Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Films: The Last Leprechaun (1998)

Big Mick in "The Last Leprechaun"

Big Mick in “The Last Leprechaun”

The Last Leprechaun (1998)

Written by: Paul Matthews
Directed by: David Lister
Starring:  Veronica Hamel, Jack Scalia, David Warner
Summary: Two American children join forces with a leprechaun to stop a banshee from ruining the Irish countryside.

I won’t write overmuch about 1998’s “The Last Leprechaun,” because, alas, it isn’t very good. Weirdly, it has great ratings on Amazon, but, then, there are only five reviews, and I suspect that you can always disregard the first five reviewers as being friends of the filmmaker. Even so, one of the online critics allows that the film is a “tad creepy.”

I didn’t find the film creepy, per say, but it is oddly formed. Superficially, the story is relatively simple, telling of a banshee who plots to flood a section of Ireland and two American children who join forces with a leprechaun to stop her. The film features one character actor who can be genuinely superb, the grim-visaged David Warner, who has a long history of bringing unmistakable menace to his performances. A lot of the film consists of the children running from the banshee and Warner around an Irish country house, and that’s fine — a lot of children’s movies consist of children just running from one place to another, and this can be done well.

But it all seems sort of muddled here. The banshee isn’t like the banshee of Irish legend, who sang a haunting tune as an omen of impending death. Instead, she is a water witch who tends to shriek a lot — despite a game performance by Veronica Hamel, she’s mostly defined by shrill howling and by eccentric wardrobe choices.

Her villainous scheme remains murky, which may be right for a hag of the mist, but leaves the plot vague.
She has somehow managed to marry the children’s billionaire father, played as a headachy nonentity by Jack Scalia, and is using his money to trash the Irish countryside for reasons she never makes clear. She seems to gain power from water, but, with his money, she could just move to an Island in the ocean. She may be tied to a holy well in the basement of the country estate, but, if she is, she never makes mention of it. Her villainous scheme remains murky, which may be right for a hag of the mist, but leaves the plot vague.

The children don’t have much by way of personality either; they mostly seem defined by one being a boy and the other being a girl. There is a cleverness to them, in that they figure out what’s afoot pretty quickly, although this seems to be more a function of plotting than of any real genius. They aren’t the real engines of the story, anyway; they can throw pies at the banshee, but she’s a magical creature, and it will take another magical creature to stop her.

So we have a leprechaun, and, to the film’s credit, it’s a good one. The role is played by Yorkshire-born actor Mick Walter, credited as Big Mick, and while he never really manages an Irish accent, he gets everything else right. Unlike the banshee, this is a leprechaun that seems inspired by actual Irish myth, and his day-to-day life seems to consist mostly of stealing stuff from the farm and leaving gold behind as payment.

Finn dresses in ratty old Regency clothes that seem especially elfin, and he wanders around muttering to himself like a tiny Popeye.
The leprechaun is named Finn McCool, which is either an ironic choice, as this historic Finn McCool was supposed to be a giant, or an accidental choice. Whatever happened, the filmmakers have given the leprechaun a middle name, Regan, to distinguish him from the creature who threw so much of Ireland at a rival that it formed the Isle of Mann.

Finn dresses in ratty old Regency clothes that seem especially elfin, and he wanders around muttering to himself like a tiny Popeye. He lives in a little hobbit-like warren under a tree filled with Rube Goldberg-style mechanical devices that suggest a fantasy alternative to steampunk. He will occasionally launch into odd little jigs when happy, and they couldn’t be any more lerpechauny. Big Mick’s version of a leprechaun often seems transplanted from another, better movie, a film in which both production design and performance conspired to bring Irish folklore to life. I wish I had seen that film.

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Max Sparber

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