Monday, March 9, 2015

Leprechaun Retrospective: Leprechaun (1993)

Director: Mark Jones
Starring:  Warwick Davis, Jennifer Aniston, Ken Olandt, Mark Holton, Robert Hy Gorman, John Sanderford
Rated: R

Fuck you, Lucky Charms!

For the month that houses St. Patrick's Day, why not do Leprechaun?  Last year, I did the Boondock Saints as there was a new Leprechaun movie on the horizon and I thought I'd jump at this series when that rolled around.  And then the Blu-ray set was announced, and I thought I'd be covering it for Why So Blu, so I didn't need to double up the Leprechaun writing.  Then, that didn't arrive, so Leprechaun was put on the shelf until now.  This is a series that I'm sure is frowned upon by most, but for those folks, I hope you enjoy my pieces on the films at least.  There's an appreciation to be found in Leprechaun, and the dumber the film is, the more enjoyment I have.  Also, this is a "must" on the franchise retrospective check off list.
Back in 1993, I was a spry 11 years old.  I don't remember a trailer at all for the film on TV, at the movies or on any VHS rental I had at the time.  The promotion I DO quite well recall is from the radio trailers for it.  See kids, back in the day we listened to...nevermind, I'm sure you're aware.  The radio station I listened to seemed to play the ads for Leprechaun a ton.  And from those, the movie actually "sounded" pretty scare to me.  This was a movie that I was going to have to see.  The only thing I really heard about it was the "Fuck you, Lucky Charms" line and the Leprechaun jumping around on a Pogo stick.
Even at a young, impressionable, more forgiving or "willing to play along" age, I didn't find Leprechaun to be particularly good.  As I've mentioned before, I wasn't too big on yok yok joking in horror back in the day.  This one particular seemed to veer off in that direction.  Plus, aside from the Leprechaun himself, this movie just seemed pretty cheap.  I never imagined when I watched Leprechaun it would be some movie bound to a po-dunk country house that it barely escapes from in its run time.  That was sort of already done in the Critters movies.  The film also didn't even scare me in the slightest.  I might have found Ernest Scared Stupid to be more terrifying at the time (Anyone have some "Miak").  Which, honestly, this movie isn't far off from that.
While this franchise has become infamous with the addition of sequels and pushing the limits of outrageous titles and "fish out of water" scenarios for the Leprechaun to fall into, the original film has its own trivia merit without being of those.  Its the feature film debut of Jennifer Aniston.  Just one year after this film relesaed she landed on Friends and never took a job of this nature again (Though I'd rather see more Leprechauns than Rumor Has Its).  Back in this time we really didn't have IMDB, and IMDB really didn't become fully accurate til the 00s.  So, it kinda took a while for word to spread that Aniston was in Leprechaun.  Personally, I didn't notice when I saw Friends, as I had seen Leprechaun once and then sorta forgot about it.  And back when I saw it, I don't think she really made any sort of impression to lead me to ask "Wow, who is this!?".  Going back to the film for this retrospective, one thing was surprisingly apparent.  She was 100% the Jennifer Aniston we know right from the start.  Her comedic chops, timing and demeanor all seep through in this character.  Aniston really does fall into that John Cusack-type that's really good at what they do and brings it to every movie in different ways.  Back in 1993 I wasn't too enamored, but here in 2015 I'd have to say I'm kind of impressed its there.  I'm not the world's biggest Aniston fan, but I will give credit where the credit is due.
One reason its easy to miss Aniston is because even today, this is the Warwick Davis show.  He was the big name and get for this movie.  Back in the 80s, he was attached to George Lucas.  The man was Wicket in Return Of The Jedi and two subsequent TV movies.  Also, he had more recently taken the lead in the highly anticipated film Willow.  This time he would be going against type and playing a monstrous villain.  This role would be the one that would define the second decade of his career.  And he takes joy in it.  Basically, this is the poor man's version of "Chucky" with magic, but thanks to Warwick, it separates itself decently.  Davis seems to be the only one really having a great time here, chewing up and energizing every frame he gets to walk into.  While some of it gets rather silly, he never lets up or makes it noticeable on his accord.  Just about the only thing that most can come to praise about the movie is Warwick's performance.  The makeup on him is ghoulish enough to combine with his talents to just put him in a notch over in the weakest side of being an iconic movie villain if you were to only have just this movie.
A lot of people, probably not familiar with this series and only the VHS/DVD boxes they saw stacking up at the rentals stores, will probably defer to this original as being the best one.  I don't think they know how to watch a Leprechaun movie or how it is to appreciate a film or series of its type.  For these to work, you have to throw out any aspect of this being taken as a serious horror film.  You have to look retrospectively take these films as comedy and trash above all else.  That's how they work best.  And this first film, for me, ends up being one of my least favorites(?) of the whole series.  Why?  Because its playing it too straight.  Too worried about being a competent film.  The movie is also cheap while trying its best to hide its cheapness.  With that, the comedy here feels more of a distraction than part of the fun.  They also try their best to pull of a slow reveal of the monster and trying to make him some sort of dark menace.  It doesn't work.  There are interesting parts here or there, but it ultimately feels like a dull rehash of Critters.  I'm bored with the first one most of the time and check out somewhere in the middle.  Warwick Davis is good, but it takes longer than he should to be fully unveiled.  The excitement of Jennifer Aniston being in this wears out after a scene.  I have no problem saying that this is an original that you could honestly skip and be just fine with missing it watching the rest of the sequels.
While the film was reviled by critics at the time, it did manage to be a hit.  It was the debut movie from Trimark Pictures.  A logo that was ever ingrained in us kids of the VHS boom era's brains.  A lot of trashy horror and sequels to trashy action movies (Like Kickboxer 2) were produced under this label.  The film grossed more than 8x its budget back in the theatrical run.  It also was very relevant in pop culture as everyone was familiar with it.  I think a lot of people were like me and saw it on home video.  The film even managed to get itself in as a joke in a movie full of pop culture jokes, Wayne's World 2, by the end of the year.  That movie sort of enhanced it, as everyone and their brother would quote "I'm the Leprechaun!" whenever they saw a flashlight with the ghoulish voice that Wayne portrayed it with to scare Garth.  Hated or loved, the Leprechaun had made its mark both at the box office and in pop culture.
Nowadays, though, who is this first film for?  We've established its not very good anyway.  I'd imagine Leprechaun purists (Please tell me you people are out there) wouldn't care much for this first film.  For me, it doesn't work really as trash or engaging horror entertainment.  Its in sort of a weird realm of just not working at all.  HOWEVER, I did figure one aspect it might work for.  This is the perfect movie for young children to watch, and think they're watching an adult film they shouldn't be watching and "getting away with something."  Besides a couple curses and a bit of gore, this is the perfect horror movie for kids.  The humor wouldn't be yok yok jokes as much as it would seem dark and twisted.  No, I'm not talking teens, I'm talking more of the 11 and under crowd.  Bare with me here, but I think this could be one that's okay for the kids.  According to Mark Jones, the film was originally conceived as a kids film but Trimark wanted it to be adult, then decided they wanted it more humorous.  With it not transitioning to adult well and then the humor coming in, I think it sort of reverted back to more of a kids movie.  Its not quite obviously one, but if you're willing to bite on a few things and let them slide, I think a child wanting to see a scary movie that isn't "It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" or something finely aged like a Universal Monsters movie could possible get on board for this.  I mean, why not have the Hocus Pocus & Leprechaun double feature night? 

NEXT TIME:  Leprechaun goes Hollywood

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