Newlyweds Eric and Jenni Whitlock retire to his desolate mansion, where Eric's first wife Marianne died from a mysterious freak accident. Jenni, who has a history of mental illness, begins to see strange things including a mysterious skull, which may or may not be a product of her imagination. Suspicion falls on Mickey, the estate's mentally challenged gardener, who was seemingly was very attached to his former mistress.
Running Time: 68 Minutes
MPAA Ratings: PG
In the argument of quality versus quantity, producers Roger Corman and Samuel Z. Arkoff happily opted for the latter. Both Corman and Arkoff are hallowed names in the annals of exploitation and cheapie horror movies of the 1950s and '60s. The amount of cinema these two men are responsible for is staggering: Combined, they have production credits on at least 430 movies spanning more than five decades.
While Arkoff's last production credit was 1985's Hellhole, Corman continues to produce films well into the new century. And, while both men have had been connected with the best in Hollywood (Corman's school of filmmaking gave a leg up to such directors as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Jonathan Demme, while Arkoff has worked with Brian De Palma and animation maverick Ralph Bakshi), they will always be remembered for their voracious cinematic output during the days of the drive-in movie theater. Most of the movies they made were never very good, but considering the time and monetary restraints under which the majority of them were made, they are testament to the independent spirit that continues to challenge traditional Hollywood output today.
One of Corman's earliest production efforts was The Giant Leeches (aka Attack of the Giant Leeches), a joint project with his brother, Gene Corman. Set in a steamy bayou swamp town, it gleefully mixes sordid Southern-fried melodrama with monster mayhem--it's as if Tennessee Williams were asked to pen a schlocky horror movie.
Something is killing the small town's residents and also making off with all the crocodiles, but no one believes Doc Greyson (Tyler McVey) that it may be some form of life the townspeople have never seen before. How to explain the giant bloody sucker marks on the deceased? As in most horror movies, characters are always more than willing to ignore the obvious. The local game warden (Steve Benton) is sure that there is a logical explanation, but he will, obviously, be proved wrong.
Director Bernard L. Kowalski, who had directed the Corman-produced Night of the Blood Beast two years earlier, handily splits the movie's brief 68-minute running time between the two staples of exploitation filmmaking: sex and violence. Sex comes in the form of then-Playboy Playmate Yvette Vickers, who plays Liz, the sultry wife of Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota), the overweight grocery-store owner. Liz spends the first 10 minutes of the movie slinking around Dave's grocery store in a tiny bathrobe, teasing the local men and casually tormenting her husband. This soon develops into a nasty love triangle, as Liz begins an affair with a local named Cal (Michael Emmet). And, wouldn't you know that Dave catches the two of them together in the swamp, the home of the giant leeches?
"The Screaming Skull" opens with a warning and an offer for free burial services if you should die watching it - Now there's a hook! The story itself has a fairly interesting premise for a horror flick: scheming husband marries a wealthy woman with a history of mental illness, then attempts to convince her that she's going insane with shrill noises, mysterious knocking and skulls that turn up at inopportune times. Add to the formula a sufficiently creepy gardener who still cherishes the memory of the man's first wife who he was devoted to. Maybe it's just that the 1950's didn't have the technology to pull off some of the scare scenes needed to juice up this movie, the techniques used here seem contrived and mundane. But then again, when I first saw "House on Haunted Hill" as a nine year old, it gave me the heebie jeebies in the same way I'm sure this film did for young viewers of the same era.
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