The Movie Waffler DVD Review - THE LEECH WOMAN (1960) | The Movie Waffler

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DVD Review - THE LEECH WOMAN (1960)

A woman pays a price for the secret of youth.





Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Edward Dein

Starring: Coleen Gray, Grant Williams, Phillip Terry, Estelle Hemsley



An early example of body horror, and one with a proto-feminist outlook in its commentary on how women of a certain age are viewed in western society, The Leech Woman isn't classic Universal horror, but it's a must see for devotees of both the studio and the genre.



Universal horror had four distinct periods - the silents (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, The Cat and the Canary); the gothic horrors of the 1930s, which introduced their stable of monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy); the monster mashups of the '40s (Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula); and the sci-fi monster movies of the '50s (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Tarantula, The Monolith Monsters). It's from this final era that we got 1960's The Leech Woman, the last gasp of a mainstream studio struggling to match the lurid thrills of B-Movie competitors like American International.




Scientist Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) has dedicated his life's work to finding a cure for the aging process. For someone so obsessed with youth, it seems odd that he married an older woman, June (Colleen Gray, who despite some wrinkle make-up around the eyes, still looks younger than Terry here; the actress was in fact 13 years his junior). Perhaps this is why, as we see in the argumentative opening scene, the couple despise each other so much, June knocking back the whisky to make it through another day of her broken marriage.




Just after the pair agree to call their marriage a day and begin divorce proceedings, Paul is visited by Malla (Estelle Hemsley), an African tribeswoman who claims to be 150 years old, and certainly looks it, thanks to Bud Westmore's not so subtle aging make-up.

Malla claims her tribe, the Nandos (no relation to the chicken people), have discovered a formula to reverse the aging process (take that, Western science), and is willing to hand it over to Paul if he can reunite her with her lost people. Before you can say 'Peri-Peri', he's called off the divorce and whisked June off to a stock footage filled version of Africa, where the two hook up with a British guide and begin their quest to find the lost tribe of Nandos (I really wish I had eaten before writing this review). Needless to say, things don't work out so well for these explorers.




American sci-fi movies of this era aren't known for their misanthropic outlook, but almost everyone in The Leech Woman is the sort of backstabbing narcissist you might more readily associate with the grittiest of spaghetti westerns. Paul is a right git from the off with his misogynistic outlook on a woman's worth, but while June gains our sympathy early on, she proves to be just as ruthless in her own quest for youth, which eventually leads her to become the titular villain (though 'Leech Woman' is considerable hyperbole).

An early example of body horror, and one with a proto-feminist outlook in its commentary on how women of a certain age are viewed in western society, The Leech Woman isn't classic Universal horror, but it's a must see for devotees of both the studio and the genre.

The Leech Woman is released on DVD by Screenbound on May 23rd.

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