Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Movies: Leprechaun 3 (1995)

"Leprechaun 3": What happens in Vegas slays in Vegas.

“Leprechaun 3”: What happens in Vegas slays in Vegas.

Leprechaun 3 (1995)

Written by: David DuBos
Directed by: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring: Warwick Davis, John Gatins, Caroline Williams
Summary: Warwick Davis’s titular leprechaun goes to Las Vegas, and the film series starts to lose its mind.

“Leprechaun 3” went directly to video; as far as I can tell, it was never meant for the theaters. It’s also a film that has a very different tone than the earlier two, and I suspect the two are related. Because the first two films were oddball fantasies with occasional doses of lurid violence and a slapdash comic sensibility, mostly provided by star Warwick Davis, who preferred his leprechauns quippy.

But “Leprechaun 3” is something else. I sometimes see it described as camp, but I don’t think that’s the right word for it, although there is an occasional archness to the film. I don’t know there is a single word for the tone of the film, but it leans into the silliness of the premise. If the first film had a cartoon sensibility, this film feels like a live-action cartoon.

As with the earlier sequel, “Leprechaun 3” isn’t so much a continuation of the earlier films as it is another iteration of them. Rules established in previous films are ignored in this one, while new rules are introduced, as though the series were created independently of each other, and the filmmakers were given only two suggestions: The film should be about a murderous leprechaun, and it will star Warwick Davis, who is going to want to make jokes.

Roughly the first third of the film plays out like an ultraviolent Tom and Jerry cartoon.
Roughly the first third of the film plays out like an ultraviolent Tom and Jerry cartoon, set in a Las Vegas pawn shop and detailing a battle between the titular leprechaun and the pawn shop owner, an Indian man named Gupta. The film instantly signals its mood with the arrival of the leprechaun, who has been frozen into a statue by an amulet and is carried by a haggard man missing one eye, one arm, and one leg. “What is that?” Gupta asks. “Good luck charm,” the haggard man answers.

As Gupta and the leprechaun proceed to go to war with each other, a second story plays out in a casino across the street, and eventually this story will dominate the film. We are introduced to a series of Vegas characters, including our protagonists: There is Scott McCoy, a student passing through Vegas on his way to college who blows his entire college fund at the roulette wheel. He is played by John Gatins, who has gone on to a reputable career as a screenwriter (he’s responsible for “Real Steel” and “Flight”), but was then an actor. He has a twitchy, distracted quality as a performer and never seems to know what he’s supposed to be looking at in a scene, but he’s more eccentric and engaging than the leads in the previous film.

The same can be said of actress Lee Armstrong, who plays an frowny magician’s assistant. She genuinely seems to have no patience for anyone around her, and, as the film progresses, she becomes increasingly unhappy about her circumstances and embarrassed by her costume — a skimpy stage-assistant affair that the filmmakers keep her in far too long, and so she starts covering with long-sleeve shirts whenever she gets the chance.

This star-crossed couple is surrounded by a circle of sleazy Vegas types, all played by interesting actors with strong comic chops: There is Michael Callan as pervy casino owner, the original Riff from Broadway’s “West Side Story” who had a brief career as a movie heartthrob. There is Caroline Williams in a very bad fat suit as a frustrated casino dealer; she starred in the outrageous sequel to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and has been a welcome staple of horror movies ever since. There is John DeMita as a magician; he has mostly done voice work for cartoons, and plays his role as a low-rent David Copperfield, constantly delivering his dialogue with dancelike magical gestures.

And there is Tom Dugan as a loan shark; Dugan has one of Hollywood’s odder resumes, alternating from tiny comic roles in blockbusters (including “Ghostbusters II” and “Kindergaden Cops”) to weird character pieces in direct-to-video films, which this might be the best example of. He either improvised all his dialogue or screenwriter David DuBos just lost his mind when writing the role, as Dugan spends most of the film engaged in inane, weirdly hysterical dialogue with his henchmen. At one point, they seem to spend five minutes discussing what sort of underwear they prefer.

They all meet the leprechaun thanks to a single, errant gold coin, and there is a sort of a fairy tale structure to what happens next. In this film, the leprechaun’s gold coins confer wishes, but each wish is cursed. The wisher will get the thing they want, but not for long, and then the leprechaun will show up and give them a variation of their wish, but one that destroys them. The casino owner desires sex, but winds up in bed with an automaton whose only human characteristics are enormous breasts; he is electrocuted. The casino dealer wishes to be young and beautiful again, but the leprechaun seizes on her wish for a more voluptuous figure by providing some deadly plastic surgery. The magician wants to offer world-class entertainment, and the leprechaun simply saws him in half.

And as for our heroes? Well, the student, Scott McCoy, wanted wealth. As a result, he is slowly turning into a gold-obsessed leprechaun.

Although Las Vegas may be the easiest place on earth to satirize, “Leprechaun 3’s” satire is stranger than one might expect. Certainly, there are some obvious choice — at one point, the leprechaun poses with an Elvis impersonator. But there is a wildness to much of the film’s comedy, especially demonstrated in a long sequence in a hospital, where McCoy has gone, terrified that a Donegal beard has started to sprout on his chin and that he has started talking in rhyme in an Irish brogue. Throughout the hospital, there are slot machine, with infirm patients playing them. One scene takes place in the morgue, and there is a slot machine there too, albeit a broken one, as though dead one-armed bandits end up in the same place as dead humans in Vegas.

Trenchard-Smith’s films are marked by wild premises, slumming movie stars, daffy details, and crackerjack pacing, which are all things I like in a movie.
I credit the sheer weirdness of the film’s sense of humor to director Brian Trenchard-Smith. He’s not well-known, although Tarantino has declared himself a big fan, but he has quietly carved out a career making perfectly lunatic genre films. He’s responsible for “BMX Bandits,” a film about bank robbers foiled by children on motorcross bicycles, which is best-known as featuring early starring role from Nicole Kidman. He followed this up with “Frog Dreaming,” a film starring “E.T.’s” Henry Thomas in which the young man finds himself in an Australian town that seems entirely populated by men with pompadours and may be haunted by a swamp monster.

Trenchard-Smith’s films are marked by wild premises, slumming movie stars, daffy details, and crackerjack pacing, which are all things I like in a movie. I sort of feel like binge -watching his oeuvre. And, as it happens, he directed the next film in the “Leprechaun” series, and, unsurprisingly, it’s the weirdest of the series: “Leprechaun 4: In Space.”

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.