Photo: ‘Leprechaun’/Trimark Pictures
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
If you read the title, you probably do remember ‘Leprechaun’ (1993). Or you don’t, and you’re confused as to why you clicked on this article. Believe me, I totally understand and forgive you. “Leprechaun” is probably one of, if not, the weirdest movies ever made. It remains this way today and is representative of a drastic change in how more modern horror films are developed and marketed.
Some Background on Slashers
So, in the 1990s, every major Hollywood studio was trying to capitalize on the slasher craze in the horror genre. Slasher films had existed for a while before, with “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “Halloween,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Evil Dead,” and “Friday the 13th” all having spawned huge, successful franchises, usually based on one genuinely great movie (although all the “Evil Dead” movies are awesome, and I would argue that the “Friday the 13th” franchise has yet to create even one good movie, let alone great, in its 40-year run), followed by a slew of half-baked attempts at sequels.
Most of the slashers of the ‘70s and ‘80s were mesmerizing, well-directed, and actually quite frightening, using the perceived financial limitations of the genre as a means to create genuinely great works that explored the human condition in raw, never-before-seen ways. “Texas Chainsaw” and “Halloween” are particularly incredible, using deft direction and an unbreakable sense of tension to hide some of the weak acting and basic plot elements.
Gimmicky ‘90s Slashers
But by the time the ‘90s rolled around, people were getting sick of the formula. The relevance of these franchises had waned, as the sequels got increasingly goofy and over-the-top, with “Friday the 13th” being particularly maligned for its sequels revolving around the hockey mask-wearing, undead killer Jason Voorhees going to Hollywood, Hell, and outer space. Not even the more sci-fi-focused horror franchises were immune by this point, as the “Alien” and “Predator” franchises saw more weak installments during this decade. We were also still a few years away from “Scream” revitalizing the slasher genre with its iconoclastic genre take-down, so self-awareness was not exactly a priority for these studios.
This brings us to “Leprechaun” itself. Or rather, to the type of film “Leprechaun” appeared to be mimicking, AKA the more gimmicky slasher reliant more on comedy than scares. You see, “Leprechaun” is less like the terrifying slashers of previous decades, and rather is more in-line with the “Chucky” franchise, in that it features a cheesy, child-like antagonist that offsets the horrific violence with dumb puns and sight gags. I have never been a particular fan of “Child’s Play,” but the series was a surprisingly enormous hit around this time period, so it makes sense that other studios would try to copy that series’ success.
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The “Leprechaun” Franchise
So in 1993, Trimark released “Leprechaun” to the public. The film featured “Star Wars” legend Warwick Davis as the titular villain, who used his famously impish appearance and promise of a “pot of gold coins” as a means to lure in unsuspecting teens and brutally murder them. One of these teens was none other than “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston in her feature film debut. It follows Aniston and company as they attempt to avoid and eventually capture the serial killer leprechaun, often running into increasingly precarious traps, as the mischievous creature becomes less playful and more hostile.
The film, as you can probably tell from the description, is not good. Like, at all. It is often considered the worst movie roles of Davis and Aniston’s respective careers and was universally panned upon its release by critics, for its poor acting, stupid and borderline offensive attempts at humor, and unintentionally hilarious plot and direction. However, the film was a success regardless, as its minuscule filming budget of under $1 million allowed it to make a pretty significant profit, with mainstream audiences seeing it anyway, likely as a curiosity.
The film was just successful enough, in fact, that it spawned an entire series of movies, including 5 sequels and a 2014 reboot, spread across various production companies and directors (including the WWE, at one point). They would even become St. Patrick’s Day staples at independent midnight movie theaters, with fans dressing up as the titular character in his various ridiculous incarnations. One of these sequels, like “Jason X” before it, even featured the Leprechaun going to space for some reason (“Leprechaun 4: In Space”), but it was somehow not even close to being the craziest of the bunch.
That’s right, the Irish imp eventually made his way to South Central Los Angeles, where he faced off against none other than rapper Ice-T. The film and its direct sequel are probably one of the most astoundingly terrible examples of how tone-deaf Hollywood can be, with the Leprechaun getting his flute stolen by Ice-T and his fellow gangsters, resulting in all the usual slasher mayhem. The films have not aged well at all whatsoever in terms of cultural sensitivity, but when viewed through a modern context, they border on hilarious parody, almost as if the filmmakers knew exactly how stupid and offensive of a movie they were making.
It reminds me of Tom Green’s 2001 cult anti-comedy “Freddy Got Fingered,” in that it’s so outrageous and (in that film’s case, intentionally) stupid that it is almost hard not to watch, almost like a slow-motion trainwreck. The two films together are like one, long, fever dream, putting the Leprechaun in one zany circumstance after another (he speaks in jive throughout many parts of both), except they’re 100% real, and it’s consistently surprising how far the filmmakers were willing to go with this concept.
So… “Leprechaun.” If you hadn’t heard of this franchise already, you probably wish that you never did. Well, you’re welcome, because now you too can engage in the classic, cult cinema and holiday tradition of drinking Guinness and watching what are probably the single-worst slasher films ever made. Will you roll your eyes more than a few times? Yes, absolutely. But you’ll be laughing so hard you probably won’t even care.
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