With Halloween due in a month, I thought I’d review an infamous horror franchise currently available through Prime. Of all the slasher series that were birthed in the last decades of the twentieth century, Leprechaun
is at the bottom of the board. If the Friday the 13th
movies are trash, the Leprechaun
s are just crap. Any one Friday
movie is better than the best Leprechaun
. Even Jason X
. The series owes its longevity largely to Warwick Davis, who was smart enough to interpret the role comedically. The Leprechaun character as written isn’t all that funny, and certainly not scary, but Davis injects it with a memorable energy. An energy which, coupled with some amusing death scenes, was enough to spawn eight films.
For context, the highest ranking Leprechaun
film on Rotten Tomatoes is its most recent - Leprechaun Returns
(2018) - at 50%. The lowest? Numbers two and seven at 0. Number seven, Leprechaun: Origins
(2014) - a title which sounds like it belongs to a lower-tier Marvel movie - tried rebooting the franchise with a more “serious” approach to the horror, but wound up feeling like bottom-end, straight-to-streaming junk. Returns
was a bit more successful in that direction, re-adding some of the gore and black comedy.
None of the Leprechaun
s are worth watching, though if the series was wholly worthless it wouldn’t have been so prolific, since a franchise about a killer leprechaun motivated by retrieving his pot o’ gold lives or dies based on how much affection a cult fanbase has for it. If you like (very) silly horror films, the early entries have a minor charm. Especially given their window on the world of early ‘90s, low-budget schlock.
(1993) stars Jennifer Aniston pre-nose job and Friends
, so that gives it some added historical value. The fish-out-of-water rich girl she plays isn’t a million miles away from Rachel Green, and considering that Aniston’s nose job was an in-joke on that show, I like to imagine that she had an encounter with an evil leprechaun before moving to New York to escape the trauma.
Warwick Davis had bowed out by the time Origins
entered production, citing a wish to move on from horror after the birth of his children, though being sick of the franchise by that point might also have played a part. With him went the only reason to watch the films, although Returns
is apparently an efficient gore flick with some black humour. The original Leprechaun
has some gore (though nothing you’ve not seen elsewhere), a memorable murder with a pogo stick, Davis trying his darnedest (bless his heart), Aniston providing clips to be roasted for post-fame, and that’s about it. The budget is so low that much of the film takes place at an abandoned farmhouse, and looks like a TV production.
The plot, if you really need to know (spoiler alert: you don’t), begins with an elderly man bringing a pot o’ gold home to his wife, who’s killed by the evil leprechaun while trying to retrieve what’s his. The man traps the creature in a crate with a four-leaf clover on top, but when Aniston and her dad move into his former home, the little green fiend is soon set free to cause havoc.
The second (1994) and third (1995) films follow the same story template of “young lovers accidentally release leprechaun, shenanigans ensue” (that old chestnut), only the second’s set in Los Angeles and the third Las Vegas. The latter setting gives some colour to proceedings, although the casino hotel feels less Caesar’s Palace and more “games room at a low-rent holiday camp”. Both films have some amusing deaths, like a man’s belly distending as a pot o’ gold grows inside it, and a woman’s Botox addiction turned against her until she looks like Jackie Stallone cross-pollinated with Donald Duck. They’re better than the first film, but then so’s a kick in the four-leaf clover.
The best of the Warwick Davis era is Leprechaun 4: In Space
(1997). (You know a franchise is sludge when its obligatory “in space” entry is its best one.) It’s still embarrassingly poor in just about every respect, but the sci-fi element at least gives it a theoretically interesting background, the effects are enjoyable in a so-bad-it’s-good-way (weak even for the ‘90s, the CGI is comparable to PC stock art), and there’s a slapstick quality to the deaths which achieves a mild cartoonish appeal. One rips off a gag from Rik Mayall’s Drop Dead Fred
and is probably the most memorable part of the movie, alongside Gary Siner. Siner plays a Nazi cyborg in a wheelchair reminiscent of ‘60s Star Trek
, and gives essentially the same performance that he did for a decade in 'Allo 'Allo!
, the British sitcom set in German-occupied France which ended five years prior.
The prize for worst entry could go to either of “the ‘hood” (ugh) titles. Bizarrely, they don’t lean in to the obvious blaxploitation approach, but instead aim for a more “real”, Boyz n the Hood
atmosphere. In movies called Leprechaun 5: In the Hood
(2000) and Back to tha
(2003). Words fail me. Presumably facing a monstrous debt of his own, Ice-T appears in 5
, as a gangster seeking a debt from three aspiring rappers who inadvertently release Leprechaun while trashing Ice-T’s office.
The story’s so completely inert that it’s only memorable for its very worst aspect, namely an added emphasis on a weird strain of homophobia in the series, which had been developing since number three. That film had a couple of goons who kept inadvertently ending up in homoerotic positions (sigh), and here we get a transvestite character who may or may not be transgender. It’s hard to tell what the writers were going for beyond general gay-panic jokes.
You’re daft if you expect sensitivity from a film already exploiting the Black experience for slasher/comedy set-pieces, but there’s a hatefulness to how the trans character is treated that goes beyond lame, even bigoted jokes. I rarely feel offended by “offensive” comedy, but the trans person’s death scene - in which their screams are misinterpreted as sex noises - made me uncomfortable. That’s the early ‘00s for you, I guess. Almost as offensive? Warwick Davis rapping.
And that’s the Leprechaun
franchise, an unsightly pimple on the rear end of the slasher genre, pitched at the level of camp and received at a level of “why? Just... why?” Though Davis’s lep’ is no more for now, there’s been talk of a possible reboot by Darren Lynn Bousman, who’s known for several Saw
sequels and a couple of horror musicals. Bousman’s vision would take the leprechaun back to the Colorado Gold Rush, and I’d honestly be excited for such a campy idea by a director with established credentials in both gore films and comedy, working with an actual budget. Given time and effort, the Leprechaun
franchise could be more than just the butt of jokes at every Movie Monster mixer, better killers like Freddy and Jason giving noogies to our little green fiend. Best entry
(of the original six Warwick Davis films): Leprechaun 4: in Space
- 1/4 Worst entry
: Leprechaun 5: in the Hood
- 0.5/4 Overall franchise rating