Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Movies: Leprechaun: In the Hood (2000)

"Leprechaun in the Hood": Somebody is literally about to get murdered with an afro comb.

“Leprechaun in the Hood”: Somebody is literally about to get murdered with an afro comb.

Leprechaun: In the Hood (2000)

Written by: Doug Hall, Jon Huffman
Directed by: Rob Spera
Starring: Warwick Davis, Ice-T, Anthony Montgomery
Summary: “Leprechaun: In the Hood” puts the murderous Irish little person in Compton, and, somehow, turns the film into a folkloric cautionary tale.

“Leprechaun: In the Hood” is likely best-known for its worst sequence: An awkward, misconceived number in which Warwick Davis’s titular leprechaun takes the stage at a hip hop club and performs a genuinely awful rap number. I’ll start this review by noting that this sequence appears at the end of the film, the closing credits roll across it, and is likely meant to be ridiculous. These facts don’t save the scene, which is terrible regardless, but it is worth noting that the scene is less a sequence from the movie than a bizarre music video wedged in at the end.

I’m going to offer a minority opinion here and say that I think “Leprechaun: In the Hood” is the best of the series. Now, I say this with the usual caveat that, on the whole, it isn’t a very good series, and this film suffers from the same sort of things that make the other films questionable as entertainment. It’s billed as a horror comedy, but “Leprechaun: In the Hood” neither managed to be especially frightening nor especially funny, and some of its humor is needlessly cruel. There is a great tolerance for nonsense in the plotting, and the film veers wildly in tone in a way that never feels deliberate, but instead like the filmmakers just couldn’t get a bead on the sort of movie they were making. Much of the film looks cheap, and some of this cheapness is to the story’s benefit — it is, after all, set in an impoverished neighborhood in Compton, Los Angeles. But the special effects also look cheap, even when they are supposed to be spectacular.

I’m going to offer a minority opinion here and say that I think “Leprechaun: In the Hood” is the best of the series.
With all that out of the way, however, there is a lot to like about the movie. Apparently, the origin of the movie is an act of pure pandering, in that producers discovered that the “Leprechaun” franchise had an unexpected black fan base. (Incidentally, I think this goes a long way toward explaining the Crichton Leprechaun back in 2006, when black residents of Mobile insisted there was a leprechaun in a tree, which seemed to me less like mass hysteria and more like a collective goof; one man even insisted he had a leprechaun flute, which is a plot point in this movie.) Pandering though it might have been, and as odd a conceit as the film offers, plunking its monstrous leprechaun down in South Central ends up working, in its own way.

It helps that the film reimagined the leprechaun, as all films in the series did. Here, he’s less a creature of Irish legend than a helpmate for the devil, and the story has the qualities of being a cautionary folk tale, albeit one where the story is sometimes opaque. The tale tells of three aspiring rappers — played with enjoyable verve by Anthony Montgomery, Rashaan Nall, and Red Grant — who hope to land a record deal performing socially conscious (and somewhat dull) rap music. They end up robbing a hip hop producer, played by Ice-T, and discover the secret to his success is a flute he stole from Warwick Davis’ leprechaun, who has been turned to stone by a talisman. The talisman is from “Leprechaun 3,” by the way, and this is the first time a Leprechaun film deliberately referenced one of its predecessor. The film also gives the Leprechaun back his compulsive need to speak in rhymed couplets, which should make perfect sense in a film about rap but for the fact that the rhymes are often terrible, and an allergy to four-leaf clovers.

The three aspiring rappers accidentally unleash the leprechaun during the robbery, as well as earning the ire of Ice-T, who wants his flute back. But the boys have unexpected resources, and proceed to move from one surprising set piece to the next, all residences in Compton, all apparently filmed on the unchanged “Cagney and Lacey” set. The boys have a network of oddball connections, including a pair of pawnshop owners, a transgendered woman, and a lecherous storefront preacher. They avail themselves on each of these for help, moving on when either the leprechaun or Ice-T show up to murder someone. All the while, they increasingly learn the power of the flute, which not only puts audiences in an ecstatic trance but also improves their ability to perform. Subtly, however, their music shifts over the course of the film, moving away from enlightened hip hip to gangsta rap. Without realizing it, they abandon their message of positivity for one that celebrates murder and violence toward women, and the film implies that this is the inevitable path followed by people who use the flute for their own selfish purposes.

I don’t know the seeds of this idea, but there is something enjoyably folkloric about it — there is a Nigerian folk tale from the Igbo people about a greedy woman who takes a golden flute and a magic bowl from the spirits and discovers she has accidentally brought disease and death to her family, and this film feels like a somewhat amateurish descendant of this story, or others like it. This film’s leprechaun is a stand in for the destructive spirits of the ancient world, and it doesn’t matter that he is from Ireland and not Nigeria — he’s a partner with the devil, and immediately fits in in the hood. He quickly becomes a representation of Compton’s ills, which is sometimes presented comically (he develops an immediate appetite for drugs, especially weed), but sometimes not, such as when it is revealed that he is procuring women in the way a pimp would, and, more than that, it is strongly implied he is sexually assaulting them.

I have mentioned a meanness to the film, and I would like to point that out, but also point out that it is subverted somewhat  in the film. As I mentioned, a neighbor of the aspiring rappers is a transgendered woman. She is named Fontaine Rivera, and the boys, as well as the film, sometimes respond to her with open discomfort and mockery, and this sort of transphobia-as-comedy not only feels dated, but cruel. However, the character is played by Lobo Sebastian, a genuinely excellent character actor. He brings to the role a fascinating weariness, like Rivera has seen and done just about everything, hasn’t slept in ages, and just doesn’t have the time or the energy to care what others think about her. She immediately takes charge, even seducing the leprechaun in one of the least fussy come-ons I have ever seen. She dies at his hand, but the film never presents this as a punishment for Rivera presenting herself as female; the leprechaun just kills people.

And later in the film, two of the three boys end up in drag in a weird plot to get close to the leprechaun, and they literally have no problem whatsoever locating women’s clothes that fit them, and they make themselves up with a surprising expertise. The scene is very short, and I expect the fact of them being in drag was intended as simple burlesque, but the film either accidentally or deliberately suggests that the heroes are far more fluid in their conception of gender than they had initially let on.

In researching this film, I discovered it has an unexpected legacy beyond the Crichton Leprechaun. In 2014, it was the subject of a satiric novel by bizarro fiction author Cameron Pierce, among others. Cameron is the author of such oddball titled as “Ass Goblins of Auschwitz” and “Gargoyle Girls of Spider Island,” and he cocreated a novel in which an incompetent theater producer attempts to produce a musical version of “Leprechaun: In the Hood.” His efforts are hampered in part by a production that forever seems to be about to implode thanks to the mediocrity of its creators, but he also accidentally unleashes his own murderous leprechaun.

I haven’t read the book yet, but, honestly, at the moment it seems to be the closest thing this film series has come to real art.

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Max Sparber

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