Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Attack of the Giant Leeches

When I was in Florida last week, I got to watch old episodes of my movie series Surreal Cinema on Channel 22 in St. Augustine. The 11:00 slot on Friday night was the steamy, depraved low-budget swamp horror, Attack of the Giant Leeches. Here’s the script for that episode, later adapted into a movie review on Viewpoints.com.

JM Dobies here, a/k/a TV’s Michael West, serving up another heapin’ helping of celluloid slop cooked up in a bubblin' black cauldron forged from used motorcycle parts, pawnshop shotguns, and melted down pieces of movie projectors salvaged from closed-down drive-ins and condemned all-night grindhouses. The posters for this movie promised "crawling horror" and "massive blood sucking monsters" and asked, "What was the terrible power of the demons of the swamp"? For the answer to that and many other loaded questions, I submite for your approval Attack of the Giant Leeches from 1959, directed by Bernard L. Kowalski.

This movie is set in the swamps of Florida, even though it was filmed entirely in Los Angeles, with the LA County Arboretum and Botanical Garden filling in for the Everglades. And since it was made by a bunch of Hollywood city slickers, the stereotypes fly thick and fast: you got your gator-poachin', shine-drinkin' no-count, your round-heeled, backwoods tramp married to a profusely sweating fat slob, and of course, your beefy, brawny, and brain-dead swamp stud who's a-carryin' on with Jezebel behind the fat man's back. You can call 'em cliches if you wants to, but I calls 'em what they is: Leech food. Giant Leech food. Now speaking of them pesky giant leeches, they rank among the hokiest monsters in the history of monster movies, looking nothing like leeches and basically resembling what they are: guys in glad bags with big old octopus tentacles on 'em. Keep an eye out for the scuba tanks on their backs. It'll only add to the enjoyment as you withstand the puckered, sucking maelstrom that is Attack of the Giant Leeches.

In case you're wondering where you've seen the guy who plays moonshine-swillin' otter hunter Lem Hunter, I'm a gonna tell ya. It's none other than George Cisar, who you may remember from his performance as travelling salesman Joe Flake, another guy with a fondness for demon alcohol, in the all-time classic Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. You may also recognize him from his recurring role as Cyrus Tankersley on the TV series Mayberry R.F.D., which was essentially The Andy Griffith Show without Andy Griffith or Don Knotts. In other words, pretty much useless, although it did have some nice bits with Goober. There you have it, in a nutshell, the highlights of the career of George Cisar, whose character Lem Sawyer is the first person to encounter the Giant Leeches of the title.

The director, Bernard L. Kowalski, made his bones making such Grade Z flicks as Hot Car Girl, Night of the Blood Beast, Krakatoa, East of Java, and Women in Chains, but it was in television that he made his fortune. In addition to directing episodes of such shows as Richard Diamond, Private Eye, Columbo, Wild Wild West, and Baywatch Nights, he also had a piece of the action on the hit series Baretta and Mission: Impossible, so he presumably cashed in bigtime when the latter became a massive movie franchise. For Bernie's sake, let's hope he held on to his piece of that show.

The script for Attack of the Giant Leeches was written by tough guy character actor Leo Gordon, who started out as an actual tough guy, doing a stretch in San Quentin for armed robbery, before going on to play one on screen. As an actor, he appeared in such freaky flicks as Lure of the Swamp, Kitten with a Whip, and I Hate Your Guts. In addition to his brilliant screenplay for Attack of the Giant Leeches, Gordon also wrote the Corman quickies The Wasp Woman, The Cry Baby Killer, and The Terror, on which he collaborated with Jack Hill, the mad maestro behind Spider Baby.

Our hero, the poacher-hatin' game warden Steve Benton, is played by Ken Clark, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Stewpot in the 1958 musical South Pacific. But that movie was the exception rather than the rule when it came to Clark's resume: more typical were his roles in 12 to the Moon, On the Threshold of Space, and the junk he made in Italy during the '60s, including Hercules Against the Mongols, Son of Hercules in the Land of Darkness, and Hercules Meets GenghisS Khan in Hell, as well as the barrel-scraping James Bond knock-offs Operation Istanbul and Mission Bloody Mary, in which he portrayed Dick Malloy, agent 077. The same pattern repeats itself with the rest of the cast.

Yvette Vickers, who plays the no-good cheatin' Liz Walker, also appeared in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Juvenile Jungle, and Reform School Girl. Bruno VeSota, who plays her clueless husband Dave, was also in Creature of the Walking Dead, Daddy-O, The Choppers, Hell’s Angels on Wheels, and The Wild World of Batwoman. VeSota was also something of a triple threat, having written and directed 1954's The Female Jungle, one of Jayne Mansfield's earliest films, as well as directing Invasion of the Star Creatures and The Brain Eaters.

Released in 1959, Attack of the Giant Leeches somehow lost out to Ben Hur for Best Picture at the Oscars that year. Actually, it did get a Golden Globe as Bruno VeSota won for Best Suicide by a fat guy in a supporting role in a monster movie. In his acceptance speech, Bruno thanked Roger Corman, the Hollywood Foreign Press, his agent, his mom, and, last but not least, the Giant Leeches.

1 comment:

Slightly Bizarre said...

Wow, You have been doing this a lot longer than i have. I just reviewed this movie too! Any tips?