Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, March 17, 2019

A YEAR OF SLASHERS: Leprechaun Returns (2018)

After the disgraceful reboot “Leprechaun: Origins” absolutely failed to enrapture fans, it seemed like the “Leprechaun” franchise was over. Warwick Davis would mention his desire to make more from time to time, with premises involving pirates or the wild west being tossed around. Nothing would come of these and, let's face it, it's amazing the series ran for as many movies as it did anyway. Last year though, out of the blue, something truly unexpected happened. A new entry in the series, that would ignore the remake and instead directly follow-up the original, was announced. “Leprechaun Returns” comes from director Steven Kostanski, previously of “The Void” and “Manborg,” an inspired choice to take over the series. Honestly, Kostanski being behind the camera gave me hope for this latest reboot, even if Warwick Davis was absent and Syfy Channel was co-producing.

Unlike any of the previous “Leprechaun” sequels, “Leprechaun Returns” actually is directly connected to one of the earlier films. We head back to the setting of the original “Leprechaun.” Lila, daughter of original protagonist Tony, heads back to her late mom's home town. She's there to help set up a college sorority.  Up until her death, Lila's mom was haunted by her memories of the Leprechaun. So is local simpleton Ozzie, who is still living in town. Lila's arrival is apparently enough to stir the Leprechaun, still residing in the well where he fell, back to life. The fearsome fey goes back to his quest to retrieve his gold, killing anyone who gets in his way.

Unlike the utterly mercenary “Leprechaun: Origins,” “Leprechaun Returns” was clearly made by fans of the original series. From the moment Mark Holton's Ozzie wanders back on-screen, you know this sequel is an act of homage and love to those older films. “Leprechaun Returns” does a pretty good job of capturing that deeply silly, very dumb, but oddly endearing atmosphere. The film even looks similar, with more scenes of people fleeing from the Leprechaun through dark woods. Kostanski shows his love by having the Lep crack lots of bad jokes and speak in silly rhymes. Amusingly, the Lep interacts with modern day inventions, weaponizing a drone and taking time to take selfies with his intended victims. Fittingly, the film also includes some outrageous death scenes. There's a fleshy disembowelment, a vertical slicing with a solar panel, head crushings, decapitations, and facet impalement.

In many regards, “Leprechaun Returns” is everything you could hope for from a twenty-five years later sequel to the original film. Yet there is a problem. The movie has a big Warwick Davis shaped hole in its heart. Our ersatz Leprechaun performer, Liden Porco, is not bad by any means. His voice is a bit high-pitched and the make-up isn't consistent with the original. However, Porco clearly has some hammy talent of his own and obviously enjoys playing the part. He just lacks the unique zeal and full-born love of ridiculousness that Davis brought to he part. The Lep's trademark awful jokes and rhymes don't sound as satisfying coming out of someone else's mouth. The sequel, though only eighty-six minutes long, also feels a bit long. Though I appreciate gags like the Leprechaun multiplying or being set ablaze, the movie peaks early when the ghastly sprite explodes spectacularly. Its last act never recovers.

Still, screenwriters Mark Jones and Suzanne Keilly earn serious points for attempting to craft genuinely likable characters. Our group of sorority girls and clueless boyfriends are not especially deep. They do, however, have defining characteristics that at least stick out in the mind. Meredith is a borderline alcoholic. Rose is the tightly wound control freak running the sorority house. Nice girl Katie can't quite quit her lunk-headed boyfriend, continuing to hook up with him and immediately regretting it. Even one of the guys, a would-be director, sticks out. Truthfully, Taylor Spreitler's Lila even gets a decent arc. She's recovering from her mom's death and, as ridiculous as it is to say this, the film does satisfyingly have her overcome that by fighting off the Leprechaun that so traumatized Jennifer Aniston and Garth. Especially when compared to the complete blanks that starred in the reboot, this cast proves surprisingly likable.

In many ways, far more care and respect was taken with “Leprechaun Returns” than you would ever expect for this franchise. It's super gory, very silly, and amusingly dumb in much the same way as the earlier films. Still, the “Leprechaun” series was enjoyable largely because Warwick Davis is such an appealing performer. Without him, the new film can't quite satisfy. Still, I have to respect a loving fan-letter like this, especially one devoted to a series as disreputable as “Leprechaun.” Maybe if Linden Porco gets further chances to make the part his own, I'll warm up to him. Until then, “Leprechaun Returns” stands as an amusing if not wholly gratifying homage to one of horror's most delightfully dumb long-runners. [6/10]

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