Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Movies: Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (2003)

"Back 2 the Hood": The leprechaun ends on a high note.

“Back 2 the Hood”: The leprechaun ends on a high note.

Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (2003)

Written by: Steven Ayromlooi
Directed by: Steven Ayromlooi
Starring: Warwick Davis, Tangi Miller, Laz Alonso
Summary: The last of the Warwick Davis “Leprechaun” film is at once the most menacing and the silliest.

“Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood”  was the last of the Warwick Davis “Leprechaun” movies, although apparently he still pitches sequels, including one taking place on a pirate ship that I think is a terrific idea. “Back 2 tha Hood” is also one of the worst reviewed in the series, with Entertainment Weekly notoriously, and nastily, writing “if a movie could spark a race riot, this is it.”

I don’t share that sentiment. This is not the best in the series, but it’s far from the worst, and in its own way ends the series on a high note — quite literally, given the abundance of pot jokes. The film even gives its titular leprechaun a backstory, presented in entertaining animation during the opening credits. In it, leprechauns were guardians of an ancient kings gold, hunting down and punishing all those who stole from their liege, and all but one returned to the earth upon the king’s death. This is literally more motivation than the leprechaun was given in five earlier films, and it also sets the story in place: One cannot simply return the gold, because revenge is also part of the monster’s mission. And so anyone who touches the gold dies.

The film, as its title suggests, is once again set in South Central Los Angeles, which was reportedly not the original intention. Instead, it was meant to be a more typical teen flick, perhaps set in a resort town on spring break, which sounds dreadful to me. Instead, this film has been effectively rewritten for the hood, although with some elements that seem left over from the earlier conceptions. The two female leads, as an example, are struggling to get into college, which is a storyline you don’t see often enough in exploitation films set in the black community.

Once again, the film boasts an appealing cast, with Tangi Miller and Sherrie Jackson as the college-bound teens and Laz Alonso and Page Kennedy as a weed dealer and pot smoker, respectively. Alonso has run into trouble with some local hoods who see his pot dealing as infringing on their turf, and all run into trouble when they find the leprechaun’s gold.

A pothead is impaled on his bong, and his bongwater turns red.
This is the only film to reimagine the look of the leprechaun, and opts for a more menacing appearance than the Victorian-styled green top hat and swallow-tailed version of the earlier film. Here he wears a black top hat and a funereal black coat, looking more like a tiny undertaker than a traditional leprechaun, and it’s a good look — unworldly and menacing. Additionally, although this film manages to be fairly discreet with its violence, with much of it happening offscreen, it also has a sense of ghastly spectacle. A pothead is impaled on his bong, as an example, and his bongwater turns red. This is, at times, a leprechaun with a genuine sense of malice.

Although that’s a bit at odds with the film’s genuinely loopy sensibilities. Preciously films had tried at comedy but often failed at it, while this film offers a series of sequences that play as skilled setups and punchlines. As an example, there is a scene were the leprechaun is menacing the movie’s head hood, which is interrupted by a cell phone call from the hood’s girlfriend. He insists on taking it, and sweet talks his girlfriend while the leprechaun waits patiently. Later, the leprechaun will intercept a call from the same girlfriend and likewise attempt to sweet-talk her, describing himself in ways that are at once lacivious, a bit pathetic, and awful. The film offers a lot of callbacks to scenes from earlier in the film that seemed like one-off jokes, but turn out to be important to the plot: Contaminated pot, car hydraulics, and a police officers leg among them.

The story has a slightly scattered quality, perhaps owing to the fact that it was rewritten in such bold strokes, and perhaps simply because everybody in the movie seems high, including the leprechaun, who smokes copious amounts of marihuana. Despite this, the film is enormously watchable — perhaps the only one in the series I would enjoy watching again. If earlier films felt like they were accidentally borrowing from folklore, this one feels like it is borrowing from EC Comics, with its mix of low comedy, sly irony, and garish bloodletting.  And, come to think of it, EC Comics often felt lifted from urban legends and campfire tales, which are the American equivalents of traditional folklore.

So “Back 2 tha Hood” may not be award-winning filmmaking, but, among the entire series, it captures the genuine thrill of reading an especially nasty comic very late at night. I’m not sure why others critics disliked it so much, although critics of EC Comics disliked them so much they dragged the creators before a Congressional hearing, claiming the contributed to juvenile delinquency and leading to an industry-wide ban on horror and crime comics. If you’ve ever watched these hearings, they seem to be made up of angry, pinch-faced men lobbing unfounded accusations in response to a vague fear that our children were going bad.

I think the problem with the critics back then, and the critics of this film, comes down to something very simple. I think they didn’t know how to have fun.

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Max Sparber

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