If you came of age with the 1986 coming-of-age classic Stand by Me, chances are you long thought twice before taking a dip in any forest ponds.
In perhaps the film’s most famous scene, dead body-seeking friends Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman) and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) emerge from a playful swim break to find themselves covered head to toe and everywhere in between (sorry, Gordo) in leeches.
“They dug an actual hole in the forest and lined it with plastic and then filled it up with water and then left it alone for a month or two months or something like that,” Wheaton — one of our MVPs of Horror this year — tells Yahoo Entertainment during a recent interview promoting the 35th anniversary of the beloved film based on a novella by Stephen King and directed by Rob Reiner (watch above).
“So by the time we got there, it was pretty gross. And it was muddy. I mean, there was nothing unsafe about it. You know, we weren’t going to get sick from it or anything like that. But it was pretty gross and it was pretty cold. It was pretty uncomfortable. And there’s even a shot in the film where Gordie goes through the foreground out of focus and you can see that my hair is completely dry. Cause I was like, ‘Please don’t make me get under the water again.’”
Wheaton says the leeches were created two different ways: For long shots, they used skateboard grip tape, and for the closeups used a combination of latex, blood makeup and rubber cement. The effects did not wear off very easily.
“We wrap and Jerry and I are going to go to a water park that is in the mall in Eugene, Oregon,” Wheaton recalls. “They wouldn’t let us in because we were covered with what looked like big open lesions all over our bodies… We were like, ‘No, no, it’s makeup. We’re working on the movie.’ And the teenager working the door was like, ‘I am not letting you in.’”
In one of the film’s other most harrowing sequences, the boys are caught running for their lives when a train roars up behind them as they cross a bridge that was not built for pedestrians.
“We weren’t terrified enough because we knew we were safe,” Wheaton says of filming the sequence. “Rob got really upset at us because we were outside. It was hot. The grips are running a giant heavy dolly down the train tracks every time we’re running. By like the third or fourth take… Rob has just run out of patience with us. And it is the only time he ever raised his voice to any of us. He yells to Jerry and me. ‘It is hot. We are tired. The grips are tired. I am tired. If you are not worried about the train hitting you, then you worry about me coming and kicking your ass!’ Or something like that.
“He was like, ‘If that train, doesn’t get you, I’m going to get you.’ And we were [screams in horror]. And the next take is in the movie.”
Wil Wheaton talks about emotional abuse he suffered as a child actor:
—Video produced by Olivia Schneider and edited by Schuyler Stone