Horror fans love a good franchise. The genre’s most recognisable, and successful, faces make repeat appearances; indeed, the majority of its biggest mainstream hits are part of a longer run. The icons we so love crop up time and again, from the silent slashing of Jason Voorhees in the ‘Friday the 13th’ movies, via the gruesome quips of Elm Street’s own Freddy Krueger, through the progressively disappointing ‘Hellraiser’, before arriving at the more postmodern, self-referential antics of the ‘Scream’ franchise’s Ghostface, it seems both the casuals and the hardcore love a repeat offender. Even franchises with no discernibly recognisable star are able to run and run – the torturous grind of the ‘Hostel’ movies, the creeping Death of ‘Final Destination’, the wildly varying hillbilly horror of ‘Wrong Turn’, ‘Paranormal Activity’ and its flying pans …the list is seemingly endless. In an age of brand recognition, the merits of a franchise are unavoidable; the more movies you make, the more chance there is of it building an audience, and perpetuating more movies, rinse, repeat. The downside is also evident; there is no doubt that there is a law of diminishing returns in the majority of franchises, with each film generally less entertaining than the last – hello, ‘The Exorcist’ movies… There are exceptions – ‘Wrong Turn 2’ is vastly superior to the original, for example – but as a rule, of thumb, it tends to work. Regardless, most franchises, especially the ‘classic’ ones, have one thing in common; they were at their most popular, most effective, and most creative in Horror’s ‘Golden Age’ of the Seventies and Eighties. As a result, most true horror franchises benefit from a healthy dose of nostalgia as fans remember them, not only for being great, but as a formative experience, a rite of passage of sorts. This nostalgia helps to prolong franchises beyond their natural life, the ‘Texas Chainsaw’ movies are an excellent example, and in a few rare occurrences, something rather odd happens; a franchise that wasn’t very good in any iteration is more positively regarded than it has any right to be. Enter, stage right, the ‘Leprechaun’ movies.
Despite showcasing the talents of Warwick Davies as the titular character – he is eminently watchable and enjoyable in all versions – the ‘Leprechaun’ movies start off badly with the original movie, rapidly deteriorate with the first two sequels, become ludicrous in the same way as the much better ‘Jason X’ and ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline’ by transplanting the character to space in ‘Leprechaun 4’, finally kill off the franchise with ‘Leprechaun: In The Hood’, then finally dig it up and desecrate it’s corpse with ‘Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood’. There is a portion of the horror community who enjoy terrible movies – I am one of them – but many fondly remember this franchise as being far more competent than is, in fact, the case. In all honesty, it comes full circle back to the first law of the horror franchise – no matter how poor the movie is, if you have a memorable villain, you can get the movie made. After the hideous, rapping Leprechaun of the final sequel in 2003, the franchise – and arguably the audience – was finally put out of its misery. When WWE Studios announced that their 2014 slate included a reboot of the franchise in the form of ‘Leprechaun: Origins’, fans greeted the news with a mixture of disbelief and trepidation…
Four American backpackers on a European trip reach rural Ireland. When history student Sophie catches sight of some local runes, she is keen to investigate and after a chance encounter in the local pub, they befriend a local man and his son. Discovering stories of a mine supposed to house the oldest artefacts in the country, the locals agree to take them to a cabin where they can spend the night before hiking up the mine the following day. Waking up to strange noises in the night, the friends discover that their situation is not as it first appears; fleeing imminent danger, they must contend with the idea that perhaps Ireland’s most famous legend is not only terrifyingly real, but that it may well be hunting them…
Like most of WWE Studios output ‘Leprechaun: Origins’ was made on a comparatively small budget and, much like the dreary ‘See No Evil’ movies, as a vehicle for one of their stars. The star in question here is Dylan Postl, better known by his ringname Hornswoggle and given his Dwarfism the role, in theory, makes perfect sense. However, whereas other films in the franchise used Warwick Davies’ stature to embody the role, Postl’s is entirely irrelevant. The leprechaun is never seen on screen as a complete entity; in fact, only its face is seen and then only in poorly lit glimpses. The rest of its appearance in the movie is relegated to oddly coloured, Predator-style, Leprechaun vision. In casting someone whose physical appearance embodies absolutely the character they play, then choosing to make absolutely no use of it whatsoever, director Zack Lipovsky – whose sole feature credit to date is risible SyFy monster flick ‘Tasmanian Devils’ – relegates the character, and the actor, to almost complete redundancy.
Cast-wise, the players fall into the usual, predictable archetypes, and most do a reasonable job with the wafer-thin script. Stephanie Bennett and Melissa Roxburgh are fine as the female leads but have little to do, and Andrew Dunbar is equally as reasonable as Ben, a role that flirts dangerously with development before giving it up. The biggest puzzle, and there are many, is just what Brendan Fletcher is doing in this movie. In much the same way that the wonderful Katharine Isabelle seems to struggle to get mainstream recognition, Fletcher is the male equivalent; admittedly, the majority of his roles are similar, but he does excitable but loveable like few others in the genre, and his particular brand of wide-eyed mania deserves better in general, and certainly better than dross like this.
Aside from the weird and poorly implemented Leprechaun vision shots, the movie has a decent number of special effects split evenly between CGI and practical effects. There’s a split too in quality and, unusually, the computer generated stuff is vastly superior to the physical. The leprechaun, when it does appear, is supposed to be a more threatening, more horrifying presence than the previous, and more comedic, iterations. It partly succeeds; it is horrifying only in how poor the makeup is. Appearing like the offspring of Gollum and Freddy Krueger, the mask is terrifyingly rubbery and fake looking, doing little but flex like the cheapest Hallowe’en children’s’ costume. There is some attempt at grisly injury detail too, which is marginally better but not by a considerable amount. The CGI is non-intrusive and doesn’t take the audience out of the movie in the way of the practical effects, and kudos must go to one particular moment involving an axe that was both well-conceived and implemented.
WWE have shown that they can make effective, interesting genre movies on a shoestring budget; anyone in any doubt should check out last year’s great ‘No One Lives’. What is evident here is that they lack both quality control in terms of script and are clearly not discerning enough with their choice of director. I believe that there is a good movie in ‘Leprechaun: Origins’. It has an able enough cast, an interesting take on a rather hoary old tale, and an existing fanbase, deluded or otherwise. Unfortunately, it also has a script that makes little sense, has no characterisation whatsoever, and a director who seemingly has made the wrong stylistic choice at almost every possible point. It also has the dubious honour of being the most stereotypically offensive depiction of Ireland in recent memory; the Irish characters are very much cut from the superstitious and drunken “begorrah, bejesus” cloth. If there is anything positive to say about it, it’s this; ‘Leprechaun: Origins’ fits comfortably with the other movies in the franchise. It’s rubbish too. 1.5/5