One St. Patrick's Day, Seven LEPRECHAUN Films: A Retrospect
Originally published March, 2017 on Blumhouse.com
With St. Patrick’s Day upon u, this horror super-fan (self proclaimed, not an official title) tasked himself with watching all seven of the Leprechaun horror movie franchise. It is a task that I have put upon myself a number of times but always end up cowering out about three movies in. In fact, the last two years, I’ve only watched Leprechaun: Origins. Why? Who knows. This year, however, things were different. I watched all seven Leprechaun movies back to back, lived to tell the tale, and here is the retrospective highlighting the highs and the lows of the Warwick Davis fronted franchise.
The original Leprechaun hit theaters in 1993 and if it had come out any other time than literally the first week (January 8th) it may have done much worse than it did. The rest of the year is jam packed with blockbusters and classics, ranging from Jurassic Park to Mrs. Doubtfire to Tombstone, Leprechaun still managed to squeak out with an almost entire unknown cast and make nearly 9 million dollars against less than a million dollar budget. It launched the career of nineties superstar and Friends alumni Jennifer Aniston, and outside of that stars Mark Holton and Robert Hy Gorman (or as I ultimately referred to them: guy from Pee Wee's Big Adventure and the best friend of the main character in Rookie of the Year.) Not exactly a star studded cast. Leprechaun sets the golden standard of how the franchise will play out throughout the decades. Gold is stolen, leprechaun looks for gold while murdering along the way. The movie was originally set out to be a real full out horror movie but after the success of films like Gremlins and Critters, and some persuasion from Warwick Davis, the movie was played more like a horror comedy. It’s a silly movie, with Davis rhyming often and singing nursery rhymes, but has some nearly creepy moments and doesn’t take itself to seriously. The most notable bit of it is really how fantastic the make-up on Davis is but in the long line of Leprechaun movies is neither the worst nor the most memorable.
With the surprise success of the first film, Trimark and Lionsgate pushed for Leprechaun 2 and gave it a 2.2 million dollar budget and managed to drop it into theaters just a year later in 1994. Leprechaun 2 sets the benchmark of the series, positing no connection to the first film or even really any consistency in the powers of the Leprechaun or his weaknesses. Taking place in L.A., the sequel fully embraces the humor aspect and also starts to push the creativity of the kills, leaning more into A Nightmare on Elm Street territory than standard creature feature affair. Ultimately, Leprechaun 2 is a love story between Cody and Bridget and the leprechaun that tries to come between them. No, seriously. In the film, the leprechaun is searching for a bride while also obsessing over gold. Cody is the down on his luck boyfriend who has to prove he loves Bridget by ultimately hunting down the leprechaun and freeing his girlfriend from his clutches. While the kills get more creative, including a pot of gold becoming trapped in one character’s stomach and the leprechaun creating his own death-trap go-kart, the characters are almost all unlikeable and gore is almost nonexistent. It was a move in the right direction, slightly building upon the first film while fully embracing the comedic aspect they were shooting for. Despite this, it only banked 2 million worldwide and would result in the rest of the franchise going straight to video. Fun fact, the movie is alternately titled ONE WEDDING AND LOTS OF FUNERALS.
This third film, although not managing to make the leap to the big screen, is perhaps the best of the series. Again, following the sequel by just a year, Leprechaun 3 takes place in Las Vegas and introduces a number of new elements that make the movie a cheesy albeit fun entry. Following Scott, a young boy whose striking out on his own, it introduces a number of characters that are total sleazeballs. The ones you kind of root to see killed by a merciless gold grubbing leprechaun. The movie has a lot of things that actually work in it’s favor. It’s low budget doesn’t stop director Brian Trenchard-Smith from doing his best to portray Las Vegas as the City of Sin. Three of the main characters are a stage magician, a casino owner, and a corrupt roulette table operator. Immediately as Scott walks into the hotel, a priest is at a craps table with two prostitutes blowing on his dice. It’s heavy handed in the best way possible. The movie also displays the powers of the leprechaun at their fullest power, with the creature going full Freddy Krueger. Taking a cue from the infamous “Monkey’s Paw” short story, the numerous antagonists use a stolen schilling to make wishes and the leprechaun grants them in the most wicked way possible. We get to see a man electrocuted to death by a robot that has human breasts, a woman who has different parts of her body expand until she explodes and one particular slimy magician sawed in half with a chainsaw. The movie is easily the most fun in the series, with a colorful backdrop and a fun range of kills.
Leprechaun 4: In Space
It’s hard to think that any movie with the tagline, “One small step for man...one giant leap for horror” is kind of shot from the get go. Brian Trenchard-Smith from Leprechaun 3 returns in this sequel that released in 1997. Story has it that the execs at Trimark made a mock-up of the Apollo 13 poster with the leprechaun’s face on it and the rest is history. Leprechaun 4 is a mess of a movie and not just because they decided to place it in space on a shoestring budget. Whereas the leprechaun has always shifted styles through the films, sometimes more magical, sometimes speaking more in rhymes, it’s at least consistent throughout the film. Leprechaun 4 starts with Davis performing a few silly impressions in the vein of classic Hollywood, this is quickly dropped. Gold plays no part in the film, instead focused on the leprechaun searching for his bride aboard a spaceship full of space marines and a Dr. Evil-esque half robot mastermind. Okay, let me just break down this movie. A crew of space marines thinks they are rescuing an alien princess (by alien, I mean a human covered in glitter) and take her from the leprechaun. Said leprechaun explodes from the phallus of a crew member and proceeds to hunt down the rest of the crew. It’s revealed that it was all a ploy by the evil Dr. Mittenhand who is this transformed into a giant spider-scorpion hybrid who renames himself Dr. Mittenspider. The leprechaun is then accidentally transformed into a giant before being blown into space and exploding. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, the alien princess declares on her planet that showing your breasts off is a death sentence as to explain away the obligatory nudity. The movie suffers from bad pacing, terrible acting and seriously! Why was a movie with such a small budget placed in space?! Christmas lights are used in the space bar to highlight the futuristic setting of the film. It has some decent kills and some “so bad it’s good” moments but starts the downward spiral.
Leprechaun in the Hood
One look at the title and I’m sure your first thought was the same as mine. “How can this not be awesome?” It is also the last movie Trimark ever released. Ice-T stars as a hip hop mogul that defeated the leprechaun in the seventies while stealing his golden flute to create a lucrative career in the music industry. All of this changes when Postmater P, delivery a message of positivity to youths in Compton, along with posse members Stray Bullet and Butch, steal the flute and unleash the leprechaun. The movie is only 90 minutes long but because of sluggish pacing, strange musical numbers, and a severe dip in murder, it drags out to feel like it reaches well over the two hour mark. The film is the first in the series to really shy away from the leprechaun using a lot of magic to commit his heinous crimes, instead focusing primarily on the humor of the idea of a small leprechaun in the mean streets of Compton. The problem is the humor falls flat, relying on cheap gags and curse words to try for a quick laugh. The leprechaun kills most people off screen and when he does manage a murder or two it’s usually by strangulation or a bong to the stomach. It has a few offbeat moments that bring a quick chuckle but outside of that, it’s not good for much else. Do yourself a favor, skip the end of the movie for the full length rap song from Postmaster P and the leprechaun.
Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood
That brings us to 2002, the last time Lionsgate would put out a Leprechaun movie. Director and writer Steven Aryomlooi wanted to capture the horror feeling of the first film and tried to make it darker and grittier, removing the buckle from the hat of the creature as well as replacing his striped socks with solid colors and giving him long, dirty hair. Needless to say, it didn’t really work. Perhaps having the highest production values of the Lionsgate films, it also has the smallest amount of leprechaun time and moves straight into slapstick territory, a whole scene devoted to rapper and star Sticky Fingaz making a sandwich while a stoned leprechaun narrowly misses him before getting stuck in the fridge, which he continues to hot box. Essentially, the movie really does play out like a mid 2000’s rap video. Young kids with money flaunting their goods but instead of ending after 3 minutes and a catchy hook, this is stretched out to a staggering 90 minutes that truly feels like it somehow utilizes the magic the leprechaun used to use and slows down time. Outside of the slapstick we occasionally see, even the humor is severely downplayed which would be fine if the gore and kills were amped up, but they are not. Most noticeable for replacing the N word with “ninjas,” this movie is 100% completely avoidable.
Twelve years after Back 2 Tha Hood, WWE Studios has newly acquired the Leprechaun film rights and puts out a reboot starring former WWE superstar Hornswoggle as the titular crypto. I actually really enjoy the premise. A group of teenagers are backpacking through Ireland and come across a small village where some locals offer to put them up for the night and then show them historic runes the next day. Unbeknownst to the teens, they are being set up as a sacrifice for a new display of the leprechaun, a ferocious and unrelenting beast. The exposition is fun and doesn’t take too long to get into the meat of the story and they manage to still represent some of the leprechaun lore while creating the possibility for a bit of a folkloric thrill ride. It wears itself out a little fast and leans more towards monster flick than supernatural fantasy. It had a really solid foundation but failed to execute on it properly and because of this it ends up a stale slasher instead of a what could have been a gory, fun creature feature.
I will admit, watching seven Leprechaun movies in the course of 24 hours is a bit daunting and a little trying but the franchise evens out a lot more than I remembered as a teenager. Leprechaun and Leprechaun 3 stand out as tongue-in-cheek horror comedies, with the third installment literally bursting with potential. As with most series, the quality dips as time goes on but that being said, Warwick Davis really does give his all throughout all of the six films he starred in. At it’s best, it’s a Gremlins or A Nightmare on Elm Street knock off but at it’s worst, it’s a little boring. Nothing will go down in the annals of time as a masterpiece or even a classic but some good cheesy fun is to be had.