Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, March 11, 2019

A YEAR OF SLASHERS: Leprechaun (1993)

Horror fans are a forgiving lot. We like to support films in the genre, sometimes even if they aren’t that good. During the early nineties, after the slasher genre had burned itself out and before the post-modern revival later in the decade, we’d take anything we could get. It is during this environment that “Leprechaun” emerged. It’s the dumbest of dumb horror movies. Despite that, the film has spawned multiple sequels, developed a cult following, and turned Warwick Davis, the busiest little person in Hollywood, into something resembling a horror icon.

Despite being about a murderous leprechaun, “Leprechaun” is not set in Ireland. It’s set in the American Midwest. An Irishman, with the stereotypical name of O’Grady, returns from the emerald island following his mother’s funeral. While there, he caught a leprechaun and stole his gold. Unbeknownst to O’Grady, the malevolent munkin stowed away in his suitcase. The Leprechaun kills the man’s wife before being locked in a crate downstairs, held in place by a magical four leaf clover. A decade later, a new family moves into the house, J.D. Reding and his snotty daughter Tory. While cleaning out the basement, the clover is removed and the leprechaun is freed. Determined to recover his gold, the pissed-off pygmy pursues Tory and her friends, killing anyone who gets in his way.

Mostly though, the dubious pleasures of the “Leprechaun” franchise rests solely on the shoulders of Warwick Davis. By this point, Davis had already been an ewok and the star of his own fantasy epic. Davis has spent most of his career behind make-up of some sort and he has no problem making the Leprechaun a personable character. Davis’ charm is frequently the only thing keeping the movie afloat. He even manages to make some of the silly dialogue funny. The movie throws together a decent mythology for the Leprechaun. He has an obsession with cleaning shoes which the characters used to distract him a few times, a genuinely funny element. The Leprechaun’s kryptonite is a four leaf clover, a mildly clever element. If nothing else, it gives the monster a spectacular death scene, melting from the inside out. The make-up design for the Leprechaun has become well-known enough to be mildly iconic. It’s a good monster movie version of the traditional public idea of what a leprechaun is.

Whether or not “Leprechaun” was even intended to be scary is questionable. Apparently it was planned as a serious horror film before it transformed into a horror/comedy. Even that label doesn’t really apply. “Leprechaun” is best described as an occasionally gory live action cartoon. The characters are broad, most obviously obnoxious man-child Ozzie. The plot is barely existent. Characters run from the Leprechaun, escape him briefly and then the cycle starts over again. The movie seems especially obsessed with putting Warwick Davis in various wheeled vehicles. Pumping frantically, he rides a tricycle into town. He drives back to the farm in a Power Wheels style play car. Later, he cobbles together a go-cart out of stuff inside the barn, a blatantly cartoony scene. He rolls around on roller skates, inexplicably, before leaving a Looney Tunes style body-shaped hole in a fence. He rides around the house on a skateboard, striking cute posses. Most feverish is the scene where the titular horror chases Jennifer Aniston through the hospital in a wheelchair.

Occasionally, “Leprechaun” remembers that it’s supposed to be a horror movie. According to Warwick Davis, the film was originally planned as a kid-friendly horror film. This might as explain why, with one example, the gore is just explicit enough to earn an R-rating. A lot of the violence is inflicted on the crazy critter himself. More then once, he gets blasted with a shotgun, leaving a trail of green blood. When the Leprechaun does turn his wrath on humans, it usually happens on unimportant minor characters, such as a pawn shopper owner or two cops that wander in. The one cop is stalked through the forest. With a less ridiculous threat, a moment like this could have appeared in a straighter horror movie. The nastiest moment of gore comes when the Lep tears another cop’s eye out. The movie is never scary – no shit – and these more visceral moments stick out a sore thumb.

Aside from Davis’ comic shenanigans, the rest of the cast is mostly unimportant. Infamously, “Leprechaun” was an early screen credit for Jennifer Aniston. Aniston looks pretty cute in her black tank top and jean shorts. Her character is given a route arc of being a rich girl from the city who learns to live in the country. However, when running and hiding from the titular threat, Aniston shows some decent final girl potential. The rest of the cast ranges from utterly unremarkable, such as the girl’s father and her love interest, to genuinely irritating, such as Mark Holton as Fauknerian man-child Ozzie and his kid sidekick Alex, played by Robert Gorman.

“Leprechaun” is really an extraordinarily stupid movie. Its goofy streak extends pass silly into outright dumb. However, mostly thanks to a shameless star, some decent special effects, and a short running time, it can provide some brief, dubious thrills to horror fans nostalgic for the early nineties. Turn your brain off, all the way off, and enjoy Warwick Davis rhyming and killing people with a pogo stick. [6/10]

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