Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans



 Directed by Eric Pennycoff.
Starring Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, Taylor Zaudtke, Rigo Garay.
Horror/Comedy, USA, 82 mins, cert 18.

Released in the UK on Blu-ray via Arrow Video on Monday 5th December 2022.


Christmas is traditionally a time for good cheer and helping out those less fortunate than yourselves and, especially in these troubled times, the message about reaching out to help someone in need has never been stronger. With that in mind, filmmaker Eric Pennycoff has offered up an alternative festive treat with THE LEECH, a movie where one man’s offer of a helping hand turns out to be the catalyst for a psychedelic nightmare.


That one good man is Father David (Graham Skipper), an optimistic priest in a church with a withering congregation who one day discovers what appears to be a homeless man called Terry (Jeremy Gardner) trying to sleep on one of the church pews. After politely asking Terry to leave, Father David discovers him outside trying to get hold of his girlfriend but unable to get a signal, and so, being the kind man that he is, offers Terry a ride to his girlfriend’s house. Naturally, she isn’t there and so David feels obliged to offer Terry a room at his home, sparking off a series of events that eventually lead to madness, drug abuse, sexual deviancy and murder. You try to help some people…


With a main cast of only four people, THE LEECH is a claustrophobic horror/thriller that benefits a lot from its restrictions – it was filmed during the Covid pandemic and so having a small cast and crew filming in the limited locations works in its favour – and sets up its core characters quickly and efficiently; Father David is clearly stuffy and repressed with various demons nestling under the surface, signified by the large portrait of his deceased mother that hangs next to her ashes on his mantlepiece, whilst Terry is clearly a man of experience and isn’t afraid to do anything he feels like. Likewise, his girlfriend Lexi (Gardner’s real-life wife Taylor Zaudtke), who shows up at David’s house, is just as wild and hedonistic, and all three actors deliver excellent performances, throwing you deep into the pit of despair that David finds himself in as he cannot seem to get rid of his ‘guests’.


The main problem with THE LEECH, however, is that it sets itself up so tightly and, for want of a better word (although it isn’t necessarily a bad thing), obviously that when the proverbial hits the fan and everything kicks off, the movie has nowhere left to go to fill out its already trim running time, meaning it runs out of steam just as quickly as it got to boiling point in the first place. The final act is awash with neon red, green and blue lighting and quick edits to represent the madness that has taken hold in Father David’s house, but it never really gives you anything more than a light show and lots of shouting as it crashes towards an inevitable ending that could have come a few minutes earlier and not left such a nails-down-chalkboard effect in the viewing experience. Yes, it is extremely unpleasant to sit through but not necessarily for the same reasons that Eric Pennycoff intended.


But despite the off-the-rails ending, THE LEECH does have enough in its first two acts to creep under your skin as you see the cat-and-mouse games that Terry is instigating begin to play out. There is a thick streak of black humour than runs through the script, helped on by Graham Skipper and Jeremy Gardner’s nuances and comic timing, that keeps the energy levels up when it could have so easily have been played totally straight and probably meandered to a halt before it got to where it needed to be. It is just that when things do take a turn THE LEECH can’t keep that momentum going to any great effect, making the ending a welcome relief for all involved, characters and audience.


Coming packed out with extras that include a selection of Eric Pennycoff’s short movies, an excellent and insightful video essay from critic Anton Bitel that covers the themes in Pennycoff’s works, a FRIGHTFEST Q&A from the 2022 summer festival, cast and crew interviews, trailers, a music video, reversible sleeve and all the other gubbins that Arrow Video throw in, THE LEECH has the potential to become a future regular Christmas watch for the more daring horror fan who wants more than just a seasonal slasher to sit by the fire with, but it is probably best viewed late on those cold winter nights, when the eggnog has been opened and has started to take effect so those grating psychedelics can do their work properly.


Chris Ward.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans