If ever there were a disgusting thing, a leech would be it. Not just looks horrible, it’s basically a vampire. So let’s make it human-sized, and see what happens. Very good premise. Pretty good acting too: Ken Clark is a straight-arrow game warden, locals Liz and Dave Walker (Yvette Vickers and Bruno VeSota) are a feuding couple, and Sheriff Kovis (Gene Roth), Cal (Michael Emmit), Doc Greyson and his daughter Nan (Tyler McVey and Jan Shephard).
Liz is really something: an absolute magnet for every man-about-town. Dave, on the other hand, looks like a gone-to-seed Hoss from Bonanza. He catches Liz with Cal, hounding after them with a shotgun. Forced into the swamp, they fall into the leech’s grasp. Naturally, the Sheriff (the image of Lee J. Cobb at his crustiest) doesn’t buy Dave’s alibi that a monster was the real killer. He kills himself.
A good thing about the swamp setting is that it’s a habitat for a known monster, the alligator. So when locals go searching for the bodies they’re correct in assuming they might be in caves where alligators store bodies. The victims are in a bad state, very much like Dracula’s prey. So, the swamp folks rustle up a posse, the Sheriff pretty much conceding leadership to Steve.
The long sequences in the swamp are creepy and somewhat suspenseful, mostly because nothing turns up, even as the leeches stalk the posse.. Steve plans to scuba-dive to uncover the mystery; but Doc sets dynamite anyway. Sure enough, bodies start bobbing up. But not all of them. Liz is still unaccounted for.
Just before she drowns, she’s rescued by the divers; spear-gunning the leeches doesn’t kill them though. A nice dynamite blasters to do it. But, in a corner of the swamp which remains hidden to the onlookers, we hear a leech burbling away. The best kind of ending, because things really aren’t quite back to normal.
Kind of as an afterthought, Nan and her dad speculate that atomic residue or some such from Cape Canaveral has seeped into the swamp, causing the giant mutations. Sounds good enough, but I expected this sort of theory, or any theory on the origin of the giant leeches discussed sooner. That’s ok, though, as the teaser at the very end suggests that the story isn’t over. This device also leaves open the obvious possibility that it can’t just be this neck of this particular swamp that’s contaminated.
Almost everything works well in Attack of the Giant Leeches. The characters are very well-drawn, especially Dave, Liz, and the Sheriff. They’re types, but you could fairly comfortably inhabit a Tennessee Williams production with any of them. The supporting cast adds to the atmosphere. The pacing is good as well.
The only real problem is the stupid-looking leeches. Why not skip amorphous blob-like things and have mutant alligators? Maybe that’s asking too much, but what we get here just looked like rejected prototypes for cutesy swimming pool flotation devices.
Farmermouse felt right at home with these fellars, and gives it seven jugs o’ white lightning. 7/10