Leprechaun Returns Movie Review
Written by Ilan Sheady
Released by Lionsgate
Directed by Steven Kostanski
Written by Mark Jones (created by) and Suzanne Keilly
2018, 86 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on 1st April 2019
Taylor Spreitler as Lila
Pepi Sonuga as Katie
Sai Bennett as Rose
Linden Porco as The Leprechaun
Mark Holton as Ozzie
In the same way that Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to Halloween (1978), Leprechaun Returns ignores everything after the first film and exists only as a sequel to the story of Leprechaun (1993). Like Halloween, this reset of the franchise ambitiously targets the original fans and invites mainstream audiences to join in rather than the other way around. This means that the nostalgic fan service is handled respectfully and with an understanding of the property and the dedication that the original fans have.
Leprechaun Returns takes place 25 years after the events of the original with the opening shot being a loose recreation of the 1993 film’s final moments. It is in these opening seconds that it becomes very apparent that this is unfortunately NOT original actor Warwick Davis under the makeup but thankfully it is also very much not Dylan 'Hornswoggle' Postl from the WWE remake.
At this point I’m reminded that there’s a very complicated history when it comes to Leprechaun, so for those who aren’t aware of the timeline I’ll sum it up here as quickly as possible. In the first movie, The Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) is searching for his stolen gold, but is defeated by Tori Reding (Jennifer Aniston), Ozzie (Mark Holton) and friends by making him swallow a four-leaf clover (his weakness). The Leprechaun starts dissolving and falls down a well. In Leprechaun 2, he comes back but this time is more interested in finding a bride; in Leprechaun 3 he ends up going to Vegas; in 4 he is in outer space fighting space marines to marry an alien princess (???); Leprechaun in the Hood sees him hunting down rappers for his gold and in the 6th instalment, Back 2 Tha Hood, he’s doing more of the same but with Hairdressers. In 2014 WWE attempted to restart the franchise over again but with Leprechaun: Origins the titular character became a feral creature more akin to something from Lord of the Rings than the jovial, rhyming trickster we’d become accustomed to. This change in direction, combined with replacing Warwick Davis, managed to alienate the fans and offered nothing of note to new audiences, thus killing the franchise before it had re-begun.
As with the Halloween series, Leprechaun Returns eliminates everything that happened following the first movie. So after a dream/flashback of The Leprechaun (now played by Linden Porco) swallowing a clover, melting and falling down a well we are transported to the modern day where college senior and protagonist Lila awakens from a nightmare just in time to find her coach has arrived at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. From there she plans to travel to the old O’Grady house; the location of the original film. There, Lila is picked up by local handyman and taxi driver Ozzie (Mark Holton reprising his lovable simpleton role from Leprechaun) to drive her the rest of the way. En route, the coincidences keep mounting as after a little bit of grilling, Lila reveals herself to be the daughter of Tori Reding, the heroine of the original (made especially famous for being the first movie role for Jennifer Aniston). Up until this point Leprechaun Returns churns out the nostalgic fan service reasonably well, but when Lila reveals that her mother died to cancer the year prior it shatters any hopes that longtime fans would get to see the Hollywood A-lister revisiting her role. To imagine the hero of the original being killed off in such an upsetting and anti-climactic way is very unpoetic.
Ozzie drops Lila off at the old farm house and eyes the disheveled well with caution as he remembers the dead Leprechaun that they left down there 25 years ago. Hearing a laugh at the bottom of the well Ozzie can’t resist taking a peek and is immediately rewarded with a jet of green water that fills his mouth and nose. Driving off in disbelief it doesn’t take long before Ozzie experiences agonising stomach pains that intensify until he finally spits out a four leaf clover and the leprechaun bursts through his gut.
The scene is short and gratuitous, but filled with significance and mixed feelings. The death of Ozzie, the only remaining anchor to the original, within the first 15 minutes of this film offers nothing but sadness. Almost as a cruel reminder, the reborn Leprechaun pulls a gold coin from Ozzie’s corpse. Only a fan (or recent spectator) of the original will remember Ozzie swallowing it 25 years ago, but having a nostalgic piece of fan service at the expense of a beloved character’s death eliminates any good will.
The Leprechaun then stands over the dead body of Ozzie, sees his reflection in the dead man’s eyes and quips, ”When did I get better looking?”. This, I feel, is more a joke at the expense of the original creature design rather than Warwick Davis, as this version looks substantially more demonic than faerie-folk. All this comes together as an aggressive snatching of the torch rather than the respectful passing of it. The irony of drawing attention to the makeup is that these new prosthetics, while may be competent visually, definitely hinders the actor from delivering his lines and Linden loses out on having more fun with the performance as a consequence.
The Leprachaun leaves Ozzie’s body behind for the birds and bugs to pick at and, as he merrily skips away back towards the farmhouse, he also leaves behind everything from the old franchise to rot.
It is very important, however, to remember that the original Leprechaun franchise was terrible. It’s fair to assume that nobody watched entries to the series thinking they had good writing, good acting or even good characters. This series was the Sharknado of the 90s. They were cheap to make and so bad that they were… Still bad… but to a reasonable few, hilariously bad in the most fun of ways.
Leprechaun Returns knows this and takes pride in it by making something blatantly 90s in its execution. Characters are as two dimensional as Scooby Doo cartoons. Lila’s personality is that she’s socially awkward but resourceful; fellow student Kelly is sexually driven; Alice is a control freak; Meredith is a bitchy stoner; Andy is a meat-head and Matt has a compulsion to film things inappropriately. Under normal circumstances these are character tropes that have all but vanished from contemporary horror films for being clichés, but in the context of a Leprechaun movie they are millennial cannon fodder to make rhyming puns and visual gags at. Once The Leprechaun begins his killing spree of college students and mailmen in an attempt to be reunited with his gold, it becomes elaborate sketch after elaborate sketch normally climaxing in a grizzly death and the traditional formula is actually quite entertaining.
It does bring up a question though… who is this film for? Its style and casting choice suggests that it is for younger audiences but its references to Apocalypse Now, MC Hammer and Jaws suggest an audience old enough to remember when those things were relevant.
The conclusion that I come to is that you should just take this film at face value. It’s silly, deliberately bad, with some entertaining deaths. Some older audiences might get the Apocalypse Now joke while some younger ones might get the Ed Begley Jr reference (because I certainly didn’t). Leprechaun Returns is best being watched with the intention of having fun, something that was essential to the brand of the original series. And, despite some revelations that may sadden original fans out there, it definitely delivers.
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