Running Time: 147 minutes
MPAA Rating: G
Format: Standard 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Languages: English
Subtitles: None
Region: 1
MSRP: $29.95

Own It!
Drive-In Discs Vol. 1: Attack of the Giant Leeches and The Screaming Skull (1959/1958)

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 genre’s 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. I’d give the sound a gentleman’s C, and the visuals (along with those for the disc’s two coming attraction trailers, for The Wasp Woman and The Giant Gila Monster) a D. There’s 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, it’s a terrible idea. In all, the Drive-In Discs idea is strong, and I hope the poor presentation of the two main features doesn’t cripple the series before it gets started.

There’s 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. Here’s the menu in order of appearance:

  • A cartoon sing-along of the National Anthem. (The weird concluding shot of a space capsule heading towards the moon sort of marks its age). Some, I’m sure, will find this quite hokey, although it made me feel sort of wistful.
  • A simply spectacular looking clip from the ‘50s or ‘60s featuring a typical White Guy Authority Figure asking us in the audience to behave ourselves.
  • A cartoon for PIC, a product you lit with a match (yeah, that looks safe) to scare off mosquitoes.
  • A short ("Hey, Mom!") extolling the delicious dining opportunities to be found at the Drive-in.
  • A short, evidently from the ‘70s, requesting that Public Demonstration of Affection (is this where that phrase came from?) be kept to a minimum.
  • Next the classic animated Preview of Coming Attractions announcement, segueing into The Wasp Woman trailer.
  • An announcement of a Short Subject, in this case a surprisingly pristine old Betty Boop cartoon based on Alice in Wonderland. Watching the weirdness here makes you understand why these cartoons became so popular with the drug culture back in the ‘60s.
  • A computer generated sequence introducing the first feature, Attack of the Giant Leeches.
  • The classic Let’s All Go to the Lobby cartoon, recently inducted into the National Film Registry and looking unimaginably good.
  • Tex Rides Again, a commercial for generic treats in the lobby.
  • A very weird short featuring a giant floating boy’s head (ala Zardoz) looking on as a talking and limbed hotdog merrily explains how he prepares himself to be consumed. The bit where it jumps into an open bun seems to have some sort of strange sexual significance. Boy, these things got peculiar. (This short was featured in the background during John Travolta’s heart-wrenching rendition of "Sandy" in the movie Grease. It always made me crack up. -Ed.)
  • Speaking of, we next meet Chilly Dilly, the refrigerated Pickle treat. Like the anonymous Hot Dog, he has a face, arms and legs, but also sports a hat, cane and shoes. Much like the previous short, there seems to be a lot of Freudian subtext here. And again, this looks simply smashing.
  • The announcement and coming attraction trailer for The Giant Gila Monster.
  • Our next Short Subject, an old ‘50s Popeye cartoon, from the era when Bluto became Brutus. The cartoon looks fine, but is an odd choice because it features Popeye as a Private Detective (with a Sherlock Holmes hat) and Brutus doesn’t make an appearance. Moreover, the running gag where the villain tears around the world only to find Popeye waiting for him at every exotic locale is ripped-off from Droopy Dog’s detective cartoons.
  • We end with the showing of The Screaming Skull.

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 I’d imagine most viewers will try it out for a bit and then return to the regular audio track.

In the end, I’m not completely sorry I bought this disc. Yet I’m 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