Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Movies: Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996)

Jessica Collins and Brent Jasmer: The most appealing "Leprechaun" leads since Jennifer Aniston, wasted in a shapeless, unfunny satire.

Jessica Collins and Brent Jasmer: The most appealing “Leprechaun” leads since Jennifer Aniston, wasted in a shapeless, unfunny satire.

Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996)

Written by: Dennis A. Pratt
Directed by: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring: Warwick Davis, Brent Jasmer, Jessica Collins
Summary: The most critically panned film in the Leprechaun series puts the titular monster in space, where he finds bad acting and nonsensical plotting.

None of the “Leprechaun” movies can really be said to have a firm grasp on any sort of thread. Continuity from movie to movie is absent, there is no consistent tone, and the quality of the filmmaking and acting is wildly uneven. But, if there was any thread between the movies, “Leprechaun 4: In Space” lost it.

Presumably, this one was made because the filmmakers were delighted with the inherent ridiculousness of sending an ancient Irish monster into the future and deep into space. There is nothing wrong with that, per se; it’s precisely what “Jason X” did, placing the killer from the “Friday the 13th” movies into a space opera. That film produced some unexpectedly successful satiric moments, in part because it embraced the daffiness of its premise.

But “Leprechaun 4” is miserable — so far, the worst in a famously suspect series. It shares a director with the earlier film in the series, Brian Trenchard-Smith, but his outrageous directorial sensibility is dulled here by a poor screenplay by Dennis Pratt and performances that range from hammy to terrible. (I should note that the film’s two leads, Brent Jasmer as a space marine and Jessica Collins as a space doctor, are the most natural and appealing since Jennifer Aniston; they are wasted here).

The script offers up some b-movie weirdness, and I will describe some of it, but know that it comes off as labored and not inspired.
The story, such as it is, has Warwick Davis’s malevolent leprechaun kidnapping a dull-eyed space queen and murdering marines aboard a surprisingly depopulated space ship. The script offers up some b-movie weirdness, and I will describe some of it, but know that it comes off as labored and not inspired. In one example, the Leprechaun is killed, but then emerges, fully grown, from a marine’s penis. In another, a mad scientist is injected with DNA drawn from a spider and a scorpion and turns into a monstrous hybrid.  In another, the Leprechaun turns a marine sergeant into a torch singer, which leads to a short circuit in which we discover the soldier was a robot all along.

These details all seem thrown together but not necessary, like a bad improv in which all the performers panic and simply throw out the most absurd ideas they can and then try to build a scene out of a plethora of unrelated nonsense. The film has a few competent moments — its opening scene is an effective low-budget approximation of the scene in “Aliens” when the space marines taunt each other in chummy ways. But the scenes between the Leprechaun and his space princess feel less like a parody of 1950s science fiction than a recreation of the worst elements of these sorts of films, and they feel weirdly misplaced in this film.

As does the Leprechaun. I have a grudging respect for the fact that the film refuses to explain how the Leprechaun got into space, but I feel the essential lunacy of placing him there is lost. He doesn’t belong in this sort of movie, and the filmmakers could have had a lot of fun with that fact. Instead, it’s business as usual for him, sort of. Earlier films sometimes toyed with the Leprechaun’s fairy tale origins; this film abandons fairy tales entirely, instead simply having the Leprechaun act as a sort of low-rent Freddie Kruger, offing nondescript characters and following their murder with a cheesy one-liner and engaging in vaguely surreal magic tricks.

The next two — and last two — of the Warwick Davis Leprechaun films would take the Leprechaun to an environment that the filmmakers seemed to think was equally unlikely: Los Angeles’ African American communities.

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Max Sparber

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