This is another classic Roger Corman production. In the B-minus movie tradition, it's got lame acting, minimal sets, guys in rubber monster suits and a lot of scenes set in a dark swamp. Corman wasn't trying to produce "art" or delve into social commentary. it's best not to try to read too much into it. Attack of the Giant Leeches (AGL) amounts to a shallow monster flick trying to grab a few box office bucks amid the craze of cheesy drive-in monster fare. There is almost no science in the fiction, beyond some references to radiation from rocket engines. AGL is yet another of those late-50s movies which barely qualify for inclusion in the sci-fi realm.
Quick Plot Synopsis
An old timer in the swamps of Florida sees a strange creature one night and shoots at it. No one believes him back in the small town. Later, he is found dead with strange wounds. No one can find any traces of the supposed monster. Later, the young bimbo wife of a small town grocery store owner and her hunky boyfriend engage in a little semi-adulterous smooching in a car out in the back woods. The husband finds them and forces them at gun point to wade into the swamp. The giant leeches grab them and drag them under. When wife and beau are missed back in town, the husband is arrested for murder. He hangs himself in the cell. Two other old men are looking for the missing bodies, but are also grabbed by the leech monsters. Turns out the leeches have kept the wife, beau, and two old men alive in a "gator cave" in order to keep feeding on them. (the odd wounds) When the two old men and beau's bodies float up (now dead), Ranger Steve searches the lake with scuba gear. The leeches attack him too, but he escapes. The bimbo wife finally dies, falls in and floats up too. The ranger uses a huge charge of dynamite to shock and kill the leeches. It works. The end.
Why is this movie fun?
This is a simple formula nature-monster story. At that level, AGL is not necessarily "fun". It is, however, somewhat amusing to see the 2-dimensional characterizations. The total bimbo wife strains credibility. The Dudly Dooright wildlife ranger is equally incredible.
Cold War Angle
At best, AGL is yet another nuclear energy cautionary tale. Imprudent use of nuclear materials caused the monster. While this is the same origin of Godzilla, the giant leeches lack any wider analogies. They're just monsters.
More Atomic Monsters -- AGL is squarely part of the radiation-spawned monster from nature sub-genre. It's the same motive plot trope as Them! ('54), Tarantula ('55), and Beginning of the End ('57) but done with less zest. At least it wasn't yet another insect. In AGL, it's "atomic radiation from those rocket engines at Cape Canaveral" that caused the ordinary leeches to mutate into giants (that is, people sized).
Almost Saved -- One intriguing tidbit is seeing that the beautiful young woman actually does die in this film. The 50s had a strong tradition of the beautiful young woman being spared by heroic rescue. The fact that Liz, draped over the rocks in the typically leggy swoon pose, survived in the 'gator cave' for so long, elicits the notion that she, too, will somehow be saved by Ranger Steve. When she finally dies in the end, floating up to the surface, it's a mild disappointment. The pretty ones aren't supposed to die.
Good woman / bad woman -- Steve's wife is the "good" woman. Sensible, faithful, caring. Liz is the "bad" woman. Even though Liz is the trampy wife of fat Dave the store owner, she's young, very shapely and very blonde. All these physical traits suggest that she'll survive. The young males of the audience may have been rooting for her to be saved too. After all, Dave hung himself in the jail cell, so she'd be free of him and available for "the right man." Still, poetic justice is served. Bad girls don't survive. Subtle message: be a good girl and live.
Bottom line? AGL can be enjoyed as a simple, (if some what shallow) monster tale. The swamp setting adds some moodiness. Don't, however, expect the movie to make you go "hmmm..." afterwards. It's simple drive-in fare, not art.