Written by: Suzanne Keilly, Mark Jones (characters)
Directed by: Steven Kostanski
Starring: Taylor Spreitler, Mark Holton, and Linden Porco
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Be careful what you wish for.
One of the interesting things about the Leprechaun seriesóaside from the fact that itís spawned 8 goddamn movies in the first placeóis that none of the entries have ever really connected to each other. From the original all the way through the ill-advised Origins reboot, each film is a complete standalone entry requiring absolutely no intricate knowledge of the others. You could easily just drop in and check out the ones in space or the hood (or the hood again) without needing to know anything beyond the basics: thereís a killer Leprechaun who loves gold and occasionally spits clever rhymes. That is, until now, with Leprechaun Returns, where the big hook is that itís a direct sequel to the original. Hot on the heels of last yearís Halloween, the Leprechaun series has its own ďback to basicsĒ reboot that ignores everything except the original film and returns a beloved star to do battle with an old nemesis. Thatís right: after 25 years, Mark Holton is back to put down the Leprechaun for good. You might have been expecting somebody else, but I hear sheís been pretty busy since 1993.
Instead of Jennifer Annistonís Tory Reding, you have her daughter, Lila (Taylor Spreitler), now a college student who finds herself attending college in the same Podunk North Dakota town where her mother spent those memorable days in the original film. In fact, her sorority has somehow acquired the exact same house that once housed the killer leprechaun that terrorized Tori and her friends. However, with the leprechaun safely blown to hell at the bottom of a well, the house is free to be renovated into a green energy project for the sorority. After hitching a ride with local weirdo Ozzie Jones (Holton), Lila meets her sisters; outgoing Katie (Peppi Sonuga), worrywart workaholic Rose (Sai Bennet), and alcoholic mean girl Meredith (Emily Reid), who has brought a couple of guys, some pizza, and lots of booze for a party.
Unfortunately, Ozzie canít help himself during his visit and takes a peek at the well when hears strange voices emanating from below. Before he can haul ass away from the place, however, the demented Leprechaun (Linden Porco subbing for Warwick Davis) bursts from his belly, spilling poor Ozzieís guts all over the place and ending this big 25-years-in-the-making rematch before it ever really happens. Itís never explained why, exactly, the Leprechaun hadnít pulled this trick in the intervening 25 years; like the rest of this franchise, Leprechaun Returns isnít exactly concerned with intricate details of how it works. Just know that, once again, a pint-sized leprechaun is ready to raise hellóand heís even brought the clever wordplay back with him.
Not that this franchise sets the highest standard (each entry is varying degrees of amusing fun, save for Origins, which should never be spoken of again), but Returns is a worthy addition. It delivers just about everything you want from a Leprechaun movie (loads of gore, and an open invitation to laugh at the absurdity of it all), and its flaws (disposable characters, broad performances, a slapdash script with idiotic gags) are also found in even the best entries. In other words, itís a Leprechaun movie, one that would have fit fine on a video store shelf right alongside all of the others. After taking more than a decade off, the series hasnít missed much of a beat, and Iíd probably even go so far as to declare Returns as one of the better entries in the series. Donít call it a backhanded compliment either, because the Leprechaun and I have spent a lot of time together since the 90s.
Of course, the elephant in the room here is that we arenít dealing with the exact same Leprechaun since Warwick Davis declined to return (citing his desire to stay away from horror until his kids are older, so no hard feelings there). Porco does a fine job of stepping into some pretty big shoes: joke all you want, but Davis is the Leprechaun, and being the guy to follow the guy is tough. Even though Porcoís look and voice are just a little bit off, you donít find yourself missing Davis too much. Yes, itíd be nice to have him back, especially after such a long layoff, but it doesnít exactly linger over the proceedings because the makeup and costuming departments have done a solid job of replicating the look and feel of what youíve come to expect from a diminutive maniac fucking people up while he croons dumb limericks.
Leprechaun Returns is especially good at the first half of that formula. Iím very happy to report that the gore is not only outrageous, but itís also achieved practically. Partóokay, mostóof this franchiseís appeal stems from the outlandish ways it disposes of its cast members, and this one doesnít disappoint with its assortment of crushed skulls, impalements, disembowelments, and even a killer bisection. Even the Leprechaun himself falls victim to a pair of awesomely gory and fiery outbursts. Leprechaun Returns captures the cheap thrills of tuning into a movie for the express purpose of delighting in over-the-top carnage: it doesnít exactly need to do much else other than get out of the way of its effects team, and it doesnít stumble too much in that goal.
No, the characters arenít exactly much to write home about, but, in the franchise tradition, some of them prove to be just endearing enough not to grate on your nerves. And those that do cross that thresholdÖ.well, thatís what the killer leprechaun is for. Youíre not exactly stuck with the most annoying characters for too long, if you know what I mean. Returns does a good job of not leaning too hard on obnoxious, try-hard nonsense and dialogue, either. Maybe it isnít the height of wit (there's multiple instances of characters taking selfies with the Leprechaun, plus a reference to the viral ďleprechaun in AlabamaĒ video that feels straight out of 2006), and the limericks are as cheesy as ever, but do I really need to remind anyone of what we get when someone tries to produce a grim and gritty Leprechaun movie?
Look, Iíve given SyFy a fair (and deserved) bit of hell during the last decade, and I canít say its logo appearing in front of Leprechaun Returns was auspicious in the least. But itís only fair to praise them when it proves me wrong, as they did here: unlike so many of their ďso bad itís goodĒ productions, this one mostly stays within its means in scope and scale, and any unsightly digital effects are kept to a minimum. You can tell that people involved with this one actually gave a shit about upholding the legacy of the Leprechaun franchise, of all things. Donít ask me how that works, but Iím glad it does.
All things considered, Leprechaun Returns is a damn triumph: a direct sequel that doesnít return either of the original filmís two biggest stars, yet manages to be respectable return to form. Whatever reasonable expectations I had for Leprechaun 8 were exceeded and then some. Call it low expectations, call it low standards, call me an easy markóIím going to just call it a nice little surprise and see it as proof that no franchise ever really as dead as it seems.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment will release Leprechaun Returns on DVD & Blu-ray on June 11th. Special features include an interview with director Steven Kostanski, some behind-the-scenes footage, and a stills gallery.
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