In his lab, scientist Dr Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) and his wife June (Coleen Gray) are fighting again, which has driven her to drink, and the drunker she gets the more Paul fights with her in a vicious circle of ill-feeling. Eventually she tells him she wants a divorce, but he responds that she will soon be so inebriated she won't remember such a demand and they will be back to square one. Anyway, he has his work to get on with, so after sending June on her way back home, he is told by his assistant Sally (Gloria Talbott) that the woman he wanted to see for his research is here...
And who knows where that might lead? The Leech Woman was one of those films, like The Alligator People for example, which was made not through any pressing desire to tell a rattling good yarn or put across some meaningful message, but simply to fill out the bottom half of a double bill, so the quality you might have expected to be rather substandard. In spite of the low expectations, this was brief enough not to outstay its welcome and succeeded in being very eventful, so while you could chuckle at its camper elements, it was busy enough not to be dismissed outright, no matter its lowly origins.
A couple of years before Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? we were intended to find old women a source of grotesque chills, which the dialogue here stated outright was an entirely understandable reaction. All of which was very unfair to a vast swathe of the planet's population, but the fear of growing elderly and seeing your youthful good looks fade was the main impetus of the horror, not something exclusive to The Leech Woman, but seeking a midway point between H. Rider Haggard's She and Countess Dracula, only here the elixir of life was something more complicated to get at. As informed by the old woman Malla (Estelle Hemsley), Talbot discovers that for himself.
What she tells him is that she has a special powder, a supply of which she brought over from Africa one hundred and forty years ago (!), and while it may not make her young, it does prevent her from dying for a long time. But there's more: she says her tribe has a secret of reverting the partaker to a younger state, and if he should care to travel to Africa and seek out that tribe, he will receive the gift himself, so apparently unaware there is surely some kind of catch, he takes June and off they go. She is understandably sceptical, but Talbot sweet talks her into accompanying him and soon there's a welter of stock footage passing before our eyes as all the clips of African wildlife the Universal library could get their hands on are put into practice.
This was very much a film of two halves, but to cut a long story (well, not really that long) short when June returns she is posing as her niece Terri (Terri and June?! Be intrigued, sitcom fans) since the magic worked and now she is restored to her former glowing appearance, before alcoholism took its toll. This also has Gray glammed up appropriately, as for a famed beauty she was brave enough to spend most of the movie in particularly unflattering makeup, ah, but it doesn't last since the effects of the powder only endure so long. Oh, and the extract of the pineal gland too. That's right, June has to now go around draining the gland in the brain with her special gemstone ring nicked from the tribe, which essentially makes her a murderer, and all for that attractiveness we are supposed to believe is worth killing for. Naturally she suffers so she can have her just desserts, but funnily enough we don't really fear her, for Gray conveyed a pathetic quality to her character which made June more the object of pity. What it said about the worth of female vanity was probably best left in 1960, however.