We are all interested in bad movies, Yvette Vickers, and yummy bowls of mac-n-cheese, for that is the stuff we use to fill our “cinema tummies” in the middle of the night. You are interested in the unhealthy, the fattening, and the yellow—that is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you the “full meal” of one of the worst movies ever made. We are offering you all the evidence, based only on bringing the film to boil for seven and a half minutes and then adding the enclosed envelope of cheese dust and the butter and milk that you have to supply yourself. Some films reward us by making us see the world in a whole new way, and other films reward us by existing as a predictable hot dose of empty calories.
How could we resist? Years later, when we were both writing for this site and Adam realized we were both at those screenings, he said one of the funniest things I have ever heard. He said, “Whenever I went to one of these shows at the Portage, I’d sit there during the movies just waiting for a wrecking ball to smash through one of the walls…”
This captures everything you need to know about the experience.
But back to Leeches.
Meanwhile, Fish and Wildlife Warden Steve Benton (Ken Clark) thinks something is amiss in the swamp, but he will be damned if he will allow the locals, including his girlfriend Nan’s father, Doc (Tyler McVey) to hurt any wildlife or plants in their headstrong search for the killer beasts. The locals favor dynamite; iron-jawed Steve thinks there has to be a better way.
Attack of the Giant Leeches was made in eight days on a budget of just over $70,000. Any and all criticism of this film can be countered with the fact that it was made in eight days on a budget of just over $70,000. Considering the budget and shooting schedule, that the film was finished is a miracle. Sure, the pace is languid, even for a film that runs little more than an hour; the special effects are dubious (though I find the black garbage bag leech costumes charming); the performances are variable, though Bruno VeSota and Yvette Vickers turn their few scenes together into Tennessee Williams community theater; and the editing is jarring. These are quibbles. This is a film you turn to when you want to (No, make that MUST) see giant leeches attack. For you see, this film HAS giant leeches… and they DO attack… kind of a lot. You get what I’m saying, right? Most films (even many of the “greats” like Bicycle Thieves or The Godfather or Citizen Kane) are woefully lacking even medium-sized leeches.
The biggest problem in Attack of the Giant Leeches is the protagonist. I am not familiar with Ken Clark’s other work, though he appeared in dozens of films including South Pacific. His character here is annoying—humorless and stiff. The script often requires him to go on and on about something and his quiet, earnest delivery just sinks it. We wonder how anyone else in the film, including his girlfriend, can stand to be around him. We wonder if “Fish and Wildlife Warden” is an elected position in this town and, if so, how in hell did this drip get elected? We wonder if we have time to launch a counter campaign against Steve Benton, despite our limited knowledge of both fish and wildlife. We wonder if Nan got involved with Steve because she has a chronic case of insomnia and her doctors suggested that listening to Steve’s endless, droning speechifying was the only known cure.
One big thing I give this film credit for is the casting of Bruno VeSota as Bait Shop Owner Dave Walker. The script mentions that Walker is a “sizeable man,” and the filmmakers had the guts… to cast an actor with a gut. This is rare. On the recent Vacation podcast, Patrick and I got off on a bit of a tangent about more inclusive casting in Hollywood. Surely, we should applaud more LGBTQ casting, but I wondered aloud about the ends of such an effort and came up with a stupid, insensitive analogy that Bromley quickly shot down. Thank God! I am not yet woke, but I am rubbing my eyes. The analogy I should have raised was thin actors staying thin to play famous people who we know were fat (one example is Campbell Scott, thin person, purporting to play famous humorist Robert Benchly in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. Benchley, a personal hero of mine, was built a little like me.) Or worse yet, thin actors appearing in heavy makeup and padded costumes to poke fun at fat people, or actors who put on a few pounds for a role and are then lauded as “brave” for being willing to appear… substantial.
But back to Leeches.
The copyright on this film has lapsed, which is why we are subjected to endless dollar bin transfers and YouTube eyesores. The fine folks at Retromedia recently released a version on blu-ray disc as a double feature with Teenagers From Outer Space that I fear is the best this film will ever look. Sure, it’s a little washed out, scratched, and splicey, but it will do.
In the spirit of Little Shop of Horrors and Hamilton, the time is right for another big Broadway musical based on a famous B-movie. (Okay, Hamilton was never a B-movie, but the guy’s life was in the public domain.) I am proposing that Attack of the Giant Leeches should be that musical.
My friend, you have now read this column, based on my own sworn testimony. Did it not make you hungry? Were you not entertained? Perhaps on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will ask that stranger to join you at the local diner for a steaming bowl of macaroni and cheese. Weirder things have happened, my friends. Perhaps the stranger is a leech wearing a trenchcoat and hat, and that leech will murder you. Or perhaps you and the stranger will fall in love. How on earth do you think I met my wife?