Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pour Yourself A Shot Of Southern (Dis)comfort

Well, butter my buns and call me a biscuit! We got company! Are you here for another heapin' helpin' of deep fried, high caloric Southern Fried Cinema? If so, well, come on it!

On today's menu, we head down to the armpit of humanity--swamp country--for Roger Corman's blood-letting classic "Attack of the Giant Leeches"(1959).

In this corner of the world, residents sip their booze from jugs, sit for a spell at the general store, illegally trap otters and have sneaky sex down by the water's edge. Needless to say, these folks make Bo and Luke Duke look like Park Avenue swells and are so inbred, any new born baby runs the risk of being their own first cousin.

Our saga begins as a collection of sweaty, over-alls wearin' gents listen as the heavily whiskered Lem (Pokey Reed, yes that's his real name) recalls catchin' sight of a strange critter down by the swamp. This riveting tale is interrupted when store owner Dave Walker's (Bruno Vesota) wife Liz (tramp expert Yvette Vickers) sashays on screen.

Scantily clad and sucking on a tooth-brush, Liz has no patience when her tubby hubby orders her to turn down her record player.

"Don't you sass me" Liz snorts, before slinking back to her bedroom to prepare for a night on the town.

Meanwhile, in another part of the movie, Department of Fish and Wildlife officer Steve (Ken Clark) is once again dismantling the illegal traps the yokels insist on using. Square shouldered, square jawed and square headed, Steve has a Sonny Tufts/Troy Donahue look to him--and a personality as flat as a pancake. His adoring girlfriend Nan (Jan Shepard), however, thinks Steve is the bee's knees and is constantly making, pouring or offering him coffee as proof of her eternal devotion.

While Steve and Nan discuss how to stop illegal trapping, screams pierce the air. Steve soon finds Liz in hysterics and poor Lem covered in corn syrup. The cracker then goes "ACK!" and drops dead.

Nan's father Doc Greyson (Tyler McVey) can't figure out what kind of critter could have taken Lem out. What's more, he had these weird hickey-type marks on him. Could it have been an octopus? A squid? A mutant alligator? Perhaps a vengeful otter seeking payback? It is a puzzlement.

When Steve warns the flick's enormous sheriff that a giant rouge critter is loose, he's dismissed with contempt. The sheriff feels that Steve is just a government stooge trying to usurp his authority. Fit to be tied, Steve stalks out, but not before he tells the sheriff off good: "Oh, go soak your fat head!"

Unfortunately, more casualties are on the horizon. See, Liz, plum fed up with hubby Dave, has been having a secret affair with Cal (Michael Emmet), one of the cleaner yokels who spend their endless days at the Walker general store. When Dave (with shotgun in hand) stumbles upon the cuddlemates making out, all hell breaks loose. The cuckolded grocer chases the duo right into the murky swamp water, where Liz and Cal plead for their lives. Just when it looks like Dave has forgiven them, a pair of big Hefty bags with antennas suddenly emerge and drag the hysterical couple under water.

A stunned Dave insists to the police that he didn't kill Liz or Cal--but nobody can find their bodies OR believes his mumbo-jumbo about giant, slimy leeches. Later, when the swamp is dragged, Liz and Cal's remains are still nowhere to be found. Charged with murder, a remorseful Dave hangs himself instead.

After Liz and Cal disappear, two sweaty, grizzled trappers are paddling out to check on their traps. In between slugs from a jug, the older trapper notices that they haven't seen hide nor hair of any otters, alligators or snakes. Hmmm, mighty peculiar. Then their boat is suddenly capsized--and what appears to be giant ponchos covered in suction cups pull the hicks below.

Turns out that mutant leeches have set up shop in a swamp cave. Our trapper friends are soon deposited alongside the weak and wailing Liz and Cal. When these mutants aren't skulking around the swamp, they attack their human guests, sucking their blood at repeated intervals. The captives, naturally, are too weak to save themselves and have faced the fact that they are leech lunch.

Steve, however, refuses to give up the hunt for the giant rouge critters he believes are causing all the ruckus--but he wants to do it in a responsible, eco-friendly way. That's why he refuses to use explosives, because it would destroy all of Mother Nature's handiwork. Doc Greyson, on the other hand, doesn't give a damn about fragile eco-systems and starts gathering up explosives.With Nan's help, Doc tosses some TNT into the swamp and KABOOM. Before long, the bodies of the trappers and Cal bob up to the surface--without an ounce of blood between them. Steve is forced to admit that Doc Greyson's actions have successfully confirmed the existence of giant leeches--created, no doubt, from radioactive waste from nearby Cape Canaveral. Then Steve arrests the good doctor for illegal possession of TNT.

Later, an even bigger cache of explosives are sent under water. This KABOOM not only sends Liz up to the surface, but offs the giant leeches as well. Their swamp community safe and sound, Steve, Doc Greyson (who appeared to have buried the hatchet) and Nan head for home, no doubt to enjoy some well deserved coffee.

Fans of Roger Corman--the Dollar Tree of filmmakers--will notice that the musical score of "Giant Leeches" is directly lifted from the previous Corman classic "Night of the Blood Beast". Cast members Tyler McVey (Doc Greyson) and Michael Emmet (as the sniveling Cal) had important roles in "Blood Beast", as a NASA doctor (McVey) and the first man in space who was subsequently impregnated with alien shrimp (Emmet), respectively. The luckless Dave was essayed by another Corman regular, Bruno Vesota. I have no idea who played the giant leeches, but I bet those Hefty Bag costumes were hot and sticky.

Despite the low rent trappings of the flick, "Attack of the Giant Leeches" does effectively create a real sense of time and place; presenting a tight-knit community where people have lived a certain way for centuries and see no need to change their ways. The sheriff's reaction to Steve is that of a man who enjoys his power and isn't about to give up an inch of to some outside city slicker--giant leeches or no. This is their world and you're just living in it.

In an interesting side note, this movie was actually remade in 2008 or 2009. I have no idea why; after all, the world is hardly pining away for movies about leeches, giant or otherwise. While the remake may boast a larger budget and better special effects, it could never take the place of the original.  As anyone who ever had to have a real leech removed, once is more than enough.

Well, movie lovers, that's it for now. Until next time, keep a song in your heart and a bad movie in your VCR. You all come back now, ya hear?!