Directed by Dean Devlin. Starring Robert Sheehan, David Tennant, Kerry Condon, Carlito Olivero.
Thriller, USA, 100 mins, cert 15.
Released on DVD in the UK by Signature on the 8th October, 2018 and available now on streaming services.
In the horror drought of the 1990’s, modest theatrically released genre movies with a healthy VHS afterlife spawned franchises, unleashing interchangeable sequels at rapid speed and raising the age-old question: do you know anyone (other than yourself) who has seen every single CHILDREN OF THE CORN movie? (For the record, the first two sequels are a whole lot more engaging than the original but after that it’s quite a slog).
A case in point was LEPRECHAUN (1993), a busy meld of TROLL and Freddy Krueger affording rare top billing for perennial good sport Warwick Davis as the gold-seeking eponymous antagonist, who spends the movie trilling Ring A Ring A Rosie, animating his own severed body parts and viciously bouncing on people’s faces with a pogo stick. Most of the movie was second hand, with kitchen-based terrorisation a la GREMLINS, a telephone receiver gag based on ELM STREET’s phone tongue and even a cute kid protagonist delivering the final kiss-off line in the vein of CHILD’S PLAY’s Andy: “Fuck your lucky charms!” As the shallow vegetarian heroine enduring the worst kind of city-country culture clash, Jennifer Aniston was one year away from FRIENDS and doesn’t often mention the movie in interviews.
LEPRECHAUN spawned five sequels and Davis’ enthusiasm never lagged, even when faced with the horror-comedy vacuums that were LEPRECHAN IN THE HOOD (2000) and grammatical nightmare LEPRECHAUN BACK 2 THA HOOD (2003). In 2004, WWE Studios attempted to revive it as a serious slasher series via LEPRECHAUN ORIGINS, with Dylan Postl in the title role picking off American backpackers in an Ireland that looks suspiciously like British Columbia with imported darts and Guinness. Once again, a character got to say the line “Fuck your lucky charms!” Like David Gordon Green’s HALLOWEEN (2018), the Lionsgate / SyFy Channel outing LEPRECHAUN RETURNS ignores everything bar the 1993 original, serving as a direct sequel built around the teenage daughter of Aniston’s character, returning to the same small town setting of Devil’s Lake.
This also means the return of Mark Holton’s Ozzie, a likeably sentimental man-child character in the earlier film, and first seen here still keeping busy as the town’s all-purpose handyman-cum-taxi-driver, pootling around in a truck covered in four leaf clovers following his earlier trauma. Aniston’s character went mental and got terminal cancer in the decades separating the two films, and her daughter (Taylor Spreitler) comes back to her roots to work on her college summer project: creating an entirely off-grid, solar-powered, self-sufficient sorority house. Ozzie’s body is infiltrated by the revived, ever-giggling leprechaun (now played by Linden Porco, with Warwick Davis sufficiently busy with other projects), reborn in a gory chestburster riff to resume his gold-seeking mission. In time honoured fashion, Spreitler spends much of the movie trying to convince her friends that her claims of grave danger aren’t as a result of a fragile mental state inherited from her late mother.
LEPRECHAUN RETURNS embraces its roots, as the title character spits out sub-Freddy one-liners (“You give good head!”) with nasty relish, and a degree of self-conscious general dialogue like “audiences love gore”. There are token efforts to update the formula for our allegedly more enlightened era, including the presence of a pretentious documentarian making a film about the sorority project, citing David Lean and Werner Herzog as major influences and providing a pointless, occasional found footage angle. Twenty five years since the leprechaun’s last rampage, his victims have a propensity to take a selfie with him before dying horribly, and his wisecracks now reference the climate catastrophe: “You know what will help the environment? Population control!”
It’s slicker than most of the Davis movies, thanks to the talents of THE VOID’s director Steven Kostanski, with a succession of impressively staged, gory murder set pieces including what might be the first on-screen solar-panel bisection and drone decapitation. Spreitler, although upstaged by the make-up effects, does a valiant job of developing a credible character under these circumstances, while Porco brings suitable malevolent glee to the recast Leprechaun. In another echo of HALLOWEEN 2018, its strongest suit is the prominence of three witty, strong, resilient female characters of the kind sorely lacking in most of the original LEPRECHAUN cycle.