Sunday 13 February 2011

Obscurity Files #40 - Leprechaun

Seeing as she's currently invading our multiplexes with Just Go With It, let's take a look at Jennifer Aniston's big screen debut.

Today, let's all say hello to the Leprechaun...

When Tory Redding (Jennifer Aniston) moves into her new farmhouse, she takes an instant dislike to the creepy things that have been left in her cellar by the previous owner; mainly the giant crate that holds an imprisoned mystical being called the Leprechaun (Warwick Davis). After being released from his four-leaf clover powered prison, the magical Leprechaun goes on a search for all his missing pieces of gold, killing anyone who gets in his way. With their lives in danger, it's up to Tory and a group of local handymen to stop the Leprechaun from his murderous spree and re-imprison him using the power of the four-leaf clover.

You know that episode of Friends where they show a flashback to Rachel's youth, revealing her to have a noticeably bigger nose? Well, it turns out that's not too far from the truth. Jennifer Aniston is very youthful and fresh-faced here, but this film was obviously made before she had her Hollywood make-over and got that 'deviated septum' sorted out. Going in, the Leprechaun franchise wasn't one I was too familiar with, recognising it more from the DVD covers for its off putting later installments (where the Leprechaun turns up 'In The Hood') and the memorably quotable mention of the character in Wayne's World 2.

Despite the slightly Scottish twinge to Mike Myers' accent, that's pretty much what the character does throughout the entire film. Leprechaun is quite an effective small town horror, like a bizarre cross between Child's Play and the first Critters movie. Like so many of the best bargain bin discoveries, cheap and cheerful it may be, but it's played for laughs and is a lot of fun. There's not much in the way of story, quickly getting to the Leprechaun's search for his pot of gold and his creative and amusing murderous rampage, but it has everything you'd expect from a 90's horror (including an obviously low budget and a tacked on love interest for Jen), and is the kind of film that makes for a perfect discovery on DVD.

Anyhow, let's shift attention away from Jennifer Aniston and onto the real star of the show. That would be Warwick Davis, the 3 foot 6 inch actor best known to me for his appearances in Return of the Jedi and Willow. His Irish accent may be a little bit suspect (the whole film revels in showcasing some appalling Irish 'fiddle dee dee!' stereotypes), but Davis gives a great performance as the perpetually grinning and troublesome Leprechaun, and is easily the best thing about the film.

The Leprechaun's a vicious little blighter who apparently hates walking, so isn't averse to adopting all manner of transports in his hunt for his gold. He uses a tricycle, a wheelchair, a skateboard, a remote controlled car and a pogo stick, all within the first half hour. As well as an aide to his diminutive stature, he's also quite good at using them to create some nasty but funny death scenes.

Impressively, the Leprechaun franchise has managed to reach six installments over eighteen years, even continuing after what is usually the kiss of death to a franchise by having the fourth film set in space. Warwick Davis has remained as the star (including having his name above the title on the later releases), and although the Leprechaun can't quite rival Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees for horror icon status, he's a memorable and fun villain that could take on Chucky any day. Like all the best horror icons it's him and his infectious giggle you're rooting to win, sod the normal people.

Leprechaun is not a particularly scary film that's well aware of its bad guy's comedic value, using every opportunity to make him look ridiculous. Want to know how to distract a Leprechaun? It's easy really. In one of the film's best sequences, they just throw shoes at him that he can't help but chase after and shine up like a madman. As I said, there's some rather offensive stereotypes and abuse of Irish folklore, but oftentimes it's those guilty laughs that are the best.

Every young actress has to pay her dues to the low budget horror gods eventually, and Aniston should be thankful she was able to appear in a film that is at least memorable, even if her performance isn't. Although there's some amusement to be had in seeing Jen in her feature debut, it's Warwick Davis' titular character that provides all of the requisite scares and laughs. I'm almost positive the series gets worse as it goes on (although I am intrigued to see a Leprechaun in space), but as long as it's Davis in the creepy green make-up, I'd be willing to give it a go.

Save from obscurity? YES.

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