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 4: In Space (1997)
Body Count: 8
How Leprechaun Returns: Beats me. He’s just alive already when the film begins.
The Story: In the future, in a galaxy far, far away, the Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) has kidnapped the princess (Rebekah Carlton) of some manner of alien kingdom. Meanwhile, an Aliens-like unit of space marines is looking for the Leprechaun. When the two groups collide, a grenade goes off, blowing up the Leprechaun and sending the princess into a coma. The marines take her – and the Leprechaun’s gold! dun dun dunnnn! – back to their spaceship. But not before one of the marines decides to piss on the Leprechaun’s remains. This proves to be a poor decision for the marine, as the Leprechaun’s magic infects his junk. Later, on the ship, when the marine is trying to bang a hot fellow marine (Debbe Dunning, who replaced Pamela Anderson on Home Improvement), the Leprechaun emerges from the dude’s crotch.
Now the Leprechaun does what he knows best – he stalks the ship, looking for his gold, knocking off the marines one-by-one. It is up to super stud marine Malloy (Brent Jasmer) and super babe scientist Dr. Reeves (Jessica Collins) to stop the little bastard.
What Works: According to legend, Leprechaun 4 was born during a party thrown by Trimark Pictures where someone had doctored a poster of Apolo 13, replacing Tom Hank’s visage with that of the Leprechaun. One can easily imagine, as the liquor flowed, that discussion of turning this into a real movie got everyone rolling on the floor with laughter. What is bananas is that Trimark still liked the idea when everyone sobered up.
Leprechaun 4 is when the franchise officially gets insane. Brian Trenchard-Smith had wisely realized that there was no hope in playing the Leprechaun for legitimate terror. Everything about the franchise is funny at its core. Playing the Leprechaun and his mythology for laughs was the smart move. But L4 makes L3 seem positively straight-faced in comparison.
Leprechaun 4 is only a hair away from Spaceballs when it comes to sci-fi parody, and depending on your tastes, much of it is very funny. From almost tastelessly silly bits, like the Leprechaun whipping out a lightsaber, to slightly more symbolic bits, like the Leprechaun bursting from the marine’s crotch, Alien-style. The lampooning is rampant.
As is BTS’s strong suit, even in his junkier films (and he has plenty of those), he manages to get surprisingly solid performances from the cast. As profoundly bonkers as L4 is, it bizarrely manages to work on most levels. Providing the most ballast are Tim Colceri and Guy Siner. Colceri plays Metal Head, the commander of the marines (so named because of his partially exposed metal skull), and the man is a hoot. Colceri has a somewhat tragic footnote in Hollywood history – he was the actor originally cast as the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket before Kubrick decided to use his technical adviser, R. Lee Ermey. And even though L4 is just a retarded horror movie, you can still see how he once impressed a master like Kubrick. Guy Siner plays the film’s most wacko character, Dr. Mittenhand, the cyborg owner of the space ship, and he plays the character with a Col. Klink-like accent and flamboyant flair. I won’t even bother trying to describe what he looks like. I think this picture sort of sums up the appeal of the film:
“Cheesy” barely begins to describe this film. While horror franchises often take weird turns at some point in their progression, few go so completely nuts as Leprechaun 4. BTS had the brilliant idea to pointlessly insert a shrink/enlarging ray into the film, clearly for the sole purpose of making the Leprechaun gigantic at some point. Seeing a monstrous Warwick Davis lumber around inside the tiny version of a cargo-hold set is not something you ever expected to see in a Leprechaun film. And I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t seen the film, but the genetic mutation that befalls Dr. Mittenhand late in the film really kicks the film up to yet another level of unexpected idiocy.
And the underwear that Jessica Collins winds up in for the climax of the film is so sex-store salacious that I almost felt bad for the actress. Almost.
What Doesn’t Work: One could argue that L4 goes too far. L3 had a fairly perfect balance of horror and comedy. L4 goes completely into camp without looking back. I don’t think it is as good as L3, but I find it hard to fault it too significantly considering how dull and often terrible the first two films were.
But you really have to love silliness to get into L4. Cause there is no actual movie buried beneath the wacky exterior. BTS was having a laugh at the Leprechaun franchise, as Ricky Gervais would’ve said in Extras, and it shows. The film feels like it was made by a man constantly saying “I can’t believe they’re letting me get away with this shit!” during production. While it is fun to watch the wackiness unfold, I didn’t care about our two heroes even remotely. And in the end that hurts the movie somewhat. I have to care at least a little for a film to rise above simply being an enjoyable lark. The film is also insanely cheap looking. Which certainly adds to its dopey charms, but also means that there aren’t much in the way of great kills.
Ultimately though, I think the film’s only true failing is that it’s not a very good Leprechaun movie. It’s still Warwick Davis. And he is still obsessed with his gold. But his attitude and motives feel different. It’s not just cause we’re in the future, in space. It’s because BTS is having more fun making a totally ridiculous movie than making a Leprechaun movie. I can’t really blame him. The franchise was terrible until he came along. But L3 got me kind of excited for more. Leprechaun 4: In Space is something completely different.
Best Kill: Gotta give it to the Leprechaun crawling out of a guy’s dick. Horror movies have featured a lot of vagina-related insertion/extraction ickiness. They rarely feature things coming out of dicks.
Groaniest Leprechaun One-Liner: “As Shakespeare said, shit happens.”
How Leprechaun Is Defeated: Launched into open space, where he explodes. Frankly, he seems to explode at the end of all these films.
Should There Have Been A Sequel: Eh. At this point, why not? They’ve already established they can do whatever the hell they want. For the record, Brian Trenchard-Smith apparently wanted to do a fifth film in which the Leprechaun became president of the United States. But Trimark wouldn’t go for it.
Next: Leprechaun in the Hood