Friday, October 16, 2009

Favorite Scream Queens: Yvette Vickers

Some B girls, like the wonderful Beverly Garland, you take home to mom.Yvette Vickers, conversely, is the girl you hop into the hot rod with--the sultry, thrill-seeking, wild-for-kicks vixen who's too much trouble to handle but too smoking-hot to resist.

Vickers appeared in several movies and TV shows in the 1950's and '60's, usually in bit roles (she's got a great cameo in Sunset Boulevard as a giggling blonde on a phone at a party); she posed for Playboy in the late fifties; and she worked the lounge circuit as a pop singer, too.  But she amassed a rabid cult following from her work in two low-budget sci-fi classics.

Even horror non-initiates know Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, the immortal 1958 schlock epic in which despondent and put-upon heiress Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes) grows to giant-size after falling afoul of a UFO. Attack's tawdry melodramatic shell conceals heaps of (probably unintentional) subtext: Nancy's imprisoned in a loveless marriage to Harry (William Hudson), a mythically rotten parasite of a guy who looks like Bill Holden's skeevy brother. He's just one of a pack of males who conspire to hold her back--local law enforcement is either in Harry's grubby pocket or ignores her pleas for help; and after Nancy gains Amazonian size and strength the doctors studying her dismiss her mental duress as high-strung female-ness ("When women reach the age of maturity, Mother Nature sometimes overworks their frustrations to the point of irrationalism!" proclaims one). Small wonder Nancy's gigantism feels less like a freakish curse and more like liberation.

Hayes was a great scream queen in her own right, and if I'd had a chance to re-watch more of her movies recently she'd be getting some Petri Dish love in her own right (with her heavy-lidded eyes, bee-stung lips and air of world-weary vulnerability, she coulda been a great noir heroine). Vickers flat-out steals the movie, though, as gold-digging Honey Parker, Harry Archer's hussy on the side. Whether she's kittenishly planting one on Harry even as she goads him into attempting murder, or steaming the windows at Tony's Bar and Cafe in a sexy spitfire dance with the yokel deputy, Honey represents the flip-side of Nancy: She may be the reviled Other Woman, but she knows damn well what she wants.

Vickers' other moment in the B-movie sun came in 1959 with Attack of the Giant Leeches. In it, the aforementioned bloodsuckers rise from an underwater cave (Why? Who the hell cares? GO WITH IT) to liberate hapless locals from their plasma in the Florida Everglades. Vickers plays one of those locals--Liz, the bored and trampy bride of dyspeptic Dave (Bruno VeSota), the local general store owner. Again, Vickers is sex on a stick, traipsing scantily-clad around the swamp environs and enthusiastically jumping into the arms and affections of local stud Cal (Michael Emmet). Of course, the affair ends badly, with Liz and Cal forced to choose between the barrel of Dave's shotgun and a dip in the swamp with something just as lethal and a lot slimier.

It's another blast of a grade B monster-fest, replete with awesomely ridiculous monsters (the giant leeches look like Glad trash bags with octopus suckers plastered all over them), but the best part of Leeches is its richly-pulpy dialogue. Vickers lends slatternly sensuality to her lines, alternately caressing and spitting them out like she's making rough love to them. How apropos, then, that in its most sublime moments Attack of the Giant Leeches resembles nothing more than a sci-fi flick filtered through the senses and sensibilities of Tennessee Williams.

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