Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Vamp or Not? Attack of the Giant Leeches

Attack of the Giant Leeches was also called Demons of the Swamp and was a 1959 film directed by Bernard L. Kowalski and produced by the irrepressible Roger Corman. It was a creature feature, had a radiation background story and is pretty much as B as you can get. It features, as the name suggests, leeches.

Now leeches are, of course, a form of segmented worm that are hematophagous, in other words they are bloodsuckers and feed from animals that they connect to via a sucker. Famously, of course, leeches were used medicinally for bloodletting and have featured in vampire films either as a way of filtering vampiric blood (Dracula 2001) or as a method of harvesting human blood and then serving as a snack (Hemlock Grove season 2). Either way, in those examples they are not the vampire, but given this is a ‘Vamp or Not?’ I am clearly contemplating declaring them a vampire in this. Of course, this is not an undead form of vampire but let us see if the title fits.

George Cisar as Lem
The film starts with swamp dweller and poacher Lem Sawyer (George Cisar, Billy the Kid Vs Dracula) in his boat. He sees something in the water (and the poor print stopped it looking much more than a scaled something) and shoots at it several times before it sinks away. He takes a slug of moonshine. Back at a store, owned by Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota), Lem tries to convince everyone of the story but they put his tale of monsters down to the moonshine. Dave is having trouble with his wife, Liz (Yvette Vickers), who has no respect for him. She goes out into the night and, not long after, Lem leaves the store as well.

Steve and Nan
Steve Benton (Ken Clark) is a wildlife ranger who is looking for poacher traps and has brought his squeeze, Nan (Jan Shepard), along. They stop work for a quick canoodle but a man’s scream pierces the night, not long after followed by a woman’s. Steve tells Nan to get in his truck and lock the doors and chases into the night. He finds a distraught Liz, who has found the bloody remains of Lem. We cut to after the autopsy and local sheriff, Kovis (Gene Roth), tells Steve to stand down – it was death by misadventure and a gator got him.

Yvette Vickers as Liz
Nan’s dad is local doctor, Doc Greyson (Tyler McVey), and he disagrees. There were sucker marks on the body that resemble those of a squid or octopus and it was certainly no gator attack. He recalls the story of Lem’s monster and then wonders if he had shot at something that was intelligent enough to find him and silence him. Steve agrees to go looking but the search through the swamp reveals nothing of note.

Bruno VeSota as Dave Walker
Dave Walker’s problem with Liz is getting worse. She wants him to up and leave the swamp and move in to town. Dave has a delivery to make, leaving Liz throwing produce across the store. Local lothario Cal (Michael Emmet) makes a move and takes “Liz-baby” (a term both men use) out into the swamp. They are having a canoodle (and Liz is explaining why she is with Dave) when aforementioned husband catches them and drives them through the swamp with a shotgun. He forces them into a lake – his aim to make them suffer, not to kill them – and is letting them out when both are grabbed by the leeches. A search of the lake turns nothing up and Dave ends up killing himself (off screen).

Leech attack
Now we get to the nub of the ‘Vamp or Not?’ Cal and Liz are not killed outright. They are both pulled down into an underwater cave with air to breath and placed in there. They are then kept in a weakened state by being fed on by the two leeches and then stored as a meal. Later two more men are captured the same way. We see that the leeches go for the neck on humans and their actions denote the intelligence Doc mentions. He also, later, suggests that the creatures may be nocturnal. They are certainly active at night but we do see them active in daylight too. When diving and looking for the creatures, spear guns are used – these could be equated to stakes but actually any trauma seems capable of damaging them, though they are tough and dynamite is the final solution.

another leech attack
Something not noticed by Steve, but certainly noticed by the swamp dwellers, is the fact that the gators appear to have gone. Whether the leeches ate them before going for human prey or the gators simply migrated away is unknown. So, what caused the leeches to become monstrous? There is a supposition put forward that because they are near NASA (and NASA use nuclear materials for their rockets) that a rocket perhaps crashed and the radiation mutated the leeches causing giantism. It also (clearly) caused them to develop intelligence and rational thought.

the leech cave
If you stick to the idea that vampires should be undead humans then this is clearly not vamp. However there have been naturally occurring or occurring through science vampires that are living creatures. Certainly these creatures are intelligent and suck blood. On that basis I’m going to go vamp on this B movie, which does have a certain charm about it. The imdb page is here.

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