Filming The Leech Scene For Stand By Me Was Just As Gross As It Looked

If you pulled a bloody leech from your underwear, you'd pass out, too. That's what happened to Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton) when he ventured into the woods with three friends in September of 1959 for a memorable scene from Rob Reiner's coming-of-age film "Stand By Me." After one of the group overhears his brother talking about discovering the body of a missing kid, Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell) conspire with Gordie to locate the body of Ray Brower, a discovery they believe will make them local heroes.

"Stand By Me" is adapted from a novella of best-selling author Stephen King, titled "The Body." It was Rob Reiner's third film, coming in between the John Cusack comedy "The Sure Thing" in 1985 and classic family fairytale "The Princess Bride" in 1987. In adapting King's story, Reiner suggested to screenwriters Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon a larger focus on Gordie, who he described as "a kid who didn't feel good about himself and whose father didn't love him," and they incorporated that into the Oscar-nominated script.

Of all the emotionally-charged moments of "Stand By Me," one of the most talked-about is the leech scene, which happens late in the story. The boys are well into their journey; they've passed a hostile junkyard owner (and his dog Chopper), had a near-miss with a train, and Gordie (Will Wheaton) has regaled everyone with a tale about revenge-vomiting. Some of their fireside discussions indicate an understanding of the inevitabilities of life, such as the roles they play and what's expected of them, and adulthood looms large in their minds. Suddenly, while wading across a river, the boys attract some little wormed passengers and have an understandable freak-out. Variety's oral history of the film reveals that the scene was just as repulsive as it appears.

Nature took its course

"Stand By Me" takes place in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Oregon (Reiner would later name his production company after the town), the bustling hub of several King tales with enough crossover to justify its own series. Brownsville, an Oregon town that captured the vintage feel needed to take its audience back to 1959, was the primary shooting location throughout the summer of 1985. It's not the best time to swim around in stagnant water, but that's what ended up happening to the lead quartet during shooting. Corey Feldman told Variety:

"For the leeches scene, they said, 'We've got a clean lake in the middle of the forest. It's been made by us and it's all movie stuff, movie water and movie dirt. We dug a hole, encased it in plastic and filled it up with fresh water.' The thing they failed to realize was they built this at the beginning of the shoot and by the time we actually got to that scene, it was six weeks later and they'd left it there uncovered. It was no longer man made, as far as all the worms and the bugs and the leaves and the raccoons, they were all in there. Nature took its course."

Armed with this knowledge, watching the boys roughhouse in chest-deep water takes on extra-foul dimensions. And it didn't end with Gordie passing out. In the same oral history, Wheaton describes going to a nearby mall with Phoenix, O'Connell, and Feldman after shooting the scene, and being turned away from the water slides "because they thought we had open lesions on our skin."

At least the groin-feasting leech didn't explode like it did in the book.