Bad movies are not a simple matter. There are nearly as many categories of terrible movies as there are for great ones: there are films that are insultingly stupid (Batman & Robin), unintentionally funny (Birdemic), unintentionally, painfully unfunny (White Chicks), so bad they’re depressing (Transformers), and so on. But the most rewarding terrible movies are those we know as “so bad they’re good” — entertaining in their sheer incompetence, best braved in numbers, where the ham-fisted dramatics and tin-eared dialogue become fodder for years of random quotes and inside jokes. And in this spirit, Flavorwire brings you a special St. Patrick’s Day installment of our monthly So Bad It’s Good feature: the legendarily stupid 1993 “horror” “comedy,” Leprechaun.
Ever since Halloween made all the money back in 1978, horror filmmakers have bent over backward to peg scary movies to holidays, and you can’t blame them — it’s the same logic as Christmas movies, i.e., turn your throwaway movie into a perennial, revisited (and re-bought) annually. Thus we have Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night; Bloody New Year and New Year’s Evil; My Bloody Valentine and Valentine; April Fool’s Day; Mother’s Day; Thankskiling; and even Friday the 13th. But the goofiest of them all is unquestionably Mark Jones’ Leprechaun, an aggressively stupid attempt to make a horror movie we’d all return to every St. Patrick’s Day, when the four-leaf clovers and pots o’ gold are on our minds.
Leprechaun begins as the story of Dan O’Grady (Shay Duffin), a whiskey-swillin’ Irishman who’s in a celebratory mood because he’s stolen a pot of gold from a leprechaun. But wouldn’t y’know it, the little fellow (Warwick Davis, aka Willow and head Ewok Wicket) turns up hellbent on getting “me pot o’ gold” back, only to get locked in a crate, trapped inside by a four-leaf clover (the movie pretends like leprechauns are repelled by clovers, and they’re wielded here like crosses in a vampire movie — not cool, totally not canon).
Ten years later, the dusty ol’ abandoned O’Grady place is taken over by J.D. Reding (John Sanderford) and his teenage daughter Tory, played by a pre-Friends (and, not to be indelicate about it, pre-nose job) Jennifer Aniston. Tory is from LA, you see — so LA that she even wears LA Gear shoes. And that’s the entirety of her character; she spends the whole movie complaining about how she can’t get watercress salads and Evian water out here in the sticks, and she’s ready to chuck everything and go back to the land of swimming pools and movie stars until she gets an eyeful of the house painter (Ken Olandt). He’s dreamy in a very early-‘90s, Harlequin-Romance-cover way, even if his views on ladies prompt Aniston’s stern, “This is the ‘90s, women are treated equal!” A pile of garbage like Leprechaun seems like an odd place to preach for women’s rights, but hey, wherever you can make it happen.
Where was I? Oh, right, so the leprechaun is still in the crate, and they accidentally let him out, so he spends the rest of the movie scampering around to lute music, cackling about “me pot o’ gold” and “me gold coin,” and killing people who get in his way. Eventually, Aniston and her dreamy chauvinist and his two house-painting partners — a little kid and Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, who seem to have an altogether inappropriate relationship — find themselves barricaded inside the farm house, creating something like the worst Night of the Living Dead remake ever. Oh, and Aniston gets to deliver the immortal line, “That thing is an evil leprechaun, and we’ve gotta find a way to stop it!” I hope she fired her agent that day.
The basic problem with Leprechaun is that it just isn’t scary, not even a little bit, not for the tiniest second, and that’s the result of a basic failure at the conception stage. You can see what they’re going for; aside from the aforementioned holiday notion, there are the clear influences of Freddy (with such zany one-liners as “We’re cookin’ now, kids!” when he puts a hand on a stove burner) and Chucky (another pint-sized villain). But no matter what tricks they try, sorry, leprechauns just aren’t scary. They try to make up for the lack of physical intimidation by making him “quick,” which is asinine, and staging fights where people fall down stairs or trip a lot. (Oh, and then there’s the moment when the leprechaun, in a slow-moving go-kart, smashes into a pick-up truck with four people in it, and rolls it.) It doesn’t work, because at the end of the day, it’s a little person in a stupid costume and a really bad Halloween mask (once you get a clear look, you’ll understand why he’s kept in shadow through much of the first act), and he can run around cackling all he wants, but he still makes for a laughable villain.
Not that there are any real laughs in the movie, to be sure. You can tell that at some point, either at the writing phase or during production, someone took the poor filmmaker aside and whispered, “Uh, yeah, this shit ain’t scary,” so he decided to make some jokes and pretend it was a comedy. But the movie isn’t funny either; the “jokes” amount to little-person sight gags (he chases after them on a trike, haw haw!) and many, many Lucky Charms references.
So yes, Leprechaun is breathtakingly stupid, but it does offer a few diversions: Aniston struggling mightily to keep her dignity (and almost succeeding!), gales of unintentional laughter, and some crazy-bad special effects. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that this floater prompted not just a sequel, but several (most of them direct-to-video): 1994’s Leprechaun 2; 1995’s Leprechaun 3; 1996’s Leprechaun: In Space (I’m not making this up); 2000’s Leprechaun in the Hood, co-starring Ice-T (I’m not making this up); and 2003’s sequel-to-that-sequel, Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (by now you surely realize that I am not joking). And then, just last year… you wouldn’t believe this if I told you, but here we go… they “rebooted” the series, with 2014’s Leprechaun: Origins. And here you thought that Ghostbusters reboot was misguided.
Leprechaun is streaming on Netflix.