You ask me, St. Patrick’s Day is Halloween for people of limited imagination.
I’m something of an expert on the six Leprechaun movies, which is to say, I’ve seen them all. For St. Patrick’s Day, I am happy to present this quick, handy guide to the most underrated series of horror films of all time. I note that I wrote it quickly because if I spend any longer on this series than I did watching them all the first time, I may go insane (assuming, of course, that I’m not already there), and I refer to these movies as underrated because really, they should be. Generally, they stink. The Leprechaun movies are like farts: Some of them stink so bad you can’t help but laugh, but most of them just clear the room.
Read on if you dare. It gets ugly fast. Let’s go!
There has been one story consistently dominating the news stands and magazine racks for the last four years or so, and it is clearly the dominant political issue of our times. No, it’s not the Iraq War. It’s this question:
Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie?
To this question I tend to reply: I’m not Brad Pitt (obviously) so I never had to choose. It’s a Coke/Pepsi, Betty/Veronica kind of a decision – you could probably pick a favorite if you really had to, but it’d be a photo finish. Both options are pretty great.
That said, Jennifer Aniston is the only one who appeared in a Leprechaun movie, so she holds a special place in my heart, and has for almost fifteen years. I don’t imagine she’d appreciate me spotlighting this early credit on her resume, but she’s welcome to take it up with me personally. I have only nice things to say about her in Leprechaun. However, it’s interesting to note that, while it’s hard to remember a time when Jennifer Aniston wasn’t one of the most famous people on the planet, on this movie she took second billing.
Front and center on the movie poster is one man, one actor, one icon – Warwick Davis, in a performance that thrilled hundreds of insomniacs lucky enough to catch Leprechaun during its regular run on Cinemax. At the time Warwick (I feel like I can call him Warwick) was best known for his starring role as the idealistic, courageous magician called upon to save the day in the George Lucas/ Ron Howard epic fantasy film Willow.
From that role, of quintessential decency, to a role of the most lascivious evil – this is some range. Yes I said that. You can’t see me right now, but my tongue is not at rest in my cheek; it is instead blowing a disparaging raspberry at all those who disagree. I won’t make the argument that Leprechaun is in any way a great, good, or even decent movie, but I will argue that Warwick Davis dives into a thoroughly ridiculous role to hugely entertaining results, and that such a performance does in fact require a talented actor. Without Johnny Depp’s lead in the Pirates Of The Caribbean flicks, Jack Sparrow does not endure.
So it is with Warwick Davis and his portrayal of the evil Leprechaun. He gives his entire commitment, even in the scene where he is forced by the film’s protagonists to run around shining shoes as they toss them into his path. (If you’re asking why, you’re probably giving the detail more thought than the filmmakers did, but it has something to do with a little-known rule of legend that evil leprechauns remain shoemakers by trade and therefore cannot stop themselves from plying that trade, even amidst a homicidal rampage.) With the Leprechaun, Warwick Davis managed to create a memorable movie monster, even if the distance between the Leprechaun and Michael Myers or Francis Dollarhyde is akin to the distance between Jupiter and Cleveland.
The supporting cast, or his stable of victims, is not quite as memorable. In fact, without going back to the original film, the only characters besides the evil Leprechaun who I even remember are Jennifer Aniston, who did her job and sometimes acted scared and was otherwise adequate and adorable, and Mark Holton, who is best known as Chubs (cruel naming there) from the Teen Wolf pictures, and more importantly, as Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. [“I know you are, but what am I?”] In Leprechaun, he plays Ozzie, a mentally-challenged handyman who sets off the whole chain of events by finding the Leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and promptly swallowing one of the gold coins. Basically, the Leprechaun can’t have his money fucked with. Whenever that happens, he shows up to take back his gold and to kill everyone who comes in contact with it. You can keep your Pulp Fiction and your Seinfeld: “I need me gold!” is one of the great lost catchphrases of the 1990s. The exchange between Ozzie and the Leprechaun when they realize the location of the last gold shilling is also pretty priceless.
Besides all that? Even if you haven’t seen this movie, you’ve already seen it. Spooky prologue introducing villain, protagonists introduced, GOLD, “gulp,” villain shows up to reclaim his property, murder, murder, murder, murder, good guys win, but maybe villain will come back. Same structure as most horror flicks — it’s just a series of murders of peripheral characters by the evil Leprechaun, as Jennifer Aniston and her friends try to find out how to stop him. [SPOILER: Four-leaf clover, slingshot, mouth, “I’m melting!”] What I fondly remember from this movie are the various methods of transportation appropriated by the Leprechaun, most of which double as implements of murder: the mini-car, the pogo-stick, the roller skates, the wheel chair. It’s amazing to watch, if a bit insane, considering the fact that the Leprechaun has the power to magically teleport himself anywhere he wants.
If for some reason someone reads this article and is somehow persuaded to actually watch these movies, this is one of two to watch. The franchise very quickly gets very rough on you.
Leprechaun 2: Bride Of Leprechaun (1994).
This is probably the other one to watch, if you have to watch any. [Again, the disclaimer: I am working almost entirely off memory here. I’ve seen all of these movies but I don’t necessarily recommend that to anyone else. Watch any of them at your own risk.]
Leprechaun 2 is the only one I saw in the theaters, possibly the only one ever to appear in theaters. It was directed by the same guy who directed Idle Hands, whatever that indicates for you. The point is, he worked again after Leprechaun 2, so at the very least the guy knows where to point a camera – a virtue that cannot be accorded to every single director who ever helmed a Leprechaun film, as we shall soon see. Anyway.
So, as in the first Leprechaun, there are brief (VERY brief) moments of actual creepiness and atmosphere in Leprechaun 2, although there is also more weird sexuality and more gore, which kicks it into a different setting of disturbing. There’s also plenty of silliness, but this installment is notable as the last time the series even pretended to try to scare anybody.
Accordingly, the Leprechaun’s predatory pool this time around is dramatically less impressive than the first movie’s supporting cast. Let’s just say that the young male and female leads didn’t have any hope of going on to star on Friends. The only member of the cast to crop up on Must-See TV was the character called Uncle Morty, who was a semi-regular on Seinfeld (he was Jerry’s dad’s nemesis in the retirement community.) Here he plays an obnoxious asshole who corners the Leprechaun and demands his gold. The Leprechaun gives it to him, all right – in his belly! “Get it out of me!” You never heard that catchphrase on Seinfeld.
My favorite element of Leprechaun 2 is how it disregards/builds on the mythology established in the first movie, and introduces more magical weaknesses to the character. You know how Freddy Kruger can’t get you if you don’t fall asleep? You know how the Predator won’t hunt you if you’re not holding a gun? Well, there are several ways to slow or stop the Leprechaun if he’s after you. In the first movie, it was shoes and four-leaf clovers. This time around, it’s wrought-iron and manners. You can trap the Leprechaun in a safe made of a certain kind of metal, or you can stab him with a pole made of it. And if the Leprechaun has designs on breeding with your lovely daughter, as he does with the titular bride, he can only get her if she sneezes three times. You can protect her by saying “God Bless You.” Like I said: manners! This Leprechaun is an unusually vulnerable guy for a thousand-year-old demon who can take a pistol-shot to the chest.
That’s about all there is to say about Leprechaun 2, except for this: BOOBIES. Oh, and also: Keep an eye out for the cameo appearance by the great Tony Cox (Bad Santa, Friday, Rescue Me Season One) as a more human leprechaun, dressed for the holiday, who runs into the protagonist in the men’s room and offers him what the evil Leprechaun never would. “Hey man, want me gold? Pure milk chocolate?”
Leprechaun 3: Leprechaun In Las Vegas (1995).
I refuse to do any research for this article, so this entry will have to suffer for it. I hardly remember Leprechaun 3. I remember the basic plot, that an aspiring magician finds one of the Leprechaun’s gold coins in the desert, drives to Vegas and bets with it, wins big and embarks on a Vegas career… until the Leprechaun shows up. I remember that, somewhat predictably, someone eventually gets sawed in half. I remember that a guy tries to bang a lady who turns out to be a robot who turns out to explode. At least I think I remember that part. I remember that the protagonist guy for some reason begins morphing into a rival Leprechaun. [Introducing yet another weakness of evil Leprechauns: other Leprechauns. Also potatoes. Inexplicable, but there you go.]
What I don’t remember is this installment of the series being among the more entertaining (that adjective ALWAYS being relative when it comes to the Leprechaun films). In fact, to me this is where the franchise took a massive nosedive, and that’s considering that it didn’t start out as a hallmark of quality. I like to think that the producers sent the Leprechaun to Las Vegas as a prankish response to the success of the deathly serious Leaving Las Vegas that same calendar year, but the movie that resulted suggests that no such wit was involved. In my opinion, it definitely sucked, and not in any of the good senses of the term. Speaking of which, this is also the year I started to seriously take a real interest in girls, so from here on, the Leprechaun films became less of a hobby and more of a habit, even a duty. I watched these movies so that you don’t have to. That is why I am a hero.
Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997).
Things didn’t work out for anybody in Vegas, so the franchise left the planet. I have to say, I like the specificity of that title: It’s not “[Title;] Leprechaun 4: [Subtitle;] Leprechaun In Space”; it’s Leprechaun 4: In Space. The film itself is in space! Let’s go with the obvious joke, then: They should’ve left it there. Mixing an evil medieval Leprechaun into the science fiction genre with absolutely no explanation whatsoever is about as tasty as mixing peanut butter and tuna fish. Oh yeah, there’s no production value either, but there wasn’t much chance of that.
When it comes to Leprechaun 4 In Space, it’s the little moments you treasure.
Like when a Space Marine blows up the Leprechaun with a bazooka, and urinates on the remains. A green electric jolt travels up the stream of urine right into the guy’s shaft. Later on, when the guy is getting it on with a fake-bazoomed bimbo, the Leprechaun reconstitutes himself from within the palooka’s bladder and climbs his way back into the world through the poor guy’s cocker. Naturally the Leprechaun caps this milestone sequence with a choice one-liner: “That’s why you should use protection!”
The Leprechaun makes these awful jokes so that I don’t have to. That is why he is a hero.
Towards the end of the movie, the few Space Marines still alive accidentally fire a space ray at the Leprechaun so that he grows in size. What, you ask, is the first act of an evil Leprechaun grown to the height of Mighty Joe Young? Why, to open up his fly and look down at his crotch to see what’s doing, of course. “Big is good!” he declares.
Sadly, his reverie is not to last. Because all movies have to end, even the ones that suck frog-ass, the Leprechaun is hurled through an open cargo door into the vacuum of space, where he explodes. Like Georgie Bush Jr. and those other classic wits who always get the cleverest last word, the Leprechaun reminds the heroes and the audience that he’ll be back, as a giant, warty hand drifts across the screen, its middle finger extended in defiance.
Leprechaun In The Hood (2000).
Here the series gets its biggest blast of star power since the first installment, and the evil Leprechaun faces his most formidable enemy, as Ice-T appears as a ‘70s pimp in flashback, a ganglord in the present day. He keeps a gun in his hairdo.
And nobody cares.
Leprechaun In The Hood sounds at first blush like it’s worth a chuckle, but in my humble opinion it’s more disappointing than a flat Pepsi. If you’re going to undertake the already-questionable enterprise of lampooning both Irish mythology and modern-day West Coast hip-hop culture, you want to be way more committed to the concept than what happened here. You want to cartoon it up as much as good taste will not allow. Instead, the cowardly plot concerns three youthful aspiring musicians who find the Leprechaun’s magic flute (or some shit like that, I’m not even going to look it up) and use it to ignite their music careers. Of course the Leprechaun shows up to smack a bitch. But what happens then is that he aimlessly wanders around South Central while the movie spends an inordinate amount of time on the saga of the three youths following their dream. Ice-T? He’s gone as quickly as he’s able to. So I need to ask what no one else seems to have: What movie are we making here? Does anyone lit enough to rent a movie called Leprechaun In The Hood have any interest whatsoever in the bittersweet tale of three friends who just want to make it? I may be overstating the extent of this subplot-pushed-to-the-fore, but probably I’m not. The movie is badly diluted. So of course the Leprechaun kills a guy with a bong, and OF COURSE he raps, but these are painfully embarrassing and depressing spectacles, regardless of what the kids on YouTube would tell you. When you suspect a movie could actually have been improved by the presence of Mike Epps, you know shit ain’t working.
Leprechaun Back 2 Tha Hood (2003).
Look, you’re a different person after 10 years, if all goes well. What I got a twisted kick out of in high school, I usually have far less interest in, or patience for, as an adult. And having since seriously studied and then worked in film, there are things I’ve picked up and observed about filmmaking that I can’t unlearn. There’s a way some things have to be done, and the way things should be done, and when they’re not done that way, a movie is technically unreleasable. So when I call the sixth Leprechaun film the worst of the series, without question, by a huge margin, I’m no longer discussing a movie that is so-bad-it’s-good or a movie that is simply bad. What I’m telling you is that this movie is unwatchable. Literally. At least with the other five, you can see what’s going on. Whether you want to see it or not is your own decision, but at least the images are viewable.
Leprechaun 6 is so shoddily filmed that it’s very often impossible to make out the action. I saw this [with any luck] final entry in the series a couple years back and I was probably drunk at the time, but my faculties are such that I should still be able to describe what happened during the running time, even if I hate it. Not so, this time. I haven’t seen this many unnecessary Dutch angles, incoherently edited sequences, or disorienting camera placements since I walked out of Battlefield Earth. This movie is so filled with Film School 101 violations that it can hardly be considered a movie at all.
Which is ironic, because it arguably features the best cast of any Leprechaun film to date, including Tangi Miller (supercute), Laz Alonso (destined one day for stardom), Sticky Fingaz from Onyx (and The Motherfucking Shield), and of course Warwick Davis (who seems as bored by now with this shit as I am.) Too bad the film stock is so muddy that their performances are obstructed.
Right, so it’s a sequel to a sequel and a continuation of an insane idea that was poorly executed the first time and instead of being improved upon, that idea is done even worse the second time, with some of the most inept filmmaking you could ever see. Why am I writing this long about this movie? It’s a piece of crap. Flush that shit.
And so concludes our journey through the world of the evil Leprechaun. Hopefully the journey ends there. Warwick Davis has had plenty of other work before, during, and since, so neither he, nor the world at large, has much need for another Leprechaun movie. On the off chance that one is required, naturally a friend and I have a pitch at the ready, but in the absence of the aid of Guiness, I can hardly be bothered to discuss it anymore.
Although obviously, it takes very little prodding to get me to talk about Leprechaun movies. Most of them are roundly disappointing in practice, but in theory they still make me smile. Why do I hold such an affinity for such a shoddy run of cinematic diarrhea?
For one thing, there’s probably some vestigial terror left over from seeing Darby O’Gill & The Little People as a child. King Brian wasn’t all that creepy to me, but that wailing banshee sure as hell was. (To say nothing of Sean Connery’s crooning.) So I’m likely more accommodating to the idea of leprechauns being a vehicle for terror than are most of my compatriots. Leprechauns themselves, not so much.
The truth is, I’m a tough sell when it comes to horror. I just don’t get scared in movies that often, if at all. I don’t say that to preen as a badass; it’s just the way it is. Particularly when we’re talking about the holiday-themed slasher film: I find the first Halloween to have many moments of true eeriness, but I don’t find the dread in it that other fans do, and the sequels are about as scary to me as The Oprah Winfrey Show is. (Which is to say, still somewhat scary, but not nearly enough to interrupt my sleep.) And that’s the horror franchise I like the best – Friday The 13th to me was never more than an admitted rip-off of Halloween, but at least Halloween, through Donald Pleasance, played at doom and portent. The Friday The 13th movies are about nothing but creative ways to kill unlikable characters, which to me personally is uninteresting at best, and certainly does not play to my personal stable of fears.
So the Leprechaun movies, very unintentionally, work as a parody of the holiday-slasher genre. There’s nothing at all scary about St. Patrick’s Day, as long as you stay out of certain bars, and there’s nothing at all scary about leprechauns, a fact that the few worthwhile moments of the original Leprechaun and its increasingly ridiculous sequels, and that Warwick Davis’ entire performance, readily acknowledges.
And then there’s that performance. To the extent that they work at all, the Leprechaun movies only work because of Warwick Davis. Clearly, Anthony Perkins’ place in cinematic history is not in danger of being eclipsed by Warwick Davis’ performance in the Leprechaun movies. But if Robert Englund is a huge star to a large percentage of movie fans, then why shouldn’t Warwick Davis receive the same regard? In his portrayal of the title character, Warwick is funny and just a little charming, and gleefully malevolent and anarchic.
And I’m not being patronizing because he’s a little person. If I’m being honest, that was part of the appeal when I was a dickish teenager. But these days, I get easily irritated at the exploitation of little people at the movies, and I wish that more movies would find a way to use little people as characters used as anything other than broad comedy at their expense. A movie like The Station Agent has my respect, because clearly the fact that the lead character is a little person is going to have to be acknowledged, but that doesn’t preclude nuance and profundity in his delineation. It could be argued that the Leprechaun movies are a step backward. At best, they’re a step sideways. But I’m always going to root for a franchise that has a little person as its most necessary star. If not exactly a valuable development, it’s still a few steps down the road from the Lollipop Guild.
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