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Written by / 8/29/2016 / No comments / , , , , , , , , ,

DEFENDING THE NOIR-HORROR CAMP OF 'THE LEECH WOMAN'

Part of the Universal Science Fiction Collection YEAR: 1960
While it's rare, Mystery Science Theater (or what they've become, Riff-Trax) can be a misleading device in which to discover or uncover vintage b-movies, and while the "b" technically stands for the production value, or lack of, and the lower spot given on the marquee, it usually refers to a movie being just plain "bad."

That's not always the case – THE LEECH WOMAN, one of many victims of the MSTK-3000 treatment, should also be called a C-movie, for Creative: What it lacks in budget, it makes up for in... other ways, like how the title character, an aged, formerly attractive wife of a doctor seeking an impossible cure for aging, winds up on a killing spree. The first act plays out economically inside two interior locations, the most important being the Doctor's Office where Coleen Gray's bitter June Talbot verbally tears into her husband, Dr. Paul Talbot, played by BORN TO KILL stiff-suit Philip Terry...

A younger Gray at her own real age
Gray, who gussied-up a few Westerns but is mostly known for Film Noir classics such as THE KILLING, KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL and KISS OF DEATH, makes for an effectively woebegone victim turned venomous heavy. In many ways, LEECH, shot in sparse B&W, is more Noir than horror – especially given the pivotal device of taking a risky shortcut to look young and beautiful again, and with a tragic, sinister cost...

Gloria Talbott injects some Noir
That's where the film has layers: ancient tribal woman Estelle Hemsley's Malla is beyond-effective in the, on paper, most important role, not only while spouting eerie bouts of exposition, but providing the ultimate plot-driving McGuffin, a powder known as "Nipe" (pronounced "Nigh-Pee") that, mixed with... any kind of liquid, at first... can do wonders... But soon the talky thriller veers into a bonafide African-set adventure where the plot thickens..

Along with the petal of a rare flower, grown only in that region (ala WEREWOLF OF LONDON), it takes a man's death, and blood (from the pineal gland), from a sharp ring in the back of his neck, for a woman to acquire a few hours of youth...

While learning this, the African scenes are both suspenseful and bizarre (with the creepy Old Malla transforming into one of the prettiest women to appear in a b-flick, Kim Hamilton)... And in an exploitation manner the picture also includes a politically-incorrect KING KONG style "ooga-booga" tribal ceremony: The quickness in which the characters go from the Idyll Rich to – with the aid of a second-tier leading man guide – leaping through jungle terrain while tossing grenades, is farfetched yet effectively entertaining: While this LEECH might crack you up, it sure ain't boring...

Coleen Gray, Philip Terry, Kim Hamilton LEECH WOMAN Score: ****
And the most effective scenes are saved till the end as Gray – sporadically morphed into a genuinely gorgeous ingenue (what she actually looks like) – seduces her young lawyer, the film's stock handsome dolt to the jealous, gun-wielding chagrin of his once pleasant fiancee played by brunette beauty, Gloria Talbott, secretary of Dr. Talbot and a scream queen in her own right. Gray's shift from mousy to lethal works within a narrow-eyed determination...

And while this is no Stanley Kubrick picture, Gray's performance outshines her usual one-dimensional (albeit a great dimension) Girl-Next-Noir persona, giving her a chance to thrive on being a vicious woman needing blood from men, adding ominous layers – including a two-step process of eliminating her victims – to a story that, closing up well under ninety-minutes, could have been longer... Proving those otherwise hilarious robot puppets aren't always right: As with LASERBLAST and several other wonderful B's, taken in context, THE LEECH WOMAN does... actually... work!
Kim Hamilton The Leech Woman Kim Hamilton as the young super-fine version of a once old, creepy African native Malla
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