Monday, March 31, 2008

The Leech Woman – review


Director: Edward Dein

Release Date: 1960

Contains spoilers

This was a low budget science fiction flick that, despite a slightly different premise, plays in a similar fashion to Hammer’s Countess Dracula. Of course this was produced a decade earlier. The Hammer connection does not end there, according to imdb this was actually produced as Universal needed a second feature to play with the Brides of Dracula.

Not that this is a great movie, it plods along to be honest but it does have a shinning star in the form of Coleen Grey, who plays June Talbot – the so called Leech Woman of the title.

Paul and June's unhappy matrimonyWe begin in a doctor’s surgery, belonging to Dr Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) an endocrinologist. A rather elderly looking woman, we later discover to be Malla (Estelle Hemsley), enters before we cut to the consulting room. Paul and June are in there together and it is clear that their marriage is, well to say they are having problems is an understatement. He dislikes his wife, thoroughly. She is older than he and he dislikes older looking women – we find out later that he found her beautiful when they married – indeed his research is around reversing the aging process. For her part, she truly does love him but the way he has acted towards her has pushed her into a bottle.

Estelle Hemsley as MallaShe eventually agrees to grant him a divorce and leaves the office. The assistant Sally (Gloria Talbot) enters as she leaves the room. Sally tells Paul that Malla is there and states that the elderly woman gives her the creeps. June phones her attorney, Neil (Grant Williams), from the outer office and is leaving when she is confronted by Malla. The elderly woman tells her that she will not divorce her husband as he will die. June tries to get away and Malla tells her that she is “the one in my dreams of blood!”

Paul examines Malla and is stunned by her claim to be 152 years old. She puts her longevity down to a powder, naipi, which her mother gave to her. Mother and daughter were abducted and enslaved some 140 years before and this is her only legacy. She tells Paul that the naipi is a secret of her tribe and slows the march towards death. She also says that there is another compound, known to the high priest of her tribe, that when mixed with naipi makes the drinker young again. She will reveal the secrets for the price of passage home to Africa.

Paul is dismissive but she offers a demonstration, she will take the powder and he will re-run his tests. Meanwhile June is drunk and with Neil, who is trying to make sense of the estate for the divorce proceedings. Paul comes home and suggests that he is sorry for all he said. He tells them both about the naipi and tells June that she must go with him to Africa, he can’t do this alone.

capturedIn Africa they discover that the government have decreed that the tribe be left alone by visitors, they loathe Europeans. However they find a guide, Garvay (John Van Dreelen), willing to lead them for the money Paul offers. There then follows a lot of stock animal footage! During their attempt to catch up with Malla, June realises that Paul does not love her. He does need her but as a human guinea pig. This causes her to run into the jungle at night and then be saved by Garvay. The next day, before she can leave properly, they are captured by the tribe and locked up.

the ringMalla is there and she firstly shows them where naipi comes from. It is the pollen of a very rare orchid. She then states that they will see the youth ritual. Before it begins Malla gives a talk about how age is respected when it comes to men but as women age they are reviled or pitied. She came home to die but before they die the women of her tribe get to experience youth again. The ritual itself sees a young man drugged and the high priest don a ring. The ring has what looks like a crystal claw or fang built into it.

Malla has become young againThe high priest stabs the back of the skull, harvesting the hormone from the man’s pineal gland and killing the young man. This is the second ingredient and it is mixed with the naipi. Malla drinks the concoction and, hidden behind clouds of steam from the braziers, she becomes young again (played young by Kim Hamilton). June realises the price of youth is the death of another.

a youth restored June with GarvayMalla then informs them that they will all die the next day but will be granted anything (bar freedom) that night. Paul asks whether they can make June young (not out of benevolence but as a distraction so he can escape). June is told she can undergo the ritual but she must choose her own victim. She chooses Paul, thus getting her revenge. Suddenly she is young again.

June ages when the effects wear offAnyway – she and Garvey escape (with the ring and the naipi) but Malla’s warning that the youth will soon pass comes about. However she is older than she was before she took the concoction. From here on in you need only think of how Countess Dracula played out generally to know where the film is going. This includes returning to the States and posing as her niece whilst she tries to seduce Neil (who we discover, at the juncture when he returns into the plot, is engaged to Sally).

The entire quest for youth is interesting in a vampiric sense. Whilst this doesn’t involve blood (as Countess Dracula did) it does necessitate a death. The fact that the aging becomes worse would be used in the later film also. June acts like an addict (of course she was already an alcoholic). Whether it is the concoction or youth she is addicted to is not answered – probably both.

really, really oldAs you can tell, this is an unusual form of vampirism and I might have been tempted to go down the ‘Vamp or Not?’ line to explore it further. However, although it uses pineal hormones rather than blood, the story is so similar to a film already accepted as vampiric that I decided to review it instead. I should mention that the film indicates, but is not satisfactorily explicit, that only male hormones will do the business.

Coleen Grey as JuneAs I said the film is plodding – but not as much as Hammer’s later effort. The plot seems preposterous, not in terms of the concepts (though they are clearly fantastical) but in the way the characters interact. That said the aging effects worked nicely and Grey’s performance is superb – much better than the film deserved. The other actors are perhaps not so good – one might even say wooden in some cases. Still this is more satisfying than Countess Dracula. 3.5 out of 10 – much of which is for Grey’s performance.

The imdb page is here.

No comments: