Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Films: Leprechaun: Origins (2014)

This is actually how the leprechaun appears throughout the movie.

This is actually how the leprechaun appears throughout the movie.

Leprechaun: Origins (2014)

Written by: Harris Wilkinson
Directed by: Zach Lipovsky
Starring: Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl, Stephanie Bennett, Teach Grant
Summary: A rebooting of the “Leprechaun” franchise that tries and fails to make the monster authentically Irish and genuinely frightening.

With this film, 2014’s “Leprechaun: Origins,” we officially complete the entire leprechaun series, and I think I deserve some sort of ribbon or certificate or something, the way you are awarded when you manage to eat seven pounds of brisket on a dare at a roadside barbeque, which seems like an impossible and dangerous feat and leaves you nauseated for hours.

I’ll start by pointing out something relatively unnecessary: This film is a “reboot” of the series, and has very little to do with the earlier films. It is unnecessary for me to mention this because it has been true of every other film in the series, which, for the most part, exist independently of each other, as though they were entirely different films that just coincidentally had Warwick Davis playing a murderous leprechaun in them.

But I mention it because even by the standards of earlier “Leprechaun” films, this one strays far afield. In a lot of ways, it feels closer to “Red Clover,” a lesser-known murderous leprechaun movie (which I have also reviewed, and where’s my ribbon for that?). Both films are set in a town that once stole from a leprechaun and keeps the fact as a deadly secret, and in both films the leprechauns are more like ghastly forest animals than tiny Irishmen. The “Red Clover” leprechaun was a solid piece of costume design in an otherwise delightfully incompetent film, looking a bit like a monster had been knitted together from the roots of trees. The leprechaun in this film, played by wrestler Hornswoggle (who debuted in a leprechaun costume), is rarely seen. The filmmakers take great care to hide the monster, and, as with “Jaws,” one gets the sense that this is because the creature would be ridiculous-looking were you to see it without trickery. Once in a while the beastie appears, usually lensed by a camera that seems slathered in vaseline, and it’s a strange thing, looking like a crushed face with pointy ears.

The filmmakers take great care to hide the monster, and, as with “Jaws,” one gets the sense that this is because the creature would be ridiculous-looking were you to see it without trickery.
The film is set in Ireland (subbed in by Vancouver), and fits perfectly into the genre of Irish-American horrors where Americans go to Ireland and experience old county terror. In this case, the Americans are four students; one of them (played by¬†Stephanie Bennett) has studied Irish history, which gives her a bit of an edge. The gang travels to a small Irish village with a spooky megalith on its outskirts, and the film represents the entire town as a group of weirdly friendly bearded men in a pub who constantly raise their pint glasses in silent toast. All this is good, classic horror from the British Isles and Ireland — anyone who has seen films with megaliths and too-friendly locals knows there is a pagan secret hidden somewhere.

The secret isn’t too complicated, and our intrepid heroes figure it out almost immediately, although not soon enough: The locals are sacrificing outsiders to a leprechaun that lives in their woods. This seems like is usually goes pretty well, with an avuncular fellow named Hamish (played by character actor Garry Chalk wearing one of the tightest fiddler caps I have ever seen) locking visitors in a cabin and then letting in the leprechaun to eat them. This time, it goes poorly, as Hamish’s mopey son doesn’t want to help, and the hapless victims turn out not to be so hapless. Hilariously, one of their most successful survival tactics is that when somebody in their group is attacked, the rest just turn and run, leaving their compatriot to fight for themselves.

The filmmakers have some fun with their movie — there is a wickedly nice turn of events in which the heroes decide to lay a trap for the leprechaun, which goes very badly. But there isn’t enough of this, and, at the end of the movie, much of the story fades away, leaving a blurred memory of people running at night, Irishmen ineffectually chasing after them, and some sort of unseen monster that is more defined by its frequent absences than killer presence.

I hoped for more. It’s the only film of the series set in Ireland, and it’s setup is so perfectly consistent with the great British and Irish tradition of folk horror that I had hoped this film was, in its way, taking the leprechaun series and turning it from a campy series of perverse fairy tales into something authentically Irish and authentically terrifying.

I still think it can be done, and, what the heck, if another “Leprechaun” film comes out, I’ll go see it. In for a penny, in for seven pounds of brisket.

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Max Sparber

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