Hollywood loves a good franchise. The movie-going public does too. Horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, western, no genre is safe. And any film, no matter how seemingly stand-alone, conclusive, or inappropriate to sequel, could generate an expansive franchise. They are legion. We are surrounded. But a champion has risen from the rabble to defend us. Me. I have donned my sweats and taken up cinema’s gauntlet. Don’t try this at home. I am a professional.
The Franchise: Leprechaun. Following the murderous misadventures of a gold-loving shoe fetishist sprite, the franchise has six installments spanning from 1993 to 2003.
The 1990’s are a much maligned period for horror movies. For the most part, rightly so. But it wasn’t the 90’s fault. The 80’s were all about excess, and the two genres the Reagan era did best were action and horror, and both genres followed a similar arc, pushing their envelope and crescendoing into sheer madness around 1989, at which point they both pulled a hammy. Early 90’s horror is actually kind of interesting, in a archeological sense (it’s really the mid-to-late 90’s that truly suck). The genre was clearly struggling to figure out what to do with itself now that common Slashers had run their course. Many filmmakers turned towards magic, giving us films like Candyman, Warlock, and of course, Leprechaun.
The Installment: Leprechaun 3 (1995)
Body Count: 6
How Leprechaun Returns: The Leprechaun has inexplicably been turned to stone now – trapped as a statue – by a magical amulet held around his neck. Removing the amulet sets him free.
The Story: A haggard drifter sells a Leprechaun statue to a Las Vegas pawn shop owner. When the Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) is restored to his mischievous mobile self, he once again resumes his obsession with his pot of gold. When a single gold piece (or shilling) falls from the Leprechaun’s pot, a series of farcical events are set in motion as the Leprechaun tries to retrieve it.
Tangled up in this mess is our hero, Scott (John Gatins), a naive mid-westerner driving out to Los Angeles for his freshman year of college. Scott stops to help a pretty girl having car troubles. The girl is Tammy (Lee Armstrong), an aspiring magician currently working as a magician’s assistant to the flamboyant and egocentric Fazio the Great (John DeMita). Fazio and Tammy work at the Lucky Shamrock Casion, owned by the unscrupulous Mitch (Michael Callan). Even though Scott isn’t old enough to be in the casino, when Mitch sees Scott $23,000 tuition check, Mitch agrees to let Scott gamble. Scott promptly loses all his money.
Desperate to reclaim some of his tuition, Scott heads across the street to pawn his watch. Here he finds the corpse of the pawnshop owner who bought/freed the Leprechaun. Scott also finds the Lep’s missing shilling. In a new addition to the Leprechaun mythos, we have learned that if you find a piece of leprechaun gold, you are given one wish. Scott wishes he were on a winning streak at the casino, and it comes true. Soon things spin out of control as the magic shilling passes hands to different characters, who each make their own wish. Scott also winds up with the Leprechaun’s blood infecting a wound on his arm, and – zombie style – starts slowly turning into a leprechaun himself.
What Works: Almost everything. The degrees to which this film is better than its two predecessors is an unexpected surprise, especially considering that it was a straight-to-VHS sequel, with a smaller budget and shorter production schedule than the previous two films.
Although, it is less surprising when you look at the pedigree behind it. While Mark Jones deserves much credit for conceiving the Leprechaun, he didn’t really seem to know what to do with his own ideas. And the less we talk about Leprechaun 2 the better my day will be. But someone at Trimark Pictures had the wisdom to hire Brian Trenchard-Smith to helm this sequel, and that made all the difference. Those who have seen the great documentary Not Quite Hollywood will be familiar with Trenchard-Smith and his Australian films, like Turkey Shoot, StuntRock, and Dead End Drive-In. Despite being one of Tarantino’s favorite filmmakers, Trenchard-Smith has been relegated to low-end sequels and TV movies (like this film and Night of the Demons 2; some NOTD2 peeps actually pop up here in cameos) since arriving in America, but hey, all to the good fortune of these lucky films. Based on the dubious beginnings of this franchise, Leprechaun 3 frankly has no business being as good as it is.
Trenchard-Smith and screenwriter David DuBos seem to recognize that up until this point the Leprechaun series had tonal issues. The other films were trying to be both funny and scary and failing pretty miserably at both. Trenchard-Smith wisely realized that there was no way to make a scary Leprechaun film, so he decided to up the comedy. While ramping up the comedy can often undo a horror series – *cough* Nightmare on Elm St. *cough* – if done properly it can allow a franchise to shift into a new gear better suited to its components (Evil Dead). Here it works gangbusters. Leprechaun 3 is actually funny.
As terrible a film as Leprechaun 2 was, it at least set the precedent for completely ignoring the continuity of the film the came before it. With Leprechaun 3 the series officially takes the stance that each Leprechaun outting can be completely stand alone, with no references to the other films, explanation of why the Leprechaun isn’t dead, or adherence to the rules and mythology that had previously been established (a stance that famously took the franchise in absurd directions). The Leprechaun exploded into a gazillion pieces at the end of part 2. How did he reassemble and become a statue now? Where did this magic amulet come from? Why is the Leprechaun afraid of it? Why does his gold now grant wishes when it didn’t before?
Who gives a shit.
With this freedom Trenchard-Smith could craft his own Leprechaun and Leprechaun film. Once more Warwick Davis is returned to his glory from the first film, so unacceptably squandered in the second film. He is given a lot to play with here too. Vegas, with all its greed and money, is a great setting for the little man. And adding the genie-like wish granting quality to his mythology provides a lot of material for comedy and horror (as people’s wishes often end up with monkey’s paw style sinister reversals). Probably the best use of Warwick Davis comes during Mitch’s death scene, in which the Lerpechaun shows up in a series of television commercials and programs, in a variety of costumes and accents. Here Davis can show off that he didn’t land the Leprechaun role based purely on his size; he is no Verne Troyer.
While Leprechaun 2 had the great Sandy Baron, as I bitched about last time, he was wasted on the film. Leprechaun 3 is the first film in the series to pit Warwick Davis against a capable supporting cast. Particular stand outs are John DeMita as Fazio the Great – it is a fun character on paper, but DeMita nails it pretty hard – and Caroline Williams as the vain, past-her-prime casino dealer, Loretta. The weirdest characters are two mobster goons played by Tom Dugan and Roger Hewlett, that are so post-Pulp Fiction goofy they’re constantly in danger of not working, yet Trenchard-Smith manages to somehow make it play. Lee Armstrong is not a strong actress, though she makes up for some of her duller moments during a scene in which (while under Leprechaun magic) she is transformed into a babydoll-voiced sexpot. Also, Trenchard-Smith must be commended for the extremely revealing magician’s outfit Armstrong is stuck in for 95% of the film. Those who admire the female form thank you, sir.
What Doesn’t Work: John Gatins as our hero Scott. While he never threatens to derail the film, he is undeniably its weakest link. For one thing, he’s far too old to be under 21, which provides some of the film’s few un-intentional laughs. More problematic though is just his general weaselly appearance. He is a little too much of a wiener to ever really get behind. And while the idea of him slowly turning into a Leprechaun is bonkers in a good way, the moments in which Gatins goes into his “leprechaun voice” start to push the film a little too far into silly for my tastes.
For some reason the Leprechaun’s great “I want me gold” catchphrase was tweaked to the less iconic “I want me shilling.”
The film also could have used a little more gore. Two deaths come from the Leprechaun lamely beating the characters to the ground with his cane, and you will probably assume they’ve been comically knocked unconscious, until the Leprechaun says something implying they’re now in fact dead. But knowing the budgetary and time constraints the film was under, I think the money was wisely spent elsewhere.
Best Kill: The Leprechaun gives the vain Loretta too much of a good thing, expanding her boobs and ass, and pouting her lips, to monstrous size until she finally explodes.
Groaniest Leprechaun One-Liner: “For pulling this trick, I’ll chop off your dick!”
How Leprechaun Is Defeated: By destroying his pot of gold using a flame thrower. Which causes the Leprechaun to burst into flames.
Should There Have Been A Sequel: Yes. The formula has finally be figured out. Godspeed.
Next: Leprechaun 4: In Space