It’s impossible for me not to compare The Leech Woman (1960) with The Wasp Woman (1959.) Both are, in essence, about women seeking eternal youth. I prefer the latter over the former because it knows what it is: silly nonsense. The Leech Woman doesn’t know it’s supposed to be silly nonsense; it’s deadly serious. Both embrace their approach, but I enjoy one over the other.
Also, The Leech Woman has no sympathetic characters. The film opens with Dr. Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) and his wife, June (Coleen Gray) arguing. What a bitter couple! She drinks and he taunts her. She’s ten years his senior, but I wouldn’t say, “old.” However, the dark makeup under her eyes contradictorily indicates that she is.
He has a change of heart when visited by Malla (Estelle Hemsley), an old woman who wants him to fund her trip home to Africa. If he will, she promises him the secret ingredient that will put an end to his search for the fountain of youth and, ostensibly, earn him a fortune. Paul is suddenly kind to June, inviting her to join him on a safari.
Svengoolie repeatedly mocked the stock footage used in the Africa scenes when he aired The Leech Woman. This didn’t actually bother me because the footage is integrated into the story; it isn’t used just to establish the setting. What was off-putting to me was the mashup they used of natives dancing during a ritual and one native filmed on a soundstage.
In Africa, we and the characters learn the “catch” to the magical formula. First, it lasts only a day or so, then the person using it dies. Second, a man must be sacrificed ahead of time to use fluid from his pineal gland. Don’t worry; these things don’t deter Paul, and then June, from moving full steam ahead.
You can probably connect the dots, but without specifically revealing a spoiler, let’s say that June returns to the United States as her niece, Terri. It’s only temporary, but when she gets the hots for her attorney, Neil Foster (Grant Williams), she’s prepared to continue a cycle of killing men to extend her youth.
To complicate matters, Neil is engaged to Sally (Gloria Talbott), who was coincidentally Paul’s secretary. Their rivalry over Neil drives a climax that might have redeemed the film if it weren’t too little, too late. It’s not stated, but I got the vibe that June purposely wanted to seduce Grant because Sally may have been having an affair with Paul; or, maybe she was just horny.
During The Leech Woman, I started fantasizing about what I hoped would happen. Anything I could imagine would surely be better than what I was watching. For example, when we learn that June is going to experience the ceremony, I thought maybe she’d regress to a baby… I mean, like I said, she wasn’t that old to start with.
Then, when we learn that those who experience the ceremony die within two days, I wrote in my notes, “Does that mean she’s going to die? I hope so.” You shouldn’t cheer for the main character of a movie to die! This also brings up a good point… if you know you’re going to die after doing it, why would you want to do it? Is youth for a day or two worth your life?
One of my wishes was fulfilled. When June inevitably loses her youth, she’s older than ever before. The makeup is awful, though. Her hands look like they’re wearing rubber gloves and rather than skin wrinkling, it’s rubber scrunching up. How this effect was applied to her face gives the same effect. Wrinkles don’t float into different locations as someone's talking.
I’m not kidding; I prefer the wasp woman’s egg carton eyes and pipe cleaner antenna to the leech woman’s rubber glove wrinkles. This leads to the fundamental difference between the two movies. One was produced by Roger Corman and the other was produced by Universal International. I suppose which you prefer is a matter of taste. I think I’ve been clear about mine.
Written by David Duncan
Directed by Edward Dein
Starring Coleen Gray, Grant Williams, Phillip Terry, Gloria Talbott, John Van Dreelen
RT 77 min.
Released May 16, 1960
Recorded on Jan 2, 2021 (Svengoolie)
Rating 4 Godzillas (out of 10)
This review is part of the annual Countdown to Halloween. I invite you to join me as I attempt to gain some space on my DVR. Every day, I'll be watching something from the bottom of the list, thereby reducing the percentage that's full... so I can record more!
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