This St. Patrick’s Day, this self-proclaimed horror superfan tasked himself with watching all seven films of the LEPRECHAUN movie franchise. It is a task that I have put upon myself a number of times… but I always end up cowering out about three movies in. In fact, over the last two years, I’ve only watched LEPRECHAUN: ORIGINS. Why? Who knows.
This year, however, things were different: I successfully watched every one of the LEPRECHAUN movies, back to back… and lived to tell the tale. So, here’s my retrospective highlighting the highs and the lows of the Warwick Davis-fronted franchise.
If the original LEPRECHAUN had come out any other time than literally the first week of 1993 (January 8th), it may have done far worse box-office than it did. While the rest of the year was jam-packed with blockbusters and classics — from JURASSIC PARK to MRS. DOUBTFIRE to TOMBSTONE — LEPRECHAUN managed to squeak out with an almost entirely unknown cast to make nearly $9 million against less than a $1 million budget.
Of course, it launched the big-screen career of nineties superstar and FRIENDS alumni Jennifer Aniston, but the cast includes Mark Holton and Robert Hy Gorman — or as I ultimately referred to them “Guy from PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE” and “Best friend of the main character in ROOKIE OF THE YEAR.” Not exactly a star studded-cast…
LEPRECHAUN does set the golden standard for how the franchise will play out throughout the decades: Gold is stolen; Leprechaun looks for gold while murdering along the way; rinse and repeat. The movie was originally set out to be a straight horror movie, but after the success of films like GREMLINS and CRITTERS — and some persuasion from star Warwick Davis — the movie was played more for comedy. It’s a silly movie, with Davis singing macabre nursery rhymes every time he’s on screen, but has some fairly creepy moments and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The most notable bit is the fantastic makeup work on Davis… but in the long line of LEPRECHAUN movies, the first is neither the worst nor the most memorable.
LEPRECHAUN 2 (1994)
With the surprise success of the first film, Trimark and Lions Gate pushed for a sequel, and gave it a $2.2 million budget, managing to drop it into theaters just a year after the original. LEPRECHAUN 2 sets the benchmark of the series, positing no connection to the first film — or even really any consistency in the powers of the Leprechaun or his weaknesses. Taking place in L.A., the sequel fully embraces the humor aspect, and starts to push the creativity of the kills, leaning more into NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET territory than standard creature-feature fare.
Ultimately, LEPRECHAUN 2 is a love story between Cody (Charlie Heath) and Bridget (Shevonne Durkin), and the Leprechaun (Davis) who tries to come between them. No, seriously. In the film, the Leprechaun is searching for a bride, while also obsessing over gold. Cody is the down-on-his-luck-boyfriend who has to prove he loves Bridget by ultimately hunting down the Leprechaun and freeing his girlfriend from the monster’s clutches.
While the kills get more creative — including a pot of gold becoming trapped in one character’s stomach, and the Leprechaun creating his own deadly go-kart — the characters are almost all unlikable, and gore is almost nonexistent. It was a move in the right direction, however, slightly building upon the first film while fully embracing the comedic aspect they were shooting for. Despite this, it only banked $2 million worldwide and would result in the rest of the franchise going straight to video.
Fun fact: The movie is alternately titled ONE WEDDING AND LOTS OF FUNERALS.
LEPRECHAUN 3 (1995)
The third film, although not managing to make the leap to the big screen, is perhaps the best of the series. Again, following the sequel by just a year, LEPRECHAUN 3 takes place in Las Vegas and introduces a number of new elements that make the movie a cheesy albeit fun entry. Following Scott (John Gatins), a young boy striking out on his own, the story introduces a number of characters who are total sleazeballs — the ones you kind of root to see killed by the merciless gold-grubbing Leprechaun.
That said, LEPRECHAUN 3 has a lot of things that actually work in its favor: the low budget doesn’t stop director Brian Trenchard-Smith (DEAD END DRIVE-IN) from doing his best to portray Las Vegas as the City of Sin: Three of the main characters are a stage magician, a casino owner, and a corrupt roulette table operator; immediately after Scott walks into the hotel, we see a priest at a craps table, with two prostitutes blowing on his dice. It’s all heavy-handed satire, but in the best way possible. The movie also displays the powers of the Leprechaun at their fullest, with the creature going full Freddy Krueger.
Taking a cue from the infamous “Monkey’s Paw” short story, the numerous antagonists use a stolen schilling to make wishes, and the Leprechaun grants them… albeit in the most wicked ways possible. We get to see a man electrocuted to death by a sex-robot, a woman who has different parts of her body expand until she explodes, and one particular slimy magician sawed in half with a chainsaw. The movie is easily the most fun in the series, with a colorful backdrop and a fun range of kills.
LEPRECHAUN 4: IN SPACE (1997)
It’s hard to think that any movie with the tagline “One small step for man… One giant leap for horror” is kind of sunk from the get-go. Brian Trenchard-Smith returns to direct this sequel, which rumor has it began with Trimark execs making a mock-up of the APOLLO 13 poster with the Leprechaun’s face on it… and the rest is history.
LEPRECHAUN 4 is a mess of a movie… and not just because they decided to place it in space on a shoestring budget. Whereas the Leprechaun has always shifted styles through the films — sometimes more magical, sometimes speaking more in rhymes — it’s at least consistent throughout the film. It starts with Davis performing a few silly impressions in the vein of classic Hollywood, but this is quickly dropped. The search for gold plays no part in the film, which is instead focused on the Leprechaun searching for his bride aboard a spaceship full of space marines and a Dr. Evil-esque half-robot mastermind.
Okay, let me just break all this down… a crew of space marines thinks they are rescuing an alien princess (by “alien,” I mean “a human covered in glitter”) and take her from the Leprechaun. Said Leprechaun explodes from the phallus of a crew member and proceeds to hunt down the rest of the crew. It’s revealed it was all a ploy by the evil Dr. Mittenhand (Guy Siner) who is this transformed into a giant spider-scorpion hybrid… who renames himself “Dr. Mittenspider.” The Leprechaun is then accidentally transformed into a giant before being blown into space and exploding. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, the alien princess (Rebecca Carlton) declares on her planet that showing your breasts off is a death sentence… no doubt to explain away the obligatory nudity.
The movie suffers from bad pacing, terrible acting and… seriously, why was a movie with such a small budget placed in space? (Christmas lights are often used to highlight the “futuristic” setting). It has some decent kills and some “so bad it’s good” moments… but clearly starts the series’ downward spiral.
LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD (2000)
One look at the title and I’m sure your first thought was the same as mine: “How can this not be awesome?” It is also the last movie Trimark ever released, which might lead to another conclusion.
Ice-T stars as a hip-hop mogul who defeated the Leprechaun in the seventies, stealing his golden flute to create a lucrative career in the music industry. All of this changes when Postmater P, along with posse members Stray Bullet and Butch, intends to bring a message of positivity to youths in Compton; to this end they steal the flute and unleash the Leprechaun.
The movie is only 90 minutes long, but because of sluggish pacing, strange musical numbers, and a severe dip in murder count, it drags out painfully. The film is the first in the series to really shy away from the Leprechaun using a lot of magic to commit his heinous crimes — instead focusing primarily on the humor to be found in a pint-sized mythical monster roaming the mean streets of Compton. The problem is this humor falls flat — relying on cheap gags and curse words to try for a quick laugh. The leprechaun kills most people off-screen, and when he does manage a murder or two, it’s usually by strangulation or a bong to the stomach. There are enough offbeat moments to bring a few quick chuckles… but outside of that, it’s not good for much else.
Also, do yourself a favor and skip the end of the movie for a full-length rap theme from Postmaster P and the Leprechaun.
LEPRECHAUN: BACK 2 THA HOOD (2002)
That brings us to the last time Lions Gate would put out a LEPRECHAUN movie. Director and writer Steven Aryomlooi wanted to capture the horror feeling of the first film, and tried to make it darker and grittier, removing the buckle from the hat of the creature as well as replacing his striped socks with solid colors and giving him long, dirty hair. Needless to say, it didn’t really work.
Perhaps having the highest production values of the Lions Gate LEPRECHAUN entries, it also has the smallest amount of Davis’s screen-time, and moves straight into slapstick territory, with a whole scene devoted to rapper and star Sticky Fingaz making a sandwich while a stoned Leprechaun narrowly misses him before getting stuck in the fridge — which he continues to hot-box.
Essentially, the movie really does play out like a mid-2000s rap video, with young kids flaunting their money and goods, but instead of ending after three minutes and a catchy hook, this is stretched out to a staggering 90 minutes that truly feels like it’s using Lep’s magic to slow down time. Outside the occasional slapstick, even the humor is severely downplayed, which would be fine, if the gore and kills were amped up… but they are not. It may be most notable for replacing the N-word with “Ninjas,” but otherwise this movie is 100% avoidable.
LEPRECHAUN: ORIGINS (2014)
Twelve years after BACK 2 THA HOOD, WWE Studios acquired the LEPRECHAUN film rights and put out a reboot starring former WWE superstar Hornswoggle as the titular crypto. I actually really enjoy the premise: A group of teenagers are backpacking through Ireland and come across a small village where some locals offer to put them up for the night, and then show them historic runes the next day. Unbeknownst to the teens, they are being set up as a sacrifice for a new incarnation of the Leprechaun — a ferocious and unrelenting beast.
The exposition is fun, and it doesn’t take too long to get into the meat of the story, though they manage to present some of the leprechaun lore while creating the possibility for a thrill-ride. However, it wears itself out a little fast and leans more towards monster flick than supernatural fantasy. It has a really solid foundation, but fails to execute on it properly; because of this it ends up a stale slasher instead of a what could have been a gory, fun creature feature.
I will admit, watching seven LEPRECHAUN movies in the course of 24 hours is a bit daunting… but the franchise evens out a lot more than I remembered as a teenager. LEPRECHAUN and LEPRECHAUN 3 stand out as tongue-in-cheek horror comedies, with the third installment (literally) bursting with potential. As with most series, the quality dips as time goes on… but with that being said, Warwick Davis really does give his all throughout the six films he stars in. At its best, it’s a GREMLINS or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET knock-off… but at its worst, the series can get offensively boring. None of the films will go down in the annals of time as a masterpiece — or even a classic — but some good cheesy fun is to be had.
Now, my own ranking of the LEPRECHAUN films, in order of most viewable to least:
- LEPRECHAUN 3
- LEPRECHAUN 2
- LEPRECHAUN 4: IN SPACE
- LEPRECHAUN ORIGINS
- LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD
- LEPRECHAUN BACK 2 THA HOOD