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The Leech Woman

Posted on July 20, 2015

The Leech Woman and the Horror of Old Women


As part of a series of posts on horror films of the 1950s, I’d like to revisit a 1960 film directed by Edward Dein, The Leech Woman. In my last post, I argued that The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) had much to say about environmental crisis and race; The Leech Woman is equally relevant—taking up the issue of aging, specifically the way aging women have figured in the horror film.

The film begins with Dr. Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry), who is in search of a way to slow the aging process and thus make himself a wealthy man. One day an elderly African-American woman, Malla (Estelle Hemsley) comes to see him, claiming she’s a 152-year-old former slave. Her story of a substance that can sustain youth, held secret by her tribe in Africa, lures Talbot into the jungle. He brings along his wife, June (Coleen Gray), who is a decade older than he is. All we need to know about the state of their marriage is implicit in a comment he makes early in the film (and which serves as a virtual tagline for the film): “Old women always give me the creeps.”

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