There are some bad horror franchises out there. Some are intentionally bad (I’m looking at you, Sharknado). Some, like Amityville, are victim to the fact that trademarking the name of a town is tricky, so anyone with a camera and fifty bucks can make an entry. Some, like the Leprechaun franchise, were sprung from a substandard horror flick that somehow made enough money to justify sequels.
From way back in 1993, Leprechaun was sprung from the mind of writer/director Mark Jones, and follows the tale of a murderous leprechaun (Warwick Davis) who is on the trail of his stolen gold.
Nary a scene in this flick takes place in Ireland. Rather, the leprechaun has to travel all the way to North Dakota to retrieve his sack of gold coins. As per usual in a cheap horror flick, the hills north of Los Angeles substitute for the stated location.
Warwick stars alongside Jennifer Aniston as Tory, the film’s heroine. This was Aniston’s film debut, and she already had her sitcom timing and nuances down. It’s kind of uncanny to see Rachel predate Rachel, but there it is.
Tory is in Middle-of-Nowhere, ND, because she is staying with her father, JD (John Sanderford), for the summer. JD has just purchased a rundown farmstead that he hopes to spend the season fixing up. Tory, for her part, wants none of this, as she is very much a spoiled child of upper crust Los Angeles — the type of teen who has credit cards and a willingness to use them. The only reason she agrees to stick around instead of moving into a hotel is the presence of housepainter Nathan (Ken Olandt), who is in stiff competition with Aniston for having hair with the most body.
The remaining main cast is rounded out by man-child Ozzie (Mark Holton), and real child Alex (Robert Hy Gorman), who have a Lennie Small-George Milton relationship.
The leprechaun is already on site, as he was imprisoned in a crate in the basement by the previous owner ten years before. Ozzie accidentally frees him, and the first thing on the leprechaun’s mind is getting his gold. What follows is a pretty weak slasher flick, interspersed with some equally weak leprechaun humor, such as the leprechaun tooling around in a tiny car and ticking off a long list of Irish stereotypes. All that’s missing is drunkenness.
According to the internet, so it must be true, the screenplay had been much more dark and serious, and it was at Davis’s suggestion that comedy was added. That’s not a bad idea. It’s hard for a viewer to suspend disbelief enough to take a leprechaun as a serious threat, not after a lifetime of Lucky Charms commercials. It’s just that it failed to capture the kind of absurdity that was needed.
As a horror flick, it’s lacking. It’s bloody, but the only gore worth a look comes in the climax. Everything else looks undercooked.
The cast did well with the material, though. Aniston’s burgeoning sitcom sensibilities are a touch out of place, but in hindsight, it’s clear she was going somewhere. The biggest worries were Holton and Gorman. Holton probably has more lines in this movie than any other role he’s had, and while he wasn’t all that believable as someone with a learning disorder, it would have been a mistake to shroud his character in realism. This movie did not call for that at all. Meanwhile, Gorman was enjoyable as a boy aged beyond his years, giving a good performance, to boot. No issues with the child actor in this flick.
The leprechaun has become an iconic role for Davis. This is his character, in the same way that Freddy Krueger belongs to Robert Englund, or Chucky to Brad Dourif. He’s a pro, but I’m pretty sure he couldn’t maintain an Irish accent even if his life depended on it. He slips out of it regularly, sometimes within single lines. It makes it kind of a crapshoot as to whether we get Irish, his native Surrey, or ersatz pirate whenever he yells, “Where’s me gold?!”
This is a shitty movie. There is no doubt about that. As pointed out here at Missile Test, ad nauseum, shittiness is not an objective measure of quality. In this instance, though, it is. This movie is shitty and bad, and I’m surprised it found enough success to spawn a franchise consisting of eight movies, to date.
Leprechaun is a disappointing film. It falls way down the Watchability Index, displacing the execrable LA Crackdown at #275.