[Interview] Eric Pennycoff for THE LEECH

Father David, a catholic priest struggling to grow his congregation in THE LEECH, encounters a stranger by the name of Terry asleep one morning after Mass. Terry is without a home after a fight with his girlfriend Lexi and with Christmas less than a week away; David offers him a place to stay for the night. What begins as a simple act of kindness quickly turns complicated as Lexi arrives shortly after with news of being evicted from her house. Unable to turn away this helpless young woman, David allows both her and Terry to stay with him through the holidays on the condition that they open themselves to the healing power of God’s love.

Yet the harder David tries to reform the lives of these seemingly innocent strangers, the more he himself falls victim to their toxic ways, leading to the belief that their arrival is in fact, a test from God. Will David pass the test and accept his new houseguests as they are? Or will he set aside the ways of Christ and resort to blood soaked, Old Testament justice?

For the release of THE LEECH, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky e-chatted with writer/director Eric Pennycoff, where they discussed the origins of THE LEECH, balancing the dark comedy tones in the script, and the dangers of codependency.

There are a couple different ideas floating around in THE LEECH. Religion is obviously one of them. So, I have to ask what was the initial creative launching point for the story?

Eric Pennycoff: I was sitting around during the first couple months of the pandemic watching films like Bad Influence and Pacific Heights. That got me thinking about wildcard characters uprooting the life of someone who’s the total opposite. Someone clean-cut who would have a high tolerance for that sort of thing. A catholic priest just made sense and then setting it at Christmas locked everything in.

The tone sort of rides a fine line between comedy and horror. From the writing process to working with the performers, how did you tackle that balancing act with the tone? It’s almost like a dark comedy in a way.

Eric Pennycoff: I tried to write everything as straightforward and factual as possible which is what makes it funny I think. I really wanted to make a film that people had fun watching. So much of the comedy and friction comes from how opposite Father David and Terry are. Graham Skipper and Jeremy Gardner are masters at what they do. There’s no better special effect than good actors.

THE LEECH reunites you with Jeremy Gardner, Terry Zaudtke, and Graham Skipper. Were the roles specifically written with them in mind? If so, having worked with them before, what was the process like in crafting a role with a person in mind? Especially when you know their weaknesses, strengths, etc.

Eric Pennycoff: All four roles were written for our four actors. I’d been a fan of Graham’s for years and Rigo just popped up in a couple short films that I thought were fantastic. As for Jeremy and Taylor, I had a lot of fun working with them previously and felt we had unfinished business. I mean that in the fact that I wanted to see them play totally opposite characters this time out. Those two can do anything.

Alright. Picture it. Sicily, 1945. Wait. This isn’t the Golden Girls, so let me rephrase. Look back in time to when you were shooting the film in those frigid snowy temps. What was the most challenging scene for you to shoot? Whether logistically, performance-wise, etc.

Eric Pennycoff: Anything involving the church was challenging. The place was freezing cold, electricity was sparse and the people allowing us to shoot there were under the impression it was a faith-based documentary called “Helping Hands”. Those were a long two days.

This is more of a curiosity question but, with how the characters are written, can it be said that all three can be interpreted as The Leech in the film? They all need something from one another in order to survive and sponge off of each other with mixed results.

Eric Pennycoff: Definitely. It’s a lot about codependency which when mixed with religion is a recipe for disaster. There’s nothing wrong with helping others as long as you’re not asking for something in return, as David does.

THE LEECH seems more open in terms of what we can take away from the film. For myself and in my observations of Father David, it almost seems like an overwhelming lesson on why establishing boundaries is important. Things can go horribly awry when they don’t, but it’s hard to see that when you might have been raised with the principle of self-sacrifice for good. What are you hoping people take away from the film?

Eric Pennycoff: Absolutely. One of the things that struck me most about Catholic priests growing up in the church was how much pressure these guys must live with. Self-sacrifice in the name of Christ is pretty gnarly when you think about it. And it’s clear that repression can lead to horrible actions as the public has witnessed for decades now.

Now that THE LEECH is out on ARROW, are there any projects in the works from you that we should keep our eyes open for?

Eric Pennycoff: I really don’t know! There’s a couple things I’m working on. None of which take place during another polar vortex.

You can check out THE LEECH on ARROW now. To learn more, check out our review.

Sarah Musnicky
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