The Giant Leeches/Attack of the Giant Leeches/Attack of the Blood Leeches/Demons of the Swamp (1959) -**½
So what’s trashier than a late-50’s AIP monster movie directed by Roger Corman? How about a late-50’s AIP monster movie produced by Roger Corman? And what’s even trashier than that? Easy— a late-50’s AIP monster movie produced by Corman’s little brother, Gene! It sounds like a joke, but we crap movie savants know that just such things exist, and The Giant Leeches is a fine example of the species. Chances are it didn’t suck quite as much before 40-odd years worth of scratches, frame-skips, and general picture degradation had their way with it, but then again you never know. It could very well be that the movie always looked this bad.
You know what they say about movies that show the monster in the very first scene. Lem Sawyer (George Cisar, from The Werewolf and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula), a swamp-hick poacher living somewhere in the Deep South, is poling his boat around in the marshes one night, checking on his illegal otter traps, when he encounters something much more dangerous than an otter and much stranger than the alligators that are usually the worst thing he has to worry about. The creature is about the size of a man, with a large, sucker-like mouth and two mindless, invertebrate eyes. Its slimy, slate-gray body is limbless apart from a pair of thick, squid-like tentacles, and it has rows of hand-sized suction disks running down the center of its back and belly. No matter what the movie’s title may have to say on the subject, the monster doesn’t look a goddamned thing like a leech, giant or otherwise. Be that as it may, Lem wastes no time assessing whether the thing is friendly; he fires five rounds from his rifle into it, and then flees as fast as his pole-driven boat will carry him.
Needless to say, nobody much believes Lem when he recounts the story to his fellow poachers over at the general stored owned by Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota, of The Wasp Woman and A Bucket of Blood) the next evening. They all think Sawyer was drunk (he was) and that his “monster” was nothing but an especially nasty case of the DTs (they’ll soon learn otherwise). But let’s put all that aside for a moment, and follow the filmmakers’ attention into the next room where Walker and his much younger, much prettier, and totally obnoxious and untrustworthy wife, Liz (Yvette Vickers, from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The Dead Don't Die), are having a no-holds-barred, Texas rules, no-paycheck-for-the-loser, steel-cage marital spat. Essentially, they’re fighting over how Liz treats Dave like the no-balls pantywaist mama’s boy that he is, and how she doesn’t give two shits who’s watching while she’s at it. Liz ends the argument by cold-shouldering her way out the door with a “maybe I’ll be back and maybe I won’t.”
Meanwhile, State Wildlife Commissioner Steve Benton (Ken Clark, of 12 to the Moon and Hercules the Invincible) and his girlfriend, Nan Greyson (Jan Shepard), are out in the swamp on a search-and-destroy mission against the trap lines of poachers like Lem Sawyer. Suddenly, they hear a woman scream, and rush off to provide whatever assistance they can. The screamer is none other than Liz Walker. As for why she’s screaming, she just happens to have found Lem Sawyer’s dead body, smeared with mud from the bog bottom and blood from an odd-looking wound on his neck. Looks like Lem’s swamp monster had a couple of buddies, huh?
Being a representative of order, authority, and all that kind of crap, Benton heads straight to Sheriff Covis (Gene Roth, from The Zombies of Mora Tau and Earth vs. the Spider) to get the word out. Sawyer obviously wasn’t killed by any man, and judging from the circular welts all over his body, he wasn’t done in by any alligator, either. Covis doesn’t buy it, of course. Not only is Benton talking monsters, as a state government agent, he represents an unwanted intrusion by a higher authority into the sheriff’s business. Not even the support of Nan’s scientist father (Tyler McVey, from The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler and The Day the Earth Stood Still) can sway Sheriff Covis, and Benton is left to his own devices.
I bet you thought we were done with Liz and Dave Walker, didn’t you? Not even close. Now that Liz has seen what the mysterious swamp monsters are capable of, she starts nagging her husband for all she’s worth to get him to sell his store and move into town. Just like last time, the argument ends before any kind of resolution is arrived at, but this time it’s Dave who does the walking out— he’s got a delivery to make. While he’s busy with his errand, a man named Cal Moulton (Night of the Blood Beast’s Michael Emmet) takes advantage of Dave’s absence to get a little action with Liz. The two of them take Cal’s car and drive out to an idyllic spot at the edge of the swamp, but they get so wrapped up in what they’re doing that they don’t notice the passage of time. Dave sure does, though, and eventually he gets sufficiently pissed to go out looking for that little two-timing skank he was dumb enough to marry. Walker catches the illicit couple in the act, and shotgun in hand, he drives the two of them deep into the marshes. He’ll later tell the sheriff that he never intended anything more than to put a good scare into them both, but no sooner have Cal and Liz waded out at gunpoint into a particularly deep pond than a couple of our so-called leeches seize them and drag them under. Covis still doesn’t see any reason to believe in monsters, though. He charges Dave with a double murder and locks him up in the county jail, where he hangs himself a day or so later.
But the leeches have only just gotten started. The very day that Walker commits suicide, a pair of swamp dwellers are attacked while scouring the bogs for Cal’s and Liz’s missing bodies. Now with six deaths or disappearances on his hands in an area that probably last saw serious violent crime more than a generation ago, Covis is forced to conclude that something out of the ordinary is going on. Dr. Greyson ends up being the one who puts the next piece into the puzzle, when he drops a stick of dynamite into the section of the swamp where all the action has occurred, and the explosion brings up the corpses of Cal Moulton and the two vanished marsh people. And though all three men had been missing for at least a day, the autopsy reveals, incredibly, that none of them have been dead for more than two hours. That can only mean there’s an air-filled cave somewhere under the water, and Steve Benton determines to go find it. I’m sure you don't need me to tell you what greets him there when he does.
Ah, jeez— where to begin? With Leo Gordon’s drunkenly wandering script, perhaps? It’s not that the writing is bad, exactly (in fact, once you figure out where the plot is supposed to be going, it’s actually pretty decent for a cheap-ass 50’s monster flick), but that it rambles so circuitously and has such a hard time resisting the temptations of a tangent that The Giant Leeches ends up having far less drive than any 62-minute movie should. After all, with scarcely more than an hour between one set of credits and the next, there’s just no time for fucking around! Or I could pick on the editing, which is so ill-considered that most of the key action scenes in the second half of the movie are absolutely impossible to follow. But as is so often the case, what most people are going to fixate on are the monsters. I really have to wonder if the special effects people who worked on this film had ever even seen a leech. God knows they look nothing like the creatures in The Giant Leeches! I mean really now— leeches with arms, eyes, and octopus-like suckers all over their bodies? The design for the leech monsters wouldn’t be nearly as funny, though, if even a little bit of effort had been expended on building the actual costumes. If you know of The Giant Leeches at all, I’m sure you’ve heard that the monster suits appear to have been made out of trash bags, and don’t fit well enough to conceal the outlines of the scuba tanks worn by the people inside them. Well it’s all true— the things really are just that shoddy. Where was Paul Blaisdell when Gene Corman needed him?