The Series Project: Leprechaun (Part 2)
Welcome back, me lads, to the latest installment of The Series Project right here in the hallowed pages of CraveOnline, where we will, this week, be following up on the bafflingly long-running series of pseudo-slashers about a vengeful leprechaun. In last week's article I found my mind swirling a bit, as the mere sight of an impish evil leprechaun monster was too wacky a visual to get my head around. The leprechaun(s) was/were too silly to be scary, and too monstrous to be slapstick. Each entry stemmed further and further away from the rotten original, making me increasingly, dizzyingly uncomfortable at the lack of any concrete inter-film continuity. I began frothing and convulsing in my seat, confounded and itchy. What was happening to my mind?
I have now seen three more of these things. I'm clinging to my sanity by my fingernails, here. I mean, I knew these films were going to be weird, but I wasn't prepared for the one-two punch of Leprechaun 4: In Space and Leprechaun in the Hood. They are more than just bonkers. They our downright bathsh*t. Seriously. We move away from mere strangeness, and are entering a world of pure insanity. Only those of very strong constitutions should attempt what I have done here. Anyone who is even the slightest bit weak-willed may find themselves either dead or institutionalized. No amount of drink, drug, or self-applied asphyxiation will protect you from the mad phantasmagoria offered by an honest-to-goodness Leprethon.
But then, in their defense, there is a refreshing directness to the Leprechaun movies. By pointedly abandoning any sense of inter-film continuity, it allows each of these films to stand as an autonomous unit. And since we know the monster from previous films, no sequel attempts to set up his backstory, or to explain how he got where he is. We are simply to accept the setup of each. Our memories are not to be brought into play. The part of our brains that is responsible for reason and logic is dismissed with a slightly bemused hand gesture, and we are offered a Derrida-like center-less celebration of illogic. Nothing connects to anything else. Some might say there's a purity there.
I am sticking to my theory that each movie features a different leprechaun. Yes, the leprechaun is played by Warwick Davis in each film, and he looks largely the same in each film, but his outfits change, his motivation changes, and there's no explanation as to how he can die in each and keep coming back for more. What's more, the leprechaun never encounters any common inter-film characters to confirm that he is the same leprechaun, and he never comments on any of his previous incarnations. I posit that each one is indeed dying, and each film starts fresh with a new monster. It won't be until Part 6 that this theory will be tested.
But onward. Let us to…
Leprechaun 4: In Space (dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1997)
So when we last left our Leprechaun series, the monster had just burned to death in a Las Vegas theater in 1995. I guess now that the leprechauns have invaded the big cities, there's only one place to go: to outer space. Yes, the fourth Leprechaun film is a bizarro sci-fi movie that takes place in “the 21st century.” I'll say it's the year AD 2090 for good measure. Humanity is now trekking through the stars aboard cheap-looking space ships, and space marines are going to hostile worlds to fulfill vaguely outlined missions.
Leprechaun 4: In Space looks incredibly cheap, but I suspect it was actually cheaper, if that makes any sense. Like it looks like it had a low budget, but Brian Trenchard-Smith's spirited direction made it look more expensive than it was. The make-up for instance, is first rate, and the bonkers story is so splayed, as to distract from the cheesy spacial effects.
There's so much going on here. I'll try to be brief: The space marines in question have been sent to a distant planet at the behest of the mad scientist Dr. Mittenhand (Guy Siner) to kill an alien. The alien is actually the leprechaun (Davis), who has kidnapped and wooed Zarina (Rebekah Carlton) the comely princess of Dominia. The leprechaun, in this film, has no desire to protect his gold, and would rather be king of Dominia. This is an odd ambition for an ancient Irish wood sprite, but so be it. No one, the filmmakers least of all, bothers to explain how the leprechaun got into space. He is there, and that is that. Now there's space marines here to gun him down. The space marines do gun down the leprechaun, and save the fainting princess. One of the marines pees on the leprechaun's remains, and the leprechaun's ghost travels up his urine stream and gestates in his penis. I didn't make that up.
The marines, by the way, are not so much the efficient blue-collar bullies from Aliens as they are the Keystone Cops. They bumble, joke, and scream at one another. They are led by a corporal who is missing a large portion of his skull, and has a gleaming chrome plate in its place. It will later be revealed that the corporal is also missing his brain, and is being controlled by a computer. There are the usual dull archetypes in his band, including the tough gal, the jokey guy (nicknamed “Mooch”), a black guy, and a rock stupid hunk, who is kind of the most sympathetic, I guess. There is also the naïve and pretty scientist type named Tina (Jessica Collins), who will serve as our main character. Well, aside from the space leprechaun.
The kidnapped princess Zarina, it turns out, has regenerative properties, which excites Dr. Mittenhand. We learn about 30 minutes into the film that Dr, Mittenhand is nothing but a head, neck, shoulder and right arm. Some of his other organs remain, but they are kept alive in an elaborate metal vehicle that Mittenhand scoots around atop of. He intends to inject himself with Zarina's blood and grow his body back. Also he'll be eternally young, I think.
The leprechaun, meanwhile, reemerges from his home in a marine's genitals (seriously, there's a scene like in Alien, where he springs, fully-formed, from inside a guy's underpants), and begins to wreak havoc on the ship. He's not looking for his gold – which has been shrunk using a shrinking ray (!) – but is looking for the princess. Although we don't really get a sense of it, I guess the ship is really large. Large enough, at least, for the leprechaun to lure marines to various places and dispatch of them. He lures into the refuse treatment wing of the ship, where he is eaten away by flesh-eating bacteria. Two or three times, the marines shoot him to bits, and he always regenerates.
Eventually, the princess is reunited with the leprechaun. Zarina is okay with all this, by the way. She doesn't necessarily like the leprechaun, but she is allured by his plan to kill her father and usurp the throne. Then she'll be queen, you see. Then she'll kill the leprechaun herself, and keep his gold. Zarina, but the way, spends the bulk of the film wearing a spiked bikini top and a diaphanous skirt. I once complained that these films are disappointingly low on bare breasts. Well, thanks to Zarina, we have the wonderfully bizarre scene wherein she flashes the camera. Dig this: She is trapped in a room with the undesirable marines. She warns them that they will be killed, and proceeds to slowly open her bikini top, and stand proudly, breasts akimbo, sparkling with golden glitter while she gives the following speech, and I quote:
“You may find this cruel, but your behavior leaves me no choice. THIS is your fate! You have no one to blame but yourselves. Unspeakable pain awaits you. Look upon them and know that you are forever doomed! For I am she that is all-powerful! I am Zarina! Queen of the damned!”
She then buttons up and says “I leave you now.” It is explained in the following scene that, on her world, flashing someone is a way of condemning them to death. But while she's flashing us, it feels bizarre. By the way, nothing comes of it. The marines are not damned in any way as a result of the breasts. This is gratuitous nudity at its most surreal. “Forever doomed?”
Oh there's more. The leprechaun kidnaps the chrome-skull guy and brainwashes him into thinking he's a woman. There's a long scene wherein the guy dances and seduces his male charges. It's here that his head is blown open and we see icky, gooey machinery inside. I felt about the same.
More! Mr. Mittenhand's regeneration elixir is found by the leprechaun, and he puts a spider and a scorpion into the mix. Mr. Mittenhand will appear later in the film as a honking great big bug monster! Holy crap! For a low-budget film, that monster looks pretty awesome. He's all gooey and sticky, and has a giant light-up spider eye. He's about 30 feet long, and has spindly limbs that stretch out all over the room. I've always preferred puppets over CGI, and this monster is proof enough. He ends up eating flies and wrapping one of the marines in webbing.
More! The hunky guy and Tina become trapped in a cargo bay with the leprechaun, where the monster has gone to find his gold (which is almost an afterthought on the way to his escape). The hunky guy shoots the leprechaun with the shrink ray. But he is stüpid. He set the shrink ray to grow. There is a big chase (with some particularly cheap photographic effects) wherein a ten-foot tall leprechaun chases our heroes around. At one point he's shot in the arm, and he immediately rips his shirt off. Something for the ladies, I suppose. Oh yes, and Tina is attacked by the Mittenhand spider and loses her pants. With her big blonde hair and tight black undies, she looks like the cover of any of Corman's cavewoman films.
And, like in Aliens, they blow the leprechaun out of the airlock. The giant leprechaun explodes in space.
While the weirdness may put off some viewers, you may also find it refreshing. Like I said, there's a surreal purity in its bizarro, unconnected conceits. Is this a great sci-fi film? No. Is it a passable “B”entertainment? No, it's not even really that. It's actually a genuine curio. A strange, strange film that is imminently watchable, and keeps your attention for every second. Surely that's a triumph of some sort.
Here's something low-budget films do to make themselves look more visually interesting: Purple and green lighting. Just set up a purple or green spotlight just off-camera, and you've made your film look more fun. I wish more big budget films would do this. I love the carnival colors.
Oh, and did I mention that we're about to plunge into something ever stranger? Yeah, let's take a look at the brain-melting next installment…
Leprechaun in the Hood (dir. Rob Spera, 2000)
Doesn't a trip to the 'hood seem like a bit of a step down after going to space?
Rob Spera, by the way, made his feature debut with the very first Witchcraft film back in 1988. I would love to write a Series Project essay on the 13 Witchcraft films, but I can't find them all. If you have a lead on the entire series, let me know.
Okay, Leprechaun in the Hood. I'm not sure if I want to describe this movie. It retains the weirdness from Leprechaun 4, but jettisons all plot semblance, skillful direction, and cogency. Like, it's just as nutty, but infinitely messier. Leprechaun 4 was not really a horror film, but at least followed horror film beats. I guess you could say that of all the films so far. They're not really shooting for “scary,” but they at least follow the rules. They're going for horror/comedy, I think. Leprechaun in the Hood… well, it doesn't even look like a horror film. It's certainly not a comedy. It has some trappings of a music drama, but the story is irrelevant. This film is so bonkers, it was featured on a episode of How Did This Get Made?
This film may or may not be a prequel to Leprechaun 3, although I still hold that this the fifth leprechaun we've met. The leprechaun is, like in the third film, turned into stone when he wears a magical amulet, and his pot of gold is treasure rather than coins. In a prologue, set in the 1970s, a be-'fro-ed thug named Mack Daddy (Ice-T) has found the leprechaun's gold. He was looking for a golden flute which, he has somehow discovered, can hypnotize people. Y'know, like the Pied Piper. He steals the flute (he hides weapons in his massive afro), turns the leprechaun into stone, and becomes a big success in the music world using the magic of the flute. I kind of hoped the flute itself would speak like in H.R. Pufnstuf, but no such luck.
Fast-forward to the present, and we are introduced to a trio of rap musicians living in Compton, CA. They want to start an anti-gangsta group that raps about positive things. They are led by the pious and handsome Postmaster P (Anthony Montgomery from Star Trek: Enterprise) who dreams of winning a vague contest in Vegas. At the behest of his band mates, he is reduced to robbing Ice-T's office after a harsh shutdown. Ice-T would prefer hardcore gangsta. He is, after all, The OG.
That was a shotgun.
Anyway, during the robbery, they steal the flute, all the leprechaun's gold, and accidentally set the leprechaun free (natch). This leprechaun has been a statue for the last 25 years or so, but his first line when he escapes in a rhymed couplet about Tiger Woods. I guess he could hear and see that whole time. Oh yes, and the rhymed couplets are back. I think all but three of the leprechaun's lines are rhyming couplets. The rest of the film's excruciatingly long 90 minutes are devoted to our three heroes hiding out from the leprechaun, and holding concerts where they learn about the magic of the flute. The ultimate test? They charm a congregation of worshipers by rapping about how Jesus isn't all that great. An odd message from the previously wholesome trio.
Coolio shows up in that scene. And does nothing. Someone just screams “Hey look! It's Coolio!” Then we don't see him for the rest of the film. My guess is Ice-T asked him to come by the set one day, and, like Bigfoot, he was accidentally caught on camera.
In order to fight them, the leprechaun hypnotizes a bunch of women, and calls them his Zombie Flygirls. The women are very pretty, and I felt very sorry for them. Over the credits, we'll see the leprechaun rapping with the Zombie Flygirls. Lep in the 'hood, out to do no good.
I have never heard anyone anywhere refer to a leprechaun as a “lep.” It sounds like a racial slur. When you watch that rap scene, you'll be clutching your gut and suppressing screams. I say let them fly. Let the grief out. It may be the only way to survive. It seems that the “assembling the flygirl army” scenes were cut from the film. There are a few scenes wherein the leprechaun seems to be auditioning flygirls for his zombie army (and he may be boinking them to death), but they don't seem to connect to anything. The rap, it seems, was intended for play during the film, but was shunted to the credits for some reason.
There is a really discomfiting streak of homophobia in this film as well. Our heroic trio hides out from the leprechaun with a drag queen friend of theirs named Jackie Dee (Dan Martin). The drag queen is, as can be predicted, a flouncing gay stereotype, and is as randy as they come. When the drag queen sees the leprechaun, he immediately drags him into the bedroom. I guess he's into pockmarked dwarfs in green top hats. The leprechaun knows what homosexuals are, and doesn't seem to have anything against them, but then, in the next scene, murders the gay man for no reason. I understand this is a horror (-like) film, and kills and violence are to be expected (he did twist off Ice-T's finger earlier on), but this particular kill felt like it came from an ugly place.
What's in the drag queen's bathroom? A douche and lube. If there's one thing all the characters can agree on, it's that gays are weird people.
Perhaps its penance, then, that leads the main characters to dress in drag to infiltrate the leprechaun's flygirl lair. I just looked at the sentence I just typed, and went a little cross-eyed. They learn about the four-leaf clover thing (which was a weakness mentioned in the first film), and they… ah heck, that's it. I'm not going to describe this film anymore. It's brutal, messy and dumb. I mentioned at the outset of The Series Project: Leprechaun that the first film was the worst in the series. It's still plenty bad, but the baton has been passed. Leprechaun in the Hood is a twisted, offensive mindblowing potato nugget of unhappiness. It makes me depressed to think of it. It's ugly, badly edited (there are a few scenes wherein the leprechaun spies on one character or another, and does nothing else in the scene), and nonsensical. I don't want to comment on the silly juxtaposition of a leprechaun smoking weed. That thing on the screen was not the joint. I was the joint. It was me. It was my mind. I was being smoked, my sanity burning away, as a leprechaun took me into his greasy lungs, and blew me out into a sickly orange-ish cloud.
This is the last word on Leprechaun in the Hood. Approach with caution.
Oh, but we ain't done with the 'hood yet.
Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (dir. Steven Ayromlooi, 2003)
Is it weird, then, that the sixth film in the franchise, and is perhaps (guessing by its title) a pseudo sequel to the fifth film alone, the first in the series that feels like a real horror film? Seriously. Even though it's not the best, nor is it the most enjoyable (that dubious honor belongs to Part 3, I think), Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood feels the most like a real movie. The director bothered to make the character seem like real people, and spent the bulk of screen time with them and their troubles. There is incidental music that actually lends to mood, and conversations that feel calm and natural.
This is not to say that it's well scripted or anything. Indeed, I want to make clear right away that Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood is not a very good film. It's just that, after being pummeled into submission by the last two films, I was relieved at how sane and straightforward this sixth film was. Here's a good indicator of how down-to-earth the film is: the leprechaun (still Davis, by the way, now looking craggier than ever) only kills people with his bare hands or with stabbing tools. No distended bellies full of gold or exploding breasts. No sex robots or flesh-eating bacteria. Just stabbing, rending, scratching, and a few severed limbs. More rending = better horror.
The biggest problem with Part 6, though, is that it finally tries to introduce some context into the series. Too little, too late, guys. In an intro, a narrator explains that leprechauns are pre-Christian wood imps that were invoked by medieval Irish kings to protect their treasures from the onset of invaders. This doesn't refer to any real history, as far as I know. Once the invaders were defeated, the leprechauns all returned into the woods in a non-corporeal state, except for one that remained on Earth, and became evil and corrupted. I'd buy that in the first film, but I still hold that it stands counter to the real reality of the films, which is that it's a different leprechaun each time. The narrator was wrong. I don't accept that.
In the opening scene, the leprechaun is banished by a priest back to Hell, and his gold is hidden in a construction site. The priest immediately dies of exhaustion. Had this been the climax of the previous film, the scenes would have had more significance.
The main characters are a quartet of friends living in Compton, CA, and the slum looks, well, actually slummy. We have a put upon at-risk motorcycle thug named Rory (Laz Alonso) who is rivals with the local drug dealer (Sticky Fingaz). We have his would-be girlfriend Emily (Tangi Miller), the goofy stoner guy Jamie (Page Kennedy), and the lithe and attractive college-bound hopeful (Sherrie Jackson). I'm guessing they're all supposed to be teenagers, but they look much older. When they have a picnic on the grounds of an incomplete community center, they accidentally find a chest of gold coins, which they gleefully steal. There's then a montage of them spending. They get cars, guns, makeovers, dresses and trash bags full of marijuana.
This doesn't happen until 30 minutes into the film, though. The director spent the early time letting us get to know the characters, and establishing the pace in a surprisingly natural way. I shouldn't be astonished by this; every film should be capable of doing it. But, like I said, after 4 and 5, I was happy to get this much. I also liked this detail: tired of constantly saying the N-word, the characters try to replace it with “ninja.” 'Sup my ninja? Nice ring. Less racist.
Anyway, our heroes' theft awakens the leprechaun, and he goes off to kill them. Not to get his gold back necessarily, but as revenge for the theft. But the theft was what awakened him, so shouldn't he thank them? He also, when he catches up with the good guys, admonishes them for their greed. Isn't the leprechaun's greed what drives him? Like, don't leprechauns all want gold? Well, maybe not. In Parts 2 and 4, they wanted sex.
The good guys find themselves being picked off, and some of their friends die. One of them dies when he is stabbed through the gut with a bong. They discover that the treasure chest can regenerate the gold. Again, if the leprechaun has a bottomless coffer of cash, why does he get mad when someone steals it? They want to return it, but they don't. They, instead, make bullets with four-leaf clovers in them (!). Where do they get four-leaf clovers in the 'hood? Turns out there are some in a nasty batch of weed. Of course!
All the film's naturalism goes out the window in the finale, wherein the heroes shoot the leprechaun, and a local gypsy (!) has a lightning bolt battle with the monster (!!). The leprechaun is ultimately sealed in a concrete slab along with his gold. The end. Only 83 minutes. Done and done.
Now that I've seen them all, I'm still baffled as to how this many sequels got made. I'm guessing each of the Leprechaun film was intended as a novelty, and it took six films for the joke to wear off. Putting the leprechaun in the 'hood was so funny, I guess, that we milked two films out of it.
The one thing that gets us through most of these films is Warwick Davis himself. He is so gleeful in the role, and throws himself into the stupid, stipud, updits dialogue with such passion, that he's actually kind of fun to watch. The Leprechaun isn't much of a monster, but Davis, professional that he is, gives it his all. And he seems to embrace the series’lack of continuity. Each leprechaun he plays is essentially the same character, but has a different memory, a different weakness, and a different set of rules. Perhaps, if they ever make a Leprechaun 7, there can be two leprechauns, both played by Davis, battling to the death. I'd watch that.
Oh god, what am I saying?
Here's the chronology as best as I could figure it. If you ever want to make a Leprechaun super-mashup, edit in the following fashion:
1. Intro to part 6
2. Intro to part 2
3. Intro to part 5
4. All of part 3
5. The rest of part 5
6. Second intro to part 6
7. The rest of part 2
8. The rest of part 6
9. All of part 1
10. All of part 4
Who knows? Maybe when edited that way, the film may turn into a mega-masterpiece of some kind. Right?