The Classic Universal tale of monsters and sci-fi from the 1950s. Determined to recapture the beauty of her youth, a vain woman stumbles upon an elixir that will restore her beauty and give her the secret of eternal youth - but only when it is mixed with blood taken from the newly dead! Coleen Gray, Grant Williams (The Monolith Monsters), Gloria Talbott and Phillip Terry star in this Edward Dein directed sci-fi/horror.
Universal Horror, one of the most storied names in horror cinema history, has four recognisable era’s; “The Silent Era”, the 1930’s Gothic horror era, The Monster Mash era in the 40’s(Frankenstein meets The Wolfram etc…) and The sci-fi era of the 50’s.
This review covers a film that was released in the sci-fi era, The Leech Woman. Made in 1959, and released in 1960, The Leech Woman was one of Universal’s last roll of the dice to match the B-Movie craziness that many of its rivals were churning out.
Scientist Paul Talbert(Phillip Terry) has dedicated his life trying to reverse the raging process. He is married to June (Coleen Gray), an older woman who is “passed her peak”. Unfortunately their marriage is far from happy. The more they fight and argue, the more June drinks, and the more she drinks, the more frequent they fight. This is a vicious circle of ill felling. When she tells him that she wants a divorce, he puts it down to the drink talking and, and gets back to his work.
While working in his lab, his assistant notifies him that his latest subject has arrived. Malla (Estelle Hemsley) is an african tribeswoman and claims to be 150 years old. She claims her tribe, The Nandos(!) have discovered a tonic that does what he has dedicated his life to, reverse the raging process. She promise to hand it over to him, but not until he helps reunite her with her lost tribe.
Paul whisks his wife off to Africa(complete with cheesy stock footage), where they meet up with a British guide and begin their quest to find The Nandos. As i’m sure you can guess, things soon go pear shape for our looks obsessed pair!
The Leech Woman is a classic B-movie. The characters are (by design) not the most realistic or grounded. Philip Terry’s Paul is a real vain piece of work and as misogynistic as they come. And while June starts off a a sympathetic character, her quest for youth turns her into a classic movie bitch. It is this character turn that is the best part of the film, and is fun to watch her slowly morph into the movies titular villain.
The film is obviously written with a feminist slant. Although June is the lead villain, The writer tries to deflect the blame for her crimes on to the male dominated society. Watching it today really does highlight how far we have come with regards to the rights women now have.
The digital transfer that i watched presented the film well, without acres of black space above and below the film. The image was sharp with minimum pixilation that you often get with dvd/blu-ray transfers of films of this age. The quality off the picture did show up the rubbery special effects though, but i think thats part of the charm these movies hold.
The Leech woman is a very early example of body horror with pro-feminist tones and provides a commentary on how older women were viewed by western society. It will never go down as a classic, and certainly wont be for everyone, but for devotee’s of the era, then this is a must watch!
The Leech Woman is available to pre-order now from: http://www.classicfilmsdirect.com/product/the-leech-woman