20 May 2011

THE LEECH WOMAN/1960

THE LEECH WOMAN

1960/Director: Edward Dein/Writers: David Duncan, Ben Pivar

Cast: Coleen Gray, Grant Williams, Phillip Terry, Gloria Talbott, John Van Dreelen, Estelle Hemsley

The Leech woman is often given credit for being one of the better budget horror movies from the 50's and 60's and it frankly deserves it. It is well acted and the cast is led by two of the most beautiful faces from the time, Coleen Gray (Nightmare Alley, the Vampire) and Gloria Talbott (I Married a Monster from Outer Space). The story is not terrible by any stretch and the photography is above average except for some cheezy stock footage in the jungle sequences, but that is to be forgiven since most films from the period used stack footage. The story, while technically a horror or science fiction film, has no freaky rubber suit monsters or radioactive bugs menacing small town communities. What it has instead is a woman who finds herself getting older and less attractive while trapped in a loveless marriage desperately wants her life to change. The title of the film seems to suggest there will be some sort of mutation between a human woman and a leech but in fact what is sucked out of her victims (men, who all deserve it) is their life force.

June Talbot (Coleen Gray) is a once beautiful woman who is struggling with her fading beauty and rocky marriage to scientist husband Dr. Paul Talbot (Philip Terry). She shows up to his office and interrupts his experiments into reversing the effects of aging and they are soon at each other's throats and she is seeking solace in the bottle again. In the waiting room is the ancient aborigine woman Malla (Estelle Hemsley) in very effective makeup by Bud Westmore (The Creature from the black Lagoon) and she advises June that she can have youth and revenge all the same time June is shaken up and runs away. But the old woman seems to hold some secret to rejuvenation that pricks up the ears of Dr. Talbot and he persuades June to accompany him and a guide to the darkest jungles of Africa to uncover the secrets Malla possesses. June is hesitant since she earlier had begun divorce proceedings with the help of handsome, ex-college quarter type lawyer Neil Foster (Grant Williams) but she seems drawn to Paul's new promises of love and commitment to the marriage, when in fact all he wants is a guinea pig. Well, as it turns out Paul gets what is coming to him once June catches on to what he is really up. After a ritual where the older Malla is transformed into the hot jungle girl Malla (Kim Hamilton) she partakes of the elixir and turns ravishing and sacrifices Paul to seal the deal and makes off into the jungle with guide Bertram Garvey (John Van Dreelen). They barely escape stock footage animals and soon are wooing each other in the jungle paragraph. June soon realizes the ancient concoction only lasts temporarily and she needs some more life force to exhume after she not only ages once again but is even older and more shriveled than ever. Garvey is either a cowardly ass or typical man who abandons June when he gets a peek at her new shriveled looks but this is just fine now since it gives June a new source of life and she drains him dry first then pushes his face down in the always conveniently located pool of quicksand and makes it back to the states posing as June's lovely niece Terry. She meets Neil and his fiancee Sally at the airport and explains June is delayed but will be arriving shortly.

Even though Neil is engaged his feelings for the sultry and flirtatious Terry are obvious and rises the ire of Sally who lets Terry know Neil is her man and he is off limits. But Terry is not wasting her luscious young new body and attraction and Neil is not strong enough to resist her. To keep herself young and alive she allows herself to get picked up by a lounge lizard type and drains him at a local lovers point, but leaves her name card with the body therefore attracting the police. In the final confrontation she simply cannot drain Neil since she genuinely loves him but has no problem doing in Sally, who came over packing a .38 to settle their girl problems. Seems though the potion can only work with men though and Terry/June has a reaction and shrivels up completely and leaps out the window after seeing herself in the mirror.

Like I said, not a bad B-movie from 1960 at all. Sure the characters are cardboard board cutouts but the acting is above average and the fact that the central character is a woman is something unique as well. Of course all movies from this time had women but they were typically screamers who were always getting caught or cornered by a monster and needed the manly hero to rescue her over and over. The theme is similar to Roger Corman's The Wasp Woman with Susan Cabot where a fading woman goes to any length to preserve her beauty but over all I think The leech Woman is less cheezy, but is campy enough of course to make this a fun and highly recommended treat.


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