With a greater storage capacity than video, the Drive-In Double Feature DVD is an idea whose time has come. (Although Sinister Cinema has been doing these on tape for years.) Something Weird Video is doing the same thing, as with their Doris Wishman double bill Bad Girls Go To Hell and Another Day, Another Man. Still, sci-fi and horror double bills seem even more of a natural.
Attack of the Giant Leeches is a minor but surprisingly decent soap opera set in the Florida swamp country, only with giant leeches. The strongest story line involves a cuckolded shopkeeper and his extremely hot-to-trot young wife. (This is one of two sci-fi flick appearances that earned actress Yvette Vickers a spot as one of the genres all time sexpots. That her movies were in the days before nudity makes this all the more impressive.) The scenes with the leeches stowing their still-living victims in an underground grotto for the occasional late night snack are still pretty gross, despite the bargain-basement leech suits.
The Screaming Skull is the story of a bride who moves into an isolated mansion previously shared by her new husband and his deceased first wife. Soon, though no one will believe her, the bride is haunted by the spirit of the dead wife. Or is she? This is one of those films that marks time until providing us with a goofy big blowout ending. A bit of a cult favorite.
OK, this is a strange situation. The transfers for the films themselves are fairly awful. Attack of the Giant Leeches often looks extremely murky and is plagued by constant graininess. The Screaming Skull, while sometimes just a tad better, on the other hand is often horribly washed out. The sound is only somewhat better, with the regular mono audio track merely adequate. Id give the sound a gentlemans C, and the visuals (along with those for the discs two coming attraction trailers, for The Wasp Woman and The Giant Gila Monster) a D. Theres a theory floating around that the films look bad on purpose, so as to more fully duplicate the sensation of visiting a drive-in. Even if this is true, its a terrible idea. In all, the Drive-In Discs idea is strong, and I hope the poor presentation of the two main features doesnt cripple the series before it gets started.
Theres another side to the story, though. The disc also includes a variety of drive-in type filler material before and between the movies. The oddest thing is that the quality on these, excepting the two coming attraction trailers, ranges from quite good to simply spectacular. The sound is also rather better on these.
This is where the disc shines. We open with some amusing cartoon menus welcoming us to the Drive-in. You can either choose to either play the entire bill or pick individual segments. Heres the menu in order of appearance:
That still leaves the weirdest and most elaborate extra. This is an alternate sound track in Distorto, meant to more fully recreate the experience of being at the drive-in. The sound of the movies, for instance, emanates solely (and scratchily) from your left hand TV speaker, thus imitating the poor audio of listening to a hook-on car speaker. Added to this are ambient noises like cricket chirps and sounds made by other patrons, including your neighbors smuggling a passenger out of their car trunk (!). You can only admire the dedication and ingenuity that went into all this, but Id imagine most viewers will try it out for a bit and then return to the regular audio track.
In the end, Im not completely sorry I bought this disc. Yet Im disappointed that what could have been a must-have DVD is, because of the poor presentation of the main features, at best a marginal purchase.
Ken Begg, 1/26/2001