You have to admire his bravery.
A lot of directors run away the moment anyone starts talking about their early work and it isn’t much of a surprise. After all, most early efforts were made long before their creators had any clue what they were doing. Most of them end up cringing the minute their early masterpieces show up again. After all, they know far better than we do exactly what they did wrong. Some of them have even tried to buy up all the copies.
But when it came to Fred Olen Ray, not only didn’t he destroy his first film, The Brain Leeches, not only did he allow the public to see this long-lost film, but Fred actually gave it it to a video distributor, Sinister Cinema, so they could sell copies. And he did this even though it had been safely unseen for years.
Now Fred is an interesting figure in the world of bargain basement movies. Not only does he write, direct and produce, but he has his own media company, Retromedia, which sells not only videos (and, I’ll note, those of directors and writers other than Fred Olen Ray), but also old Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. He was also a professional wrestler, under the name Fabulous Freddie Valentine.
However, just so there are no false impressions, I’ll note that most of his films are relentlessly cheap.
And there are a lot of boobs.
His best films have achieved a sort of B-movie perfection, as close to the Platonic ideal as a B-Movie could ever be, stripped of everything which is not needed.
The Brain Leeches was not one of those.
Instead, Fred made this with some leftover film he got from work, and a handful of friends. The effects are absurd, with rubber toy insects standing in for the brain leeches, and their leader played by what is supposedly crumpled aluminum foil and a couple of thumbtacks: to be fair, though, it’s a nearly shapeless (and somewhat lopsided) mass with white eyes, and it’s in a dark room. It could be almost anything.
However, the whited-out eyes of those taken over by the leeches is reasonably effective, even if it’s just white tape and a bit of black makeup.
Then there are the sound issues: a lot of the scenes have no dialogue, and the narrator tells us what’s going on. But the dead giveaway comes when the sound suddenly drops off right in the middle of one conversation and the narrator has to tell us what’s being said! In fact, they had a lot of trouble with their recording equipment, and rather than get his cast back to re-loop everything, Fred had his brother record this narration.
Well, I doubt if his dialogue was deathless prose, anyway.
Nor is it ever really that clear who the main character is supposed to be as we go through several of them before we’re done. One is taken over the aliens, another pretends to join them but is murdered when he tries to stop them, and the Sheriff’s investigations never go very far.
Then there is the young man we see working out with a masked wrestler twice his size: he is supposedly a scientist and professional wrestler, not that we ever see him doing any science.
And yes, I’m pretty sure he’s played by Fred.
There is also a brief appearance by a baby (who is wearing sunglasses, like his mother, to hide the fact that he’s been taken over by the aliens) who is played by Fred’s son Chris, who would appear as a monster in Fred’s films Biohazard and Hybrid, before going on to his own career directing equally cheap movies.
As disappointing as this may be to those who love his exploitation films, there is no nudity. You don’t get nudity in most Grade Z movies because it isn’t easy to get people to do it for free.
And we really need to note the music here: we get a couple of folk rock songs at the beginning and end, and there’s an alien-themed patter song sung by someone calling himself ‘Wild Bill’ Cooksey. But most of the music is bombastic classical music, without any real attempt to match it with the action. Fred claimed that they put a classical record on and let it play during whatever scene they were editing. Which means that, at times, the soundtrack thunders ominously over some totally bland and uninspiring scene.
It isn’t exactly impressive or memorable. But then, one doesn’t expect either from a bargain basement film. The story is scattershot, there’s a lot of useless, boring material, and it doesn’t move along the way it should.
But for goodness sakes, it only cost $298!
So it may not be much, but then, it’s amazing that he accomplished what he did (as minimal as it may seem).
And it even goes out with a big bang…