Leprechaun opened in the dead of winter in 1993. The commercials advertising this movie made it out to be a straight horror movie about a murdering leprechaun terrorizing people. By this time, horror of all kind was in a slump. Even though The Silence of the Lambs had won many Oscars the year before, it was being classified as a “psychological thriller” instead of a horror movie. The same was said about Misery, which won Kathy Bates a Best Actress Oscar.
Pretty much the 1980s had ruined horror with an endless amount of slasher movies about masked killers targeting actors who would only appear in forgotten TV pilots or recurring roles on soap operas. And Leprechaun seemed about the same as the countless movies before it.
There was this young actress, Jennifer Aniston, who had appeared in the dreadful Ferris Bueller TV series and a TV movie, Camp Cucamonga, with a pre-Urkel Jaleel White and G. Gordon Liddy. (Yes, I know several other TV actors were in it, but there’s too many to list here.) Aniston plays Tory, you’re typical early 1990s rebellious teen who wants only the best of what’s available. She wears jorts and the camera person was a 14-year-old obsessed with watching her run as he films her from behind a lot.
Anyway, Tory and her father, J.D. Redding (John Sanderford) come to the dilapidated O’Grady house in Bumblefuck North Dakota. Tory jokes it’s New Mexico. It’s actually southern California at Big Sky Ranch, which also was the location shoots for many episodes of The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. What neither of them know is that 10 years earlier, Dan O’Grady (Shay Duffin) trapped a malevolent leprechaun (Warwick Davis) in a crate in the basement. He had captured the leprechaun in Ireland and transported it back after finding a bag of 100 gold pieces.
The leprechaun was able to coerce his wife to release him while he went and hid the gold. When he returned, he found his wife had been killed and used a four-leaf clover to subdue it in the crate with the intentions of burning the house down with the leprechaun inside. However, O’Grady suffered a stroke and was unable to do so.
J.D. has hired some painters to help spruce up the farmhouse. These include Nathan (Ken Olandt) whose young looks and fit, athletic body attracts Tory who initially wants to leave. His co-workers are his tween young brother, Alex (Robert Hy Gorman) and the dimwitted Ozzie (Mark Holton). The leprechaun uses a young child’s force to make Ozzie think he’s trapped in the crate and Ozzie accidentally brushes off the dried clover off (even though after 10 years, the clover properly would’ve deteriorated anyway). This causes the leprechaun to break out of the crate.
However, since it doesn’t have its gold, its powers are limited and Ozzie is able to escape the basement. But because of his mentality, no one believes him. Spotting a rainbow, Ozzie talks Alex into going to find where it ends. They do find the bag of gold O’Grady hid but when he tests it by biting into it, Ozzie accidentally swallows a piece. Alex takes a piece so they can go have someone in town examine it and get back to work.
But the leprechaun is able to hide in a hole in a tree and make cat noises, causing J.D. to reach his hand in to rescue it. But he’s bitten. So, they rush J.D. to the emergency room. While in town, Ozzie and Alex go to a local pawn shop where the proprietor suspects it’s authentic but needs to check on it as he’s about to close for the evening.
Searching for his gold pieces, the leprechaun leads a string of grisly murders in his wake telling the pawn shop proprietor (by foolishly jumping on him with a pogo stick) and a sheriff deputy after he is spotted in a go-kart going on the road. In fact, the movie written and directed by Mark Jones doesn’t hold back in the comedy or the schlock, I should say. The leprechaun even finds a tricycle to ride. When he notices what appears to be a grasshopper or cricket on his sleeve, it’s obviously looks like a plastic insect that kids used to get out of the coin machines at supermarkets.
There is some silliness as the leprechaun finds a cereal box of Lucky Charms (which is obviously a fake mock-up) and eats a handful of it before spitting it out in disgust. It later finds a hand mirror and recoils as it sees its reflection. When it begins to terrorize Tory, Nathan, Alex and Ozzie when they return from town, they manage to distract it by throwing shoes because the leprechaun can’t resist shining shoes. I think Eli Roth took some notes when he began making horror movies in the 2000s.
The budget for the movie was $1 million, even though it looks cheaper. During the early 1990s, many filmmakers were making great independent movies for a fraction of that. However, it doesn’t matter. I’m sure much of the budget went to Davis’ salary and the special effects. Davis who was only 21 at the time has a helluva time playing the bad guy. After his most memorable role as Willow a few years earlier, you can tell he’s grown tired of playing cute and loveable characters like Wicket the Ewok. I remember seeing him in his leprechaun make-up on MTV spots when the movie was released and you can tell he was enjoying it.
Davis also knows the movie is a low-budget schlock and doesn’t take it seriously. Neither does Jones nor the rest of the cast, including Aniston. The character of Ozzie is handled with specialness that despite threats to his character, you know he’s going to survive.
The movie reportedly made about $9 million, not much even for 1993 dollars but did inspire a film franchise with seven more movies. Davis reprised his role somewhat as the leprechaun was often killed only to return in another form. Reportedly Aniston was offered $25,000 to appear in Leprechaun 2 but turned it down as she was committed to a sitcom pilot. Maybe you heard of it. It was called Friends. I heard it actually became a long-running successful series. And Aniston went on to have a good movie career as well.
Jones tried to duplicate the success with Rumpelstiltskin in 1995 but it was poorly received. But there was some success with the Showtime movie Snow White: A Tale of Terror which got modest reviews. And then there was the A-list Hammer Films-inspired horror Sleepy Hollow with Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christopher Walken and Michael Gambon among others directed by Tim Burton.
Fairy tale horror didn’t take off as much as the slasher craze of the 1980s, which is kinda ironic because most fairy tales are more gruesome or horrific in their original form before Disney and other family-friendly filmmakers decided to tone it down for G-rated audiences.
Leprechaun isn’t the best but if you’re not a big St. Patrick’s Day celebrator when it comes to hard-drinking in bars and you just want to chill into an hour and a half of escapism, this is the movie.
What do you think? Please comment.