Image courtesy of DVD Beaver
The Leech Woman (1960) dir. Edward Dein
Starring: Coleen Gray, Phillip Terry, Grant Williams and Gloria Talbott
Guest Review By Greg Klymkiw
Paul and June Talbot (Coleen Gray and Phillip Terry respectively) are just your average American couple. Paul is a scientist (mad, of course) who is attempting to discover a potion that will allow him to reverse the aging process. June is his loving, booze-swilling, abused and neglected wife. The once-loving pair face the usual problems of nuptial bliss gone sour: Paul, in spite of the fact that he’s rather ugly and old, is able to instill feelings of inadequacy in his gorgeous wife who, in turn, feels old, ugly and frumpy in spite of the fact that she’s only in her mid-to-late-30s and pretty much a babe (albeit a slightly dowdy one). If only her hubby could find a way to make his better half, a truly better half.
Such are the typical concerns of Cold War America in the 50s and thankfully we have motion pictures such as “The Leech Woman” to provide this revealing glimpse into the lives and dreams of Joe and Josephina Average.
Directed by the competent, but otherwise unexciting Edward Dein, “The Leech Woman” is yet another welcome feature entry in Universal Home Video’s magnificent DVD box-set “The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection”. While, the picture is not really science fiction, but horror, that’s probably a quibble of the least important kind. What really matters is that it’s a Universal Production – always the sign of quality for genre pictures.
Being from Universal is especially welcome because the picture boasts some really fine studio production value – albeit of the low budget variety, but the kind of studio elements that can contribute rather successfully to creating a property that soars rather than sinks. For example, the pace of the picture is totally bat-out-of-hell and ultimately just the perfect running time (under 80 minutes). This should come as no surprise since the picture was edited by the legendary Universal Pictures in-house cutter Milton Carruth who provided the magnificent cinematic sheep shearing on such timeless celluloid bon-bons as Tod Browning’s “Dracula”, Karl Freund’s “The Mummy”, the famed Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich western “Destry Rides Again”, all of Douglas Sirk’s classic melodramas, the archetypal 50s sex comedy “Pillow Talk” and my personal favourites – the “Francis the Talking Mule” pictures.
Another added bonus to this particular Universal production is some truly excellent makeup design from in-house wizard Bud Westmore.
Most importantly, the technical credits do not overshadow some of the more entertaining and interesting aspects of this picture – namely, the almost feminist perspective on how women are forced into certain ideals by a world dominated by men and how they can get a little self-respect and, of course, payback.
Payback in this picture comes via Old Malla (veteran Broadway actress Estelle Hemsley), a mysterious African woman who appears to have the secret to age-reversal. When hubby drags his maligned wifey into the deepest, darkest jungle in search of the ingredients to restore beauty and youth - salvation and horror alternately lurk around the corner.
And they both involve the piercing of the pineal gland.
And eventually, the picture delivers up even more Universal Pictures delights – the welcome presence of the stalwart and studly Grant Williams (“Incredible Shrinking Man”) and the utterly cream-wrenching Gloria (“I Married A Monster From Outer Space”) Talbott.
And have I mentioned the piercing of the pineal gland yet?
And, even more tantalizing are the native rituals in the jungle. What self-respecting 50s genre film would NOT have native rituals in the jungle?
“The Leech Woman” is a supremely entertaining entry in the 50s canon of genre pictures from Universal. It’s fun, provocative and even a bit creepy.
And, uh . . . it features the piercing of the pineal gland.
“The Leech Woman” is available in the “The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection” from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Please browse other reviews from this collection:
The Incredible Shrinking Man