Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Attack of the Giant Leeches

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Critter: Mutant members of the subclass Hirudina

Size: Man-sized

Modus Operandi: Cruising around a swamp, grabbing human victims and depositing them in their underwater cave to feast on them until they run out of blood

How the Menace Emerges: It’s a mystery, but maybe the radiation at Cape Canaveral had something to do with it

End Goal: Dinner

Attack of the Giant Leeches is the Guide’s first foray into leeches, blood-sucking invertebrates that seem so fitting for horror films, and yet so rarely put in an appearance. It’s also our first Roger Corman flick, and while not one of his best, it is infused with all of the fun that comes with Corman’s hand in the production. As in most of his films, there is very little fat in this flick. At just 62 minutes there’s not much time for things to be built up or fall apart. The giant-sized leeches are rubber suit monsters on a plastic sack budget, but they do have creepy mouths and leave convincing leech hickeys on their victims. The characters are caricatures with just enough back story to earn a pass and establish the requisite conflict, sympathy, repugnance and catharsis: the victims deserve to be victims, the Doc is a smart, wily sun of a gun, the useless girlfriend/daughter pours coffee, listens sympathetically and provides a link between the game warden and the voice of science, the sheriff is conceited and useless, our hero the game warden vows to protect the critters of the swamp and get behind the mysterious killings and of course, the moonshine-swillin’ hillbillies are hillarious.

Being a Tennessee gal myself, old school hillbilly horror is one of my favorite B subgenres, and Attack of the Giant Leeches must have been one of the first. While some have claimed that Hershel Gordon Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) was the start and that the post - Deliverance (1972) 70s were the heyday, if Buddy Ebsen has taught us anything it’s that hillbillies have always been fun to make fun of and there’s no exception for horror. In the 70s, the hillbilly horror genre did take a turn away from fun-filled kitsch and drive straight into slasher/psycho-killer/inbred mutant sadist territory, but I’d hardly say that HG Lewis was the inventor of this fine subgenre, and Attack of the Giant Leeches stands as evidence.

Apparently, someone made an absolutely terrible remake of Attack of the Giant Leeches in 2008. Look for it on the Guide someday, although I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.

Nit-picking Science: I may have missed something, but I really don’t recall any science whatsoever in this film. Well, aside from the fact that leeches don’t have arms, but I write that off as on-the-cheap costuming. If you are dying to know more about our armless blood-sucking pals, check out this (barely) film-related dispatch from the American Museum of Natural History.

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