Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Glutton for Punishment: ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES

by JB
Some bad movies are like Kraft Dinner in their terrible, cheesy deliciousness.

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.
I first saw Attack of the Giant Leeches at one of those horror quadruple bills at the late, great Portage theater, which I have discussed in this column and on the podcast. Like alcoholics seeking a meeting, Adam Riske and I were drawn to these screenings before either of us knew who the other person was or that our fates would wind up one day intertwined. The local owner of a used toy emporium would sponsor these Saturday morning marathons, showing four or five horror and sci-fi films in a row with the admission price of a mere five bucks.

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.
The Plot in Brief: Locals begin disappearing in the Florida Everglades. Bait Shop Owner Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota) suspects his provocative wife Liz (Yvette Vickers) of infidelity. When he catches Liz making love swamp-side with his best friend Cal Moulton (Michael Emmet) he orders them at rifle point to march into the swamp. There, the titular creatures grab the two lovers and drag them to their secret blood-letting cave. Back on dry land, Dave is arrested for murder because no one believes his wild story about kidnapping 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.
Like a cold beer at a ballgame or a brimming bowl of mac-n-cheese when we are depressed, Attack of the Giant Leeches fulfills a craving deep down inside of ourselves that, in our dark nights of the soul, we would rather not admit to having. It’s that leech-shaped hole some may call “god” but I call “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.
Obviously, I have a bone to pick with an entertainment industry that worships youth and anorexia. (And to anyone thinking “bone to pick—like when you sit down with a bucket of fried chicken, hhaaha?” shame on you. Also, please give me all your fried chicken.) Someone once said that fat people are the last minority that it’s still considered okay to laugh at and discriminate against. But Hollywood should get smart. When the world runs out of food, which it will, the fat people (who now outnumber the thin) are going to hunt down and eat all of the skinny people. Maybe deep down, those in the entertainment industry know this and are secretly preparing. All of those delicious-looking actors and actresses are not really into jogging, they are all just getting a head start.

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.
I can see it now! Picture a magnificent set on the shores of a bayou with a working bait shop. Canoes travel languidly across the “water” through state-of-the-art stagecraft, and the second act opens in a palpably damp, dimly lit leech cave. When the bait-shop layabouts scoff at Dave Walker’s sham of a marriage, they sing the show’s rousing opening number “I Think You’re What They Call a Cuck!” When two local idiots take off in a canoe, hoping to find and kill the leeches, the hidden “Frog Chorus” sings the ominous and foreboding anthem “Leech Bait.” The distracted, incredulous Sheriff’s heart-wrenching solo is “Just Leave Me To My Beans.” The character of Nan closes the first act by belting out the show’s hit ballad, “I Wish You Were A Better Actor, Steve.” The second act finds a leech falling in love with the beautiful, perky Liz and singing, “Bigger Than A Hickey/More Than Just A Crush.” Doc Greyson, Steve Benton, Nan, and the whole town join together in the show’s closing number, “Dynamite! Dynamite! Boy, Those Leeches Put Up A Fight.” I can smell the money (and the fog-machine swamp gas.) Asperschager! Chaybee! Warm up those keyboards, fellows. We are going to BROADWAY… WITH LEECHES!

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?


  1. I've said it before, i'll say it again, i hate you JB. this one i'll have to order from the US because it's not available on amazon.ca. the shipping and exchange rate are killing me.

    1. Don't hate the player, hate the leech.

      On second thought, we just can't stay mad at giant leeches! They complete us. You will not regret this purchase. You will be able to look back on a life led in service to our giant leech overlords, and you will say, "I lived the leechiest life I could live. Thank you, JB."

  2. JB, I love ya, but I personally don't love pictures of vomit, comically simulated or otherwise. Don't mean to be judgy or petty, just my $.02. :)

  3. Don't you think Jack Black looks incredibly like Bruno VeSota?

  4. Yes, Black will in fact star in the Broadway musical version of this film that I outline above.