After traveling to Africa, a woman learns the secret of eternal youth - unfortunately, it entails regularly sacrificing young men.
Dr. Paul Talbot is trying to find the secret of eternal youth. A 152 year-old African woman, Mala, approaches Paul and offers him her tribe's secret to long life, a special orchid pollen, but he is doubtful until she demonstrates how she has kept herself alive. He tells the secret to his estranged, alcoholic, and aged wife, June, and gets a guide to help them go on an expedition to Mala's village.
During the dangerous journey, June realizes Paul only wants her along to test the potential potion and becomes enraged. June, Paul, and the guide are captured by Mala's tribe and arrive just in time to see Mala undergo a special ceremony, extracting the pineal hormones of a man with a spiked ring, killing him in the process. She then mixes it with the pollen and drinks it to make her young again. Mala makes an offer for June to use the ring; Paul wants to use the opportunity to escape and "get help." However, June turns the tables and chooses Paul as the man she will kill. She undergoes the ceremony, and she and the guide then create a distraction, steal the ring and pollen, and escape. However, as Mala implied, the effect is temporary; June realizes she must keep killing men to keep young and alive, and so kills the guide after they become lost in the jungle.
When she arrives back in the States, Sally, Paul's shrewishly-voiced nurse, is dating Neil, June's wimpish but mildly attractive lawyer. June uses her new youth to pretend to be Terry Hart, her own niece; she constantly hits on Neil and makes Sally utterly jealous. She also goes around town, using her older form, to trick drunks and con men for their sweet, sweet pineal juice. Neil eventually falls in love with Terry, and decides to end it with Sally. Sally confronts Terry and tries to send her to New York via gun; the two fight, and Terry kills her with the ring.
During a romantic evening she has planned with the now free Neil, a detective investigating one of the men she's killed comes to her home and confronts her; he discovers Sally's body in the closet. Crazed, June rants about the formula for youth and tries to prove it using Sally's pineal juice, however June does not stop aging - in fact, she begins to age even more rapidly. Realizing she's lost everything, she throws herself off of her second-story bedroom balcony and reveals her horrible secret in death.
Tropes used in The Leech Woman:
- The Alcoholic: June.June: Here's to you, whiskey, guardian of all frustrated wives.note
- All Men Are Perverts: Depressingly so; every single male in the movie seems motivated by lust (and greed). And the women are completely defined by their ability to attract men.
- All Take and No Give / Masochism Tango: June and Talbot, and HOW.
- Artistic License Biology: Leaving out the whole "youth serum" thing, the pineal gland is buried deep in the middle of the brain—the small spiked ring used to extract its juice is nowhere near big enough to get at it in a single rabbit punch to the back of the skull.
- Asshole Victim: June's last tie to morality after she starts killing seems to be her choice of victims, most of whom were crimes of passion. Talbot's an obvious example. Sally was threatening to kill her if she didn't leave. David the hunter is where she first went over the slippery slope, but he did reject her. The one time she kills in completely cold blood, her victim is the con artist who tries to kill her for the jewelry she wore as baitnote — the film even spends a few minutes showing her rejecting the chance to ensnare the happy drunkard she meets earlier.
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Subverted. Talbot acts the part, but he's just using June straight 'til the end. His.
- Batman Gambit: Mala plays Talbot and June like a fiddle, getting a free trip home and knowing their Chronic Backstabbing Disorder will make sure the secret of the naipe is never revealed.
- But Not Too Black: The actresses who played Old and Young Mala (Estelle Hemsley and Kim Hamilton, respectively). All of the background tribeswomen, as well, are noticeably lighter-skinned than the males.
- Calling Card: June accidentally leaves one behind after she murders the sleazy guy. Oops.
- Crapsack World: The world this movie depicts — every character unilaterally selfish and motivated by their worst impulses — is definitely this.
- Darkest Africa
- Despair Event Horizon: June, after drinking Sally's pineal juice and having her aging accelerate rather than reverse.
- Destructive Romance: A disturbing example, rife with sadism and codependency.
- Distinguishing Mark: A scar caused by a slave trader is how Young Malla proves she's the same Malla who was 152 years old.
- Downer Ending: June commits suicide after realizing her murder of Sally (and by extension the others as well) was All for Nothing. The secret of naipe (which could've been studied and replicated) is almost certainly lost forever to the world, since the only people who knew about it and believed it was real are all dead, and the surviving Nandos are probably going to be even more isolationist than before. Finally, Neil's obsessive, controlling girlfriend is dead, as is the lady he instantly fell in love with, who was never actually real.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Just prior to the movie, Malla had "dreams of blood", with June as the central figure.
- Dr. Jerk: Dr. Paul Talbot.
- Driven to Suicide: June jumps out a window when Sally's pineal juices don't work.
- Dysfunction Junction: Let's see, we have an endocrinologist motivated solely by greed and lust; his alcoholic wife he psychologically abuses mercilessly, yet who later loses all sympathy points by becoming the titular Leech Woman; a Great White Hunter motivated solely by greed and lust; a seemingly-noble lawyer who later reveals himself to be an inveterate cheater; a Yandere nurse willing to go to psychotic ends to keep her man (AND who hardly batted an eyelash as she saw aforementioned wife abused time and time again); and a Con Man motivated solely by greed and lust. The only remotely sympathetic character is Mala, a 150-year-old Magical Negro who sets the plot in motion, and even she's not that great, considering she has an innocent man of her tribe killed just so she can enjoy a few minutes of youth. You could say the policemen at the climax are not so bad, but the lead detective is smug to the point of being a complete ass even after Neil identifies himself as an attorney.
- Economy Cast: There's no story-related reason that Neil needs to be dating Paul's nurse. However, by having him do so, the producers were able to avoid having to cast two separate actresses as the nurse and Neil's girlfriend.
- Evil vs. Evil: Everybody vs. everybody else. It's that kind of movie.
- Fountain of Youth: and of Oldth.
- Gold Digger: Dr. Talbot's a male version.
- Great White Hunter: David.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Dr. Talbot brings June with him to Africa so she can test the rejuvenation potion. Guess who dies so she can become young?
- Humans Are Bastards: The ultimate moral of the film; there is not a single honorable character in the entire cast, and in fact most of the cast is appallingly petty, occasionally outright murderous. And these traits are considered normal and commonplace.
- Immortality Immorality: There's only one place to get pineal juice, and it ain't Wal-mart.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: How Neil accidentally outs June as the murderer. Played with in that he actually thought he was exonerating her.Detective: There was another murder just like this one, a week ago.
Neil: Well that proves Mrs. Talbot couldn't have done it; a week ago she was in New York.
Detective: So was the murder.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Oh yeah.
- Jerkass: Paul Talbot. To put it mildly. In fact, the entire cast could qualify.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: June starts off as a sympathetic character, but after one shot of the youth formula, she became all too eager to kill in order to preserve her youth.
- Looks Worth Killing For: June basically comes a serial killer for youth.
- Love Martyr: June is legitimately, whole-heartedly, pathetically in love with Paul.
- Magical Negro: Malla and the Nandos hold the secret to the Fountain of Youth.
- Manipulative Bastard: Paul sees literally everyone around him as nothing but tools for him to use to advance his own ambitions, honeys them up with fake praises and promises only to abandon them the moment they are no longer useful to him. It ultimately leads to his death.
- MayDecember Romance: Sans "romance," in Paul and June's case. June and Neil play it a bit straighter - at least in chronological terms.
- Mighty Whitey: Surprisingly averted in a 1950's film. There is a scene that could qualify — where David's porters appear to be spooked by some buzzards and David seems to be reassuring them — but it's open to interpretation as the dialogue is untranslated.
- Misplaced Wildlife: An elephant — not even an African one, but an Asian one with fake ear extensions — shows up in the middle of the jungle, stock footage of crocodiles and alligators is used interchangeably, and kookaburra sound effects are occasionally heard.
- Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Paul spends the entire movie viciously verbally and emotionally abusing June, and then was surprised when June decided to have her youth restored using Paul as the sacrifice.
- Murder Is the Best Solution: It would seem, with this crowd, murder is the FIRST AND LAST solution.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Just before June offs herself, she utters the following when seeing that Sally's pineal secretions were backfiring on her:June: It's not working... I killed Sally for nothing!
- My Grandson Myself: June uses her new youth to pretend to be her own niece.
- Nonindicative Name: Though she does, technically, "leech", June is not, alas, a leech-woman. *Sigh*
- Older Than They Look: Thanks to the naipe, Malla doesn't quite look 152 years old.
- Out with a Bang: Malla's tribe uses the pineal ceremony to allow old women to go out this way.
- Pet the Dog: David's a greedy Great White Hunter, but he still treats pre-rejuvenation June better than her husband ever did.
- Phlebotinum Breakdown: Naipe alone = slowed aging, naipe + male pineal juice = youth serum, naipe + female pineal juice = Bride of the Cryptkeeper.
- Phlebotinum Muncher: ... and a subject suffers Rapid Aging if they don't keep supplementing their doses.
- Pineal Weirdness
- Playing Gertrude: June's implied to be approximately in her mid-fifties or so, and much older then Paul. At the time of filming, Coleen Gray was about 37 or 38 - 13 years younger then the man who played her husband. Justified, of course; it's a lot harder to make an older actor look young than to make a younger actor look old.
- Plot-Relevant Age-Up: Inverted with Malla, played straight (to ill effect) with June.
- Pretty in Mink: We know that money isn't one of the things making June unhappy, since she first appears in a nice day dress and mink wrap.
- Quicksand Sucks
- Rapid Aging: This is the consequence of drinking female pineal juice instead of male, as June learns the hard way.
- Scars Are Forever: The brand of the Arab slaver who sold Malla and her mother is still present 140 years later, and even after she's been rejuvenated.
- Smug Snake: Talbot, the main Hate Sink trait for his Asshole Victim comeuppance.
- Stock Footage: "Real Africa...Hollywood Africa!"
- After several minutes of Africa footage, Mike and the 'bots declare it to be "more like stock mileage at this point."
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Every character that wasn't a Jerkass to begin with.
- Too Dumb to Live: Apparently the restoration of her youth shaved off a few dozen of Malla's IQ points. "Well, I had been having psychic dreams about you becoming a murderer, but since I'm young now, I don't really care any more. Think I'll go get laid - seize the day, you know. Anyway, you've got free rein of the village 'til we execute you and your heavily-armed boyfriend tomorrow! Ta!"
- Neil Foster probably counts too. A supposedly intelligent lawyer lets himself be instantly seduced away from his fiancee by a client's niece whom he'd never heard of until she appears, and who looks and sounds exactly like a younger version of his client. Not to mention he has every reason to believe she's mentally unstable, given how she behaved earlier.
- Paul Talbot emotionally abuses his wife for years, drags her to Africa just to use her as a guinea pig in his experiments, announces that the best way to escape is leave her behind, and encourages her to pick a man to murder so that he can enact this plan. Then is shocked when she picks him.
- World of Jerkass: There is absolutely no decent character in this movie.
- Yandere: Sally, pulling a gun on your ex's new flame isn't exactly normal.