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: Back 2 tha Hood (2oo3)
Body Count: 9
How Leprechaun Returns: He didn’t die last time.
The Story: Though we’re in “tha hood” again, our story seems nonetheless disconnected from Leprechaun in the Hood. Despite the previous film ending with the Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) as a pimpin’ rap mogul (or something), once more the lil’ bugger is stuck in the menial pursuit of his perpetually stolen gold – in this instance, stolen by a preacher. Before dying, the preacher manages to send the Leprechaun back to hell using four-leaf clover holy water and some good ol’ fashion fire ‘n brimstone blathering. This all goes down at the site of a youth center the preacher had been trying to build with the Leprechaun’s gold.
Cut to one year later: we meet our foursome of heroes: a struggling hair-dresser, Emily (Tangi Miller), her bff, Lisa(Sherrie Jackson), their stoner friend Jamie (Page Kennedy), and Emily’s drug dealing ex, Rory (Laz Alonso). When the group is having a picnic at the construction site of the never completed youth center, Emily falls into a hole and discovers a chest full of the Leprechaun’s gold. The foursome decides to split the loot, and for a brief moment all is grand, until the Leprechaun rises from the earth to reclaim his goodies. At this point I think you know the drill.
What Works: Shockingly, this movie isn’t atrocious. In fact, I think it might actually be better than Leprechaun in the Hood. If nothing else it doesn’t look as chintzy and low-grade as its predecessor. I liked the cast more too (probably didn’t hurt that our leads were two hot chicks), and at least I didn’t have to sit through anymore straight-faced mediocre rapping.
The movie gets off on the right foot. Back 2 tha Hood probably has the most interesting opening of any of the films. Whereas as LITH declared its cheapness immediately by recycling the opening footage from the first Leprechaun, with some clumsily dubbed new dialogue for the Leprechaun, Back 2 has an animated sequence that attempts to explain the Leprechaun’s origin. It’s interesting to think that up until this point the Lep never had an origin. Leprechauns being well-known mythological creatures sort of side-stepped the necessity for such exposition, I guess.
Normally I think the worst/stupidest thing a horror franchise can do is to pointlessly add backstory so late in the game, when one was never needed before (I’m looking at you Nightmare on Elm St and Friday the 13th). This is a rare exception, though. For one thing, they aren’t trying to explain the Leprechaun, so much as contextualize him. In the animated prologue we learn that leprechauns rose from the earth thousands of years ago to help a sorcerer king protect his gold. When the king finally died of old age, the leprechauns (who were mostly good) went back from whence they came. All except one, no-good leprechaun, who still thirsted for gold. It’s a nice simple little fairytale, and putting it in an animated prologue makes it feel appropriate and organic – as opposed to having one of our heroes finding the story in an old book midway through the film, or some similarly stupid shit.
Back 2 returns to the Leprechaun’s roots a bit more. All these amulets and magic flutes had kind of moved away from the simplicity of the Leprechaun wanting his gold. And this film added a nice wrinkle to that, which is that once the Leprechaun’s chest is emptied of it gold coins, new ones will appear in horn-of-plenty fashion. Rainbows have also come back into play (showing the way to the gold). As have four-leaf clovers. As silly as those things are, I think it helps stay within the “reality” of leprechauns. Speaking purely on a character level, I also like the Leprechaun best when he seems truly concerned/obsessed with his gold. There is a moment in Back 2 when Emily is tossing his gold off a rooftop and he screams “My babies!” that I think typifies what the Leprechaun should be about.
This film also gets back to something LITH seemed to forget about, which is that its a horror movie. This is the first installment since Leprechaun 2 that attempts to make the Leprechaun scary. In fact, once the Leprechaun is summoned back to life, his first two appearances after that are shrouded in shadow, with us unable to see the Lep’s face. Now, obviously, at this point in the franchise no one is scared of the Leprechaun. He’s the wacky prankster viewers are turning up for. But I thought it was a decent attempt to reground the series slightly, before descending into the expected silliness.
Back 2 also has some decent moments. I enjoyed a scene were the Leprechaun faces off against two cops, ripping one of their legs off, and then the call-back gag when the Lep tries to take their squad car and realizes he can’t reach the pedals (that leg will now come in handy). And I enjoyed seeing the Leprechaun get wasted by a machine gun wielding gang. The film also features a rare (for the franchise) action sequence, in which the Leprechaun is clinging to the bottom of our heroes’ car as they speed down the street. The pay off to this sequence has one of the best “urban” jokes too – as they free themselves of the Leprechaun by activating the car’s bouncy ghetto hydraulics.
What Doesn’t Work: Objectively, I think it was a mistake to return to the “hood.” Apparently, the film was originally to be set during Spring Break, but the popularity of LITH caused Trimark to double dip, making this the first film to reuse a locale. Bad idea. Even though I enjoyed this trip into the hood more than the previous installment, it broke the good thing the franchise had going and essentially signaled the series’ death. The best thing about LITH was its stupid concept and – following In Space – its demonstration that the Leprechaun franchise was just going to keep running down this loony high-concept path. A sun-bleached Spring Break full of bikinis and boozing would have been a novel blast, and there very likely may have been a Leprechaun 7 if they’d done that (and could keep offering Davis enough money). The hood double-dip feels like a franchise running on fumes, and implies that their high-concept plays weren’t so much about having fun as they were about finding something that worked. Who wants to watch a series about the Leprechaun stuck in the hood? Not me.
As for the film itself, while this was much lighter and bouncier than LITH, it certainly isn’t great. The urban jokes tend to play poorly. An initial conversation between Rory and Jamie, in which Jamie is trying to popularize saying “ninja” instead of “nigga” is only moderately amusing at best, but nonetheless quickly becomes a terrible running gag, eventually being said by the Leprechaun himself. Once more the film is dripping with weed humor, including a prolonged sequence of the Leprechaun getting super stoned. The first part of the sequence is actually kinda fun, as it features some James Franco-level realistic stoned acting by Warwick Davis, but then it descends into a stupid slapstick sequence of the Leprechaun stumbling around the house high-as-fuck – which reminded me a bit of the stupid sequence in Leprechaun 2 in which the Leprechaun gets drunk. I know these films are comedies, but such situations tend to undermine the villain when done lazily, as these were. They err too far into the comedy world.
There is also a fart joke. A fat person fart joke. That is all.
The Girl Who Knows Things in this film is a fortune teller that Emily visits a couple times. Randomly at the end of the film this character suddenly has magical powers. As a rule, I don’t think your horror movie should have magical or super-powered characters in it, other than the villain. Special talents, yes, super powers, no. Being able to pull other dreaming people into your own dreams (Nightmare on Elm St 3), yes, being able to create energy blasts, no.
This is probably a nit-pick, but the film features a lot of digital transition effects, like the kind I put in videos I edited in high school, because I was so excited to finally be using editing software (and not just my VHS camcorder plugged into my VCR). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a professional feature film with this page peel transitions. Page peels don’t belong in a movie.
Best Kill: A guy gets impaled with a bong, after smoking up the Leprechaun. Uncool, Lep. Uncool.
Groaniest Leprechaun One-Liner: “Irish eyes will soon be smiling.” Said after he retrieves his plucked out eyeball.
How Leprechaun Is Defeated: Shot with four-leaf clover tipped bullets, then he falls into wet cement and sinks with his gold.
Should There Have Been A Sequel: A more fitting question at this juncture would be “Should the Franchise Have Stopped Here?” Now that we’ve got some perspective, let’s look back on the Leprechaun franchise as a whole…
This was a clunky franchise. Part of the problem was that “rules” of the Leprechaun were never really settled or adhered to. Speaking purely clinically, the most effective horror franchises are the ones with the simplest and most strictly followed rules. The Final Destination series is a good odd-duck example. There is no villain, in the standard sense, but you could keep making these movies forever, because it has such a solid formula. The Leprechaun succeeded purely based on the strength of the character and Warwick Davis, but ultimately failed because that was the only element of the franchise Trimark and the various filmmakers took even remotely seriously.
Aside from those minor call-backs to the first film in Back 2, and the awkward reuse of the statue from Leprechaun 3 in LITH, there is essentially zero connection between any of these films. Though the Lep is ostensibly always after his gold in each film, the nature of this quest and the Lep’s attitude towards it are always completely different. Sometimes he literally needs to retrieve each individual piece of his gold, other times he simply seems to be getting revenge on those who stole from him (never actually retrieving any of the gold itself). Sometimes the Leprechaun only kills those who stole from him, other times he kills more wantonly, just for fun. Thus each new installment is sort of a reboot, riffing on the core concept and little else.
It’s too bad the series ended on such an unspectacular note, especially after reaching such highs of ridiculousness. Spring Break would have been fun. Though I think Brian Trenchard-Smith’s idea of Leprechaun in the White House would have been the zenith of high concept madess (and would have been a great series closer). Sure, they could do another one, but at this point Warwick Davis may be getting too old. He’s still a relatively young man (41), but the joint problems that plague little people may be making it difficult for him to prance around and fight people like he once did. Or maybe not. I really don’t know. I do think the character and his performance are deserving of a last hurrah. Possible a Leprechaun vs Chucky.
I’m curious if they’ll ever try and reboot this with a different actor. Cause that idea just seems wholly stupid, considering that nothing about the franchise really worked, except Warwick Davis.
Ranking the franchise from best to worst:
Leprechaun 4: In Space
Leprechaun (gets bonus points for being the first)
Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood
Leprechaun in the Hood
What next? I’ve gotten a lot of fun suggestions for what franchise to tackle next. Too many suggestions really. Let’s put some of these to a vote, shall we? Chime in below or on the message boards for which of these series you’d like me to brave next.
Children of the Corn