[Review] Not Much Gold to Find in ‘Leprechaun’, But It’s Worth Looking
The smell of green beer is in the air, which can only mean one thing - St. Patrick’s Day is upon us. But if you’d rather not brave the vomit-splashed bathrooms of a jam-packed bar, watching Mark Jones’s Leprechaun from 1993 isn’t the worst way to celebrate.
There are a total of eight movies in the Leprechaun franchise, so if you’re of a certain age, you may remember what seemed like an entire shelf of your local video store filled with Leprechaun sequels. Maybe you’re also aware that these aren’t exactly the most well-respected films in horror cinema. If a slasher franchise has officially jumped the shark when it goes to outer space, then what is to be said of a franchise that went to space in 1997, the hood in 2000, and then “back 2 tha hood” in 2003? By the way, this rap from the 2000 film is one of the worst things ever committed to celluloid. But for all of the straight-to-video awfulness that came on the tail end of the series, the first film isn’t as bad as one would expect.
Believe it or not, Leprechaun is the feature film debut of Jennifer Aniston, released just one year before Friends started its ten year stint in 1994. While many would disagree with me, I would argue that Aniston’s acting is one of the few things that elevates this movie above the average gimmicky 80s/90s slasher. Aniston plays a woman who is going to spend the summer living with her father in an old fixer-upper in the middle of nowhere. This stereotypical “city girl” befriends the least stereotypical collection of blue-collar dudes ever depicted on film. They accidentally set free an evil Leprechaun who has been imprisoned for the past 10 years. Random murders, slapstick comedy, and corny one-liners ensue as the Leprechaun embarks on a reign of terror in search of the gold stolen from him by the previous resident of the house.
For all of this movie’s flaws, it succeeds in a few areas, most importantly building a mild attachment to its main characters. Within Aniston’s blue-collar posse, a friendship between a precocious youngster and a grown man with some implied developmental issues at least attempts to spark some emotional investment however clunky the execution may be. Both Warwick Davis (who plays the Leprechaun) and Aniston deliver competent performances despite the poorly written dialogue. Other highlights include decent practical effects and effectively creepy makeup on Davis. In fact, the Leprechaun’s appearance could have been genuinely chill-inducing, but it’s hard to be frightened by a villain who regularly breaks into a jig and cartoonishly leaves a leprechaun-shaped hole in a fence after crashing through it in his souped up go-kart. Though admittedly, I did chuckle at the fence gag.
This leads us to the movie’s core problem - tonal confusion. Unable to firmly plant itself in scares or laughs, and definitely not nuanced enough to successfully juggle both, the movie plays out like an extended, R-rated episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?. If you’re sitting there thinking that doesn’t sound so horrible, you’re right - it’s not horrible. But it’s not great either. The movie would benefit from more slapstick comedy, largely because while the one-liners written for Warwick are groan-inducing, his physical comedy is the strong point of the film; it’s also hard to picture a movie about a Leprechaun actually being scary to adults.
In the end, Leprechaun is decently violent, mildly funny at best, and not at all scary. But when all is said and done, it’s hard not to be entertained by a Leprechaun terrorizing Rachel Green; after all, she was the least likeable friend. So if this St. Patty’s Day, you’re trying to choose between green vomit splattered across your shoes, and green blood splattered across the screen, consider this a gentle nudge towards staying in and giving the Leprechaun a try.
P.S. — You can also listen to our spoiler-filled episode on Leprechaun here.