Video Store Memories: The LEPRECHAUN Franchise

I have incredibly fond memories, as I’ve already recounted, of discovering the Friday the 13th and Halloween films on home video. Same with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Puppet Master and so many other video store staples. But here’s the thing: none of those actually terrified me, even though I saw them when I was very young. And I should not at all be admitting this, but Leprechaun did. At the very least, the opening did. I caught the beginning on the Sci-Fi Channel at one point and even though I was probably in second grade, I was already deep into my love of horror. But I’d been terrified of Chucky, just seeing the box art in the video store. So it’s possible I already had a prejudice toward short gingers. More likely, it’s the fact that the opening of the original is very much in shadow. The Leprechaun’s face is hidden, we just see a hint of that Gabe Bartalos makeup which is creepy, especially when it’s suggested.

I was so scared of Leprechaun after that that I was even unnerved by the box art whenever I was around it, even (especially, honestly) the box art of Leprechaun 4: In Space. I was eight. But somehow it was so bad that even though I wasn’t as petrified of the Leprechaun as I was of Chucky as a kid, Leprechaun actually did what no other horror franchise could do: I had a legitimate nightmare.

Over two decades later, I distinctly remember being curled up in bed as though I was half awake, looking out through my sheets. I heard a cackle echoing through my hallway and the jingle of little bells on shoes as the footsteps approached my bedroom, and the door creaked open and the Leprechaun entered entirely silhouetted, just as he appeared in the opening of the first but with the addition of little emerald lights where his eyes should be. He sounded nothing like Warwick Davis, but I remember him repeating that he was going to find me and eat me. Now that I think about it, the dream sounded much more like a creepy, inverted fairy tale than the actual film.

But even though I was creeped out, I wasn’t terrified to the point that I couldn’t be talked into watching the film. In fact, it was just the opposite. I wanted to see Leprechaun. I wanted to see all of them. This was the age when I was already becoming fascinated with basically any and every horror franchise that I came across. The only problem was that none of the movies were carried by either of my local video stores. A short walk from my house, I had Ya Gotta Love It, my home away from home. And further downtown, Southwest Video, which I didn’t visit as often even though my family owned it.

Then there was the other other video store in town, which was not actually a video store at all, but a run-down convenience store. Most people just went in there to get booze, I usually went in there to buy penny candy and rent the movies that nobody else carried. Things like Jack-O, Vampire Journals, Pumpkinhead II and yes, all of the Leprechaun movies to date—at least at that point. Because of that, I loved Tom Cat and even though it was without a doubt the most run-down and seedy of the three, I would go there whenever I got the chance. At least until it closed after the owner burned down a rival convenience store. It’s become something of a memorial, though, as the building (and even the sign!) still sit completely unchanged to this day.

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But anyway, I rented Leprechaun the first chance I got and after I got through that opening scene I immediately got what it was doing. It didn’t take long to realize that this was a comedy, that it was a pretty tame horror film kind of designed for kids to be able to handle, and I just fell in love with it. I remember that experience of watching it for the first time and being astonished by the makeup FX, which are honestly still impressive, especially the melting Leprechaun at the end. The ending especially excited me, with the cliffhanger that felt like an old movie serial, already setting up a sequel with the notion of “Oh, boy, how’s the Leprechaun going to get out of this well?” And I obviously didn’t know that it was a question that wouldn’t be answered for twenty-five years until Leprechaun Returns came along.

Somehow I was so enamored by that ending that I must have done serious mental gymnastics as a kid to make Leprechaun 2 work as a sequel, and I watched it very soon after the first. Looking back, I can’t remotely explain it, but when I saw Leprechaun 2 at nine or ten years old, I convinced myself it was not only a direct sequel but picked up immediately after the first in an almost Halloween II kind of way. I don’t know how. I don’t understand it. I even believed that Leprechaun 3 carried on from the ending of the second. None of these things were remotely true, of course. But apparently I was just writing the Leprechaun franchise in my head even as I was watching it.

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Even though I loved Leprechaun 2 and especially Leprechaun 3 as a kid, there was something about the first that just captivated me. It probably has something to do with the fact that I had already fallen hard for Full Moon at that point and Leprechaun might have been a little more expensive, but it was the same kind of good-natured fun horror that I usually got from a Charlie Band production. I’ve always been fascinated by movies about smaller creatures, probably starting with Ernest Scared Stupid even though it absolutely terrified me. Leprechaun just spoke to me.

And it spoke to me to the point that the very first order I ever placed on Amazon—with my mom’s permission of course—was for the VHS tapes of Leprechaun and Pumpkinhead II. And because of that, buying them both at the same time, I’ve always associated the two together. Leprechaun was one of the first movies to sit proudly on my very first horror shelf, which was placed behind the Disney movies as a kid so that people coming into the home wouldn’t actually see that we owned films like Halloween and Bride of Chucky.

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Leprechaun was the kind of latex-drenched ‘90s video hit that I absolutely went nuts over as a kid. I was quickly finding out that that was just going to be my aesthetic, but this one helped me embrace that. Even though it’s one of that weird crop like Return of the Living Dead 3 and Doctor Giggles that technically had a theatrical release, Leprechaun is a titan of the video store era. It’s one of those franchises that never exactly got a wide release, yet everyone knows what it is. It, all pun intended, struck gold.

And all of that is hilarious to me, because I didn’t discover it through a video store. I rented my way through the franchise in the same spot where most people in town bought their porn and beer. But really, that feels appropriate. That seems like how one should discover a franchise like Leprechaun, which never had the popularity of Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I’m grateful with Leprechaun Returns to finally have the direct sequel that I somehow thought I got the first time around.