So, I love B-movies. I do. Especially ones that don’t take themselves too seriously. While I was bed-ridden with a lengthy illness, a friend suggested that I take the time to watch the Leprechaun series, which I had heard about but never had the time to view. When I found out Warwick Davis played the villain, I was sold. And let me tell you, I absolutely loved the first three. Cheesy? Yes. But kind of clever in it’s humble presentation.
First off, I’ve always admired Warwick Davis as an actor. He is great at building a character, works well with miming, and regardless of his role always seems to become completely absorbed in what he is doing. He is in my opinion a pretty underrated actor. So I initially questioned why he would choose to participate in such a low budget, often straight to dvd series. Surely, even for a little person, he could find better roles. In fact, his body of work is fairly admirable, given the restrictions of the Hollywood system. But my fears were unfounded. Granted, his character was quite silly in the first film, and downright buffoonish in the fifth and sixth, but I blame that more on problems with the scripts (and make no mistake, there are plenty of problems with the series, but more on that later).
Now, to the series itself. For those that don’t know, the Leprechaun franchise is a Horror/Comedy series (heavy on the comedy) often compared to the likes of (though often not as well written) as Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, I Bury The Dead, Fright Night, The Fearless Vampire Killers, and Gremlins. And like those mentioned, it has a decent cult following. After viewing the first few I can see why.
To sum it up: the series consist of a homicidal and mischievous Leprechaun with no name (or at least, I don’t recall it having one) who kills or maims any individual whom gets in his way, either by taking his coveted gold, or in at least two occasions from taking a bride. What makes his character fun is that he often kills with flair, causing elaborate (and sometimes hilarious) deaths, often while citing clever lines or humorous limericks.
Now it should be noted that these films are heavily flawed script-wise, much like any B-movie series. The Leprechaun’s powers vary from film to film and there is little consistancy to his magic. He is always thwarted in the end, and much like other horror villains such as Chucky and Freddy, he always returns for a sequel, often with little to no explanation as to why or how (usually in a contrived manner). As no film in the series acknowledges the previous films (with the exception of a mild wink to the audience in the intro to the sixth), they are all stand-alone movies, with disputes in basic canon lore beginning in film four (which I consider the start of the downfall of the series). Even his overall appearance changes from film to film. Not surprisingly, very negative reactions by critics are the norm. However it should be of note that unlike Chucky or Freddy, he was never meant to be a “serious” horror villain.
But let’s look at the first three, with film 3 being what I consider the strongest film of the franchise. The first is straight up low-budget, starring a then-unknown Jennifer Aniston playing the main female character (whose character’s name I forget because her character is essentially Rachel Greene from Friends, and just as annoying). It was theatrically released and was pretty profitable for the studio. The Leprechaun was portrayed as maniacal and merciless, and pretty evil (at one point he tries to thrust a kid’s head into a bear trap). However, any genuinely creepy aspect of the film is overshadowed by his silly antics and mannerisms (and the stupidity of our heros). An example being that at one point, the Leprechaun chases our protagonists around in a tricycle, and in another instance chases our heroine down in a wheelchair. In fact, most of the chase scenes are pretty funny, as are his one liners. Even when chasing on foot, he looks ridiculous. The protagonists themselves are pretty stupid, often providing some slap stick moments. The writing for the film is pretty lackluster, but there was a certain charm about it, mainly through the quirkiness of the title character and some funny banter by the characters, and the action itself had a flamboyant, cartoon-ish quality to it. (Also three words: “Pogo stick death“).
The second film provided a better plot and decent writing. The Leprechaun seeks a bride in a young woman who is the ancestor of another maiden he tried to wed. Naturally, she and her beau weren’t too thrilled with this decision. The film has a better budget, the dialogue is smoother, and the audience gets to see more of the Leprechaun’s impressive range of powers. Here the Leprechaun develops more personality and we encounter more back story. (Also be sure to look for appearances by comedian Michael McDonald and Tony Cox.)
The third film is by far my favorite because despite being the first direct-to-video, it plays the most on the strengths of it’s predecessors. The characters are more interesting (more memorable and with better performances), the Leprechaun is shown as comical but crafty (with several great dialogue moments), and the new locale, Vegas, gives the script a lot to work with. It really plays up the humor of the series and gets funnier with repeat viewings. I particularly enjoy the transformation of the hero (played by John Gatins) into a wee folk, which gave the film a slight Teen Wolf feel. More importantly, the franchise was given a solid foundation to it’s lore, which sadly was thrown completely out the window in Leprechaun 5 and Leprechaun 6 .
Leprechaun 4 takes place in space, so as you can imagine, it’s quite terrible and a sad follow up to Leprechaun 3. The plot is absolutely ridiculous (I don’t feel even a half-hearted attempt was made for the script) and even taken for pure camp/humor value it fell short. The laughs aren’t as numerous and the dialogue is pretty boring. The production values look so cheap and almost all the actors look like a bunch of porn stars (and deliver their lines just as flately). The whole thing felt as cheap and tacky as one of those “original” movies on the SyFy channel.
Leprechaun 5 was…not great. Canon lore was completely dismissed, because while the first three did play true to a lot of real folk lore surrounding the legends of leprechauns (while still giving the character a level of mystique), Leprechaun 5 reduced him to Hackville, campy-and-cliched Horror villain status. Gone are the witty limericks I so enjoyed (and I really missed them, because they were a big part of his personality), and the Leprechaun’s role was reduced quite a bit. There were major plot flaws, including an ultra-powerful flute we had never heard mentioned before and that, if it had previously been in the possession of the Leprechaun, would have made the first three films unnecessary. In fact, his powers in this film are so potent it almost makes the whole series unnecessary (he’s far too powerful yet weirdly incompetent to the point of stupid, which doesn’t work as he is portrayed as a powerful almost-satanic figure). The weirdest point for me was that he mainly uses his awesome powers to….brainwash prostitutes into having sex with him. Um… okay. Also sad was the fact that the enchanting and lively “Gaelic” film score present in the first few films appeared absent, probably because some genius decided we needed to make room for several lame rap songs that would make Vanilla Ice cringe. However, to this films credit, I did find the idea of the three main male characters dressing up in drag to try to seduce the Leprechaun into smoking clover-laced weed pretty funny (and though highly puerile, fairly original in concept). And Ice-T fans will be delighted to know that he takes a prominent role as (what else) a shady music producer in this flick (in fact he gets top billing). Also be sure to look out for a cameo by Coolio.
And finally, we come to Leprechaun 6, which went beyond pointless. Guess what? We’re back “IN the hood,” a weird concept (that didn’t really work) ALREADY used with the greatest amount of stereotyping possible. I really, really didn’t know what they were thinking with this one, though I figure it must be some sort of “redo” of the last one, as I found it a marginal improvement (at least in terms of laughs). Again, there aren’t many laughs (as they seemed to be trying to make him more of a “serious” villian), with one of the few exceptions being a bong scene featuring the Leprechaun banging into kitchen ware and being locked into a refrigerator where he collapses due to inhaling too many fumes (a scene pretty similar to the scene in E.T. where the alien gets drunk and stumbles around). In fact, in both films taking place in “the hood” most of the humor seems to be derived from him toking up (I often felt like I was watching a couple of weird sequels to Friday, not Leprechaun). However, as in Leprechaun 5, the Leprechaun’s character feels really out of place (and not just because he is being placed in the city, as he was in Hollywood in Leprechaun 2 and Vegas in Leprechaun 3). His character feels like a complete afterthought (and on a heavy dose of Ambien throughout the entire film, where was the lively little sprite I had grown to love?). And he seems to have lost a great deal of his powers, reducing himself mostly to slasher style killings. His character also gets darker as the movie progresses, and while I enjoyed his roof speech near the end (about the greed of mortals) it felt a little too late for the film series to start taking itself so seriously. It felt like two different sets of writers worked on the script (without little knowledge of the previous films), and like Leprechaun 4 and 5, it fell flat to me. I will say though that I kind of enjoyed the animation during the opening title of this one. Not brilliant, but it was an unexpected surprised and though simple, was nicely done.
But maybe I’m being overly critical. Every film in the series is a little silly (It’s about a freaking killer leprechaun!), and I feel that’s how it should be. But the last few failed to let the character of the Leprechaun shine, instead focusing on essentially nothing. The formula worked well in the first three, and I felt they struck gold with Leprechaun 3, so what happened? I imagine the writers’ obsession with the bong had something to do with it.
It’s my personal opinion that a “decent” sequel can be over-the-top and campy/cheesy, but it should add something to the series, not water it down, particularly in a long running franchise. That’s how it maintains it’s appeal. It’s certainly not uncommon for even a more established/well-respected horror/comedy film franchises to become poorer in story quality down the line, but the good ones usually have something to balance it out. Many, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street or Child’s Play series, go from a more serious tone to a comedic (this is how it maintains it’s appeal, even though it loses the “dignity” it once had in the horror factor), but this is the first franchise I’ve encountered that went from a good balance of camp-comedy/horror to having a more bleak undertone. The sixth one in particular felt like it was trying to be a serious horror film. A badly written one, mind you, but one that definitely took itself a little too seriously.
Final thoughts: The first few were quite good for a laugh (particularly with a viewing party). Try and make some time to check out the first three. But fair warning: If you try to take them seriously you’re going to have a bad time. The rest are “meh,” though there does seem to be a following for Leprechaun 5.