undersea Kingdom, and it was pretty obvious they were having a lot more fun mocking that than they were with the feature film — especially when their “tag” clip came from the serial (the scene in which the typically obnoxious pre-pubescent movie kid played by Lee Van Atta has climbed to the top of a building and opened its skylight just so he can watch the star, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, wrestle some of his college buddies) and not the feature!