Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Movies: Troll 2 (1990)

George Hardy battles vegetarian goblins in "Troll 2."

George Hardy battles vegetarian goblins in “Troll 2.”

Troll 2 (1990)

Written by: Rossella Drudi
Directed by: Claudio Fragasso
Starring: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey
Summary: A legendary bad film about vegetarian goblins, the film seems to borrow largely from Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

There is only one hint of Irishness in “Troll 2,” Claudio Fragasso’s notorious cult travesty from 1990: In the rural farmtown of Nilbog, the eccentric local farmfolk are actually disguised goblins, and their only tell is a scar of a shamrock visible somewhere on their body.

The filmmakers were Italian — Fragasso has a long resume of producing genre oddities in his native country, and the script was by his wife Rosella Drudi, who claims she was irritated by friends who had become vegetarian and so wrote the film to satirize them. Her idea of satire is puzzling: The film’s goblins turn people into plants and then eat them. But there is very little in the film that makes sense, and for a lot of audience members, this fact is delightful.

I have no evidence for the following theory, but I’m going to present it anyway: I suspect that many of the basic story elements in “Troll 2” were lifted from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” which had opened almost a decade earlier to generally unfavorable reviews. Italian cult horror has a long history of stealing from America horror, and here are details the films have in common: Both tell of an insular rural cult of Druidic outsiders who take power from a segment of Stonehenge. Further, both cults are represented by a shamrock.

Even if these plot points are a coincidence, both films are examples of folk horror, which is a typically British genre in which interlopers discover a rural location has been taken over by ancient paganism. Neither films are especially good examples of the genre, but, well, between the shamrocks and the Druids I’m going to go ahead and call them Irish anyway.

I do rather like the implication that old world monsters moved to America and became caught up in its more flamboyant traditions, from fad diets to televangelist-style old-time religion.
“Troll 2” is a pretty well-known cult film, so you may already be aware that it’s an in-name-only sequel to 1986’s “Troll,” but was instead originally named “Goblin.” It’s not really a film about historical Druids, either, although the film’s rubber-masked (and genuinely ghastly) goblins do share the Druids’ fascination with trees. The monsters are some sort of cult, however — we witness a Revival tent-style meeting where a bearded preacher rails against the horrors of meat. And in a film that is generally nonsensical, I do rather like the implication that old world monsters moved to America and became caught up in its more flamboyant traditions, from fad diets to televangelist-style old-time religion.

The film’s problems are legion and well-documented: It was mostly cast with local non-actors, including at least two who suffered genuine mental illness. The filmmakers did not speak English, and so the film’s dialogue sounds like something that would come out of a Google translate prototype. (Sample dialogue, from a horny teenager: “I’m the victim of a nocturnal rapture. I have to release my lowest instincts with a woman.”) The story never comes anywhere near making sense, and, if scenes were meant satirically, the satire is invisible.

However, the results are fascinating. The actors provide line-readings that are so far removed from proper acting that they become strangely marvelous, such as one-young man who cries out in terror when he realizes he is about to be devoured, and whose terrified shout has become iconic:

There was a very good documentary about the making of this film, “Best Worst Movie,” directed by Michael Stephenson, who starred in “Troll 2” when he was a child. The documentary looks at the cult audience that has developed for the film, who show a unique mix of ironic appreciation, genuine fascination, and mild nostalgia for the film, which all seem to me to be valid ways to experience the movie.

The documentary also looks at the experiences of the non-actors who starred in it, especially focusing on the endlessly cheerful Alabama dentist, George Hardy, who played Stephenson’s father in the film.
The documentary also looks at the experiences of the non-actors who starred in it, especially focusing on the endlessly cheerful Alabama dentist, George Hardy, who played Stephenson’s father in the film. Hardy genuinely loves that he was in the movie, and basks in the attention that its growing cult audience provides for him. But as the film progresses and he more aggressively pursues his minor status as a celebrity, he realizes how shallow this pursuit is. There’s a marvelous scene at a horror convention, where he has gone to sign photos and sell merchandize, where he looks around at the row of horror movie has-beens and wonders what’s wrong with them, why they cling to roles they had decades before, and then realizes that he’s also talking about himself.

But, then, what’s the harm? We all get a few moments in our life when we do something surprising and extraordinary, and they’re worth revisiting and celebrating. And there is something genuinely extraordinary about “Troll 2” — here it is, a quarter-century after it was made, and I’m writing an essay about it, puzzling about how it fits in with the genre of folk horror, and the fact that it recalls Irish legend, even if only in the most oblique way. (And, in fairness, that’s the only way to approach the film, as everything in it is oblique.)

If George Hardy ever wants to go back to those conventions and sit among the has-beens, I will happily go to him and shake his hand, and I will proudly get his signature. What other dentist gets to battle vegetarian goblins?

None, that’s who.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Movies: Leprechaun 3 (1995)

"Leprechaun 3": What happens in Vegas slays in Vegas.

“Leprechaun 3”: What happens in Vegas slays in Vegas.

Leprechaun 3 (1995)

Written by: David DuBos
Directed by: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring: Warwick Davis, John Gatins, Caroline Williams
Summary: Warwick Davis’s titular leprechaun goes to Las Vegas, and the film series starts to lose its mind.

“Leprechaun 3” went directly to video; as far as I can tell, it was never meant for the theaters. It’s also a film that has a very different tone than the earlier two, and I suspect the two are related. Because the first two films were oddball fantasies with occasional doses of lurid violence and a slapdash comic sensibility, mostly provided by star Warwick Davis, who preferred his leprechauns quippy.

But “Leprechaun 3” is something else. I sometimes see it described as camp, but I don’t think that’s the right word for it, although there is an occasional archness to the film. I don’t know there is a single word for the tone of the film, but it leans into the silliness of the premise. If the first film had a cartoon sensibility, this film feels like a live-action cartoon.

As with the earlier sequel, “Leprechaun 3” isn’t so much a continuation of the earlier films as it is another iteration of them. Rules established in previous films are ignored in this one, while new rules are introduced, as though the series were created independently of each other, and the filmmakers were given only two suggestions: The film should be about a murderous leprechaun, and it will star Warwick Davis, who is going to want to make jokes.

Roughly the first third of the film plays out like an ultraviolent Tom and Jerry cartoon.
Roughly the first third of the film plays out like an ultraviolent Tom and Jerry cartoon, set in a Las Vegas pawn shop and detailing a battle between the titular leprechaun and the pawn shop owner, an Indian man named Gupta. The film instantly signals its mood with the arrival of the leprechaun, who has been frozen into a statue by an amulet and is carried by a haggard man missing one eye, one arm, and one leg. “What is that?” Gupta asks. “Good luck charm,” the haggard man answers.

As Gupta and the leprechaun proceed to go to war with each other, a second story plays out in a casino across the street, and eventually this story will dominate the film. We are introduced to a series of Vegas characters, including our protagonists: There is Scott McCoy, a student passing through Vegas on his way to college who blows his entire college fund at the roulette wheel. He is played by John Gatins, who has gone on to a reputable career as a screenwriter (he’s responsible for “Real Steel” and “Flight”), but was then an actor. He has a twitchy, distracted quality as a performer and never seems to know what he’s supposed to be looking at in a scene, but he’s more eccentric and engaging than the leads in the previous film.

The same can be said of actress Lee Armstrong, who plays an frowny magician’s assistant. She genuinely seems to have no patience for anyone around her, and, as the film progresses, she becomes increasingly unhappy about her circumstances and embarrassed by her costume — a skimpy stage-assistant affair that the filmmakers keep her in far too long, and so she starts covering with long-sleeve shirts whenever she gets the chance.

This star-crossed couple is surrounded by a circle of sleazy Vegas types, all played by interesting actors with strong comic chops: There is Michael Callan as pervy casino owner, the original Riff from Broadway’s “West Side Story” who had a brief career as a movie heartthrob. There is Caroline Williams in a very bad fat suit as a frustrated casino dealer; she starred in the outrageous sequel to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and has been a welcome staple of horror movies ever since. There is John DeMita as a magician; he has mostly done voice work for cartoons, and plays his role as a low-rent David Copperfield, constantly delivering his dialogue with dancelike magical gestures.

And there is Tom Dugan as a loan shark; Dugan has one of Hollywood’s odder resumes, alternating from tiny comic roles in blockbusters (including “Ghostbusters II” and “Kindergaden Cops”) to weird character pieces in direct-to-video films, which this might be the best example of. He either improvised all his dialogue or screenwriter David DuBos just lost his mind when writing the role, as Dugan spends most of the film engaged in inane, weirdly hysterical dialogue with his henchmen. At one point, they seem to spend five minutes discussing what sort of underwear they prefer.

They all meet the leprechaun thanks to a single, errant gold coin, and there is a sort of a fairy tale structure to what happens next. In this film, the leprechaun’s gold coins confer wishes, but each wish is cursed. The wisher will get the thing they want, but not for long, and then the leprechaun will show up and give them a variation of their wish, but one that destroys them. The casino owner desires sex, but winds up in bed with an automaton whose only human characteristics are enormous breasts; he is electrocuted. The casino dealer wishes to be young and beautiful again, but the leprechaun seizes on her wish for a more voluptuous figure by providing some deadly plastic surgery. The magician wants to offer world-class entertainment, and the leprechaun simply saws him in half.

And as for our heroes? Well, the student, Scott McCoy, wanted wealth. As a result, he is slowly turning into a gold-obsessed leprechaun.

Although Las Vegas may be the easiest place on earth to satirize, “Leprechaun 3’s” satire is stranger than one might expect. Certainly, there are some obvious choice — at one point, the leprechaun poses with an Elvis impersonator. But there is a wildness to much of the film’s comedy, especially demonstrated in a long sequence in a hospital, where McCoy has gone, terrified that a Donegal beard has started to sprout on his chin and that he has started talking in rhyme in an Irish brogue. Throughout the hospital, there are slot machine, with infirm patients playing them. One scene takes place in the morgue, and there is a slot machine there too, albeit a broken one, as though dead one-armed bandits end up in the same place as dead humans in Vegas.

Trenchard-Smith’s films are marked by wild premises, slumming movie stars, daffy details, and crackerjack pacing, which are all things I like in a movie.
I credit the sheer weirdness of the film’s sense of humor to director Brian Trenchard-Smith. He’s not well-known, although Tarantino has declared himself a big fan, but he has quietly carved out a career making perfectly lunatic genre films. He’s responsible for “BMX Bandits,” a film about bank robbers foiled by children on motorcross bicycles, which is best-known as featuring early starring role from Nicole Kidman. He followed this up with “Frog Dreaming,” a film starring “E.T.’s” Henry Thomas in which the young man finds himself in an Australian town that seems entirely populated by men with pompadours and may be haunted by a swamp monster.

Trenchard-Smith’s films are marked by wild premises, slumming movie stars, daffy details, and crackerjack pacing, which are all things I like in a movie. I sort of feel like binge -watching his oeuvre. And, as it happens, he directed the next film in the “Leprechaun” series, and, unsurprisingly, it’s the weirdest of the series: “Leprechaun 4: In Space.”

Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Movies: Leprechaun 2 (1994)

"Leprechaun 2": A film that almost makes the case that Hollywood is the perfect town for an evil Irish spirit.

“Leprechaun 2”: A film that almost makes the case that Hollywood is the perfect town for an evil Irish spirit.

Leprechaun 2 (1994)

Written by: Turi Meyer, Al Septien
Directed by: Rodman Flender
Starring: Warwick Davis, Charlie Heath, Shevonne Durkin
Summary: An unsatisfying, charisma-free sequel to “Leprechaun” that manages a few amusingly oddball moments.

This is the first sequel to 1993’s “Leprechaun,” and there would be four more and a reboot, but this would be the last intended for theaters; the rest would go straight to video, although the reboot had a limited theatrical run. “Leprechaun 2” was the recipient of some bad reviews, but, then, so was the first film, and that made almost 10 times its budget in ticket sales.

But “Leprechaun 2” floundered in the theater, and is perhaps the most reviled in the series, which is saying a lot, as “Leprechaun” films aren’t well-regarded in general.  The critical reviews on the aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes alternate between comically galled (“Because there were so many unanswered questions from Part 1.”) and the more straightforwardly galled (“i still hate leprechauns”), and the audience reviews are a little more generous, but also generally disappointed.

“Leprechaun 2” isn’t really a sequel; it’s more like a variation on a theme. Warwick Davis is back as the titular leprechaun, but the film ignores any attempt at continuity between the earlier film and this one. Instead, writers Turi Meyer and Al Septien concoct their own set of fairy tale rules for the story, and, to their credit, stick to them.

So this film doesn’t bother with the leprechaun’s previous obsession with cleaning and mending shoes, but instead gives him a millennium-long hunt for a bride, chased through history from ancient Ireland to modern Los Angeles. It is a marriage created by three sneezes, and can be undone by a listener responding with “God bless you.” It’s a strange conceit, and yet has a certain fairy tale logic — after all, sneezes were once viewed as prophetic signs or as the mark of an evil spirit.

Unfortunately, the film’s premise is unsettled by some failings in direction. The series creator and first director, Mark Jones, was a rather nonsensical storyteller, but had an eye for talent. So the first “Leprechaun” movie benefited from a scrappy performance from Jennifer Anniston, as well as an eccentric collection of secondary characters.

Warwick Davis tries to play up his role as a malevolent trickster opposite them, but might as well be acting opposite a pair of listless pine cone.
The cast in this film is, for the most part, rather anonymous. There is a male lead, Charlie Heath, who plays the part gamely but without much charisma, and a female lead, Shevonne Durkin, who often seems a little lost throughout the film and, as a result, mostly produces awkward, accidentally comical line readings. Warwick Davis tries to play up his role as a malevolent trickster opposite them, but might as well be acting opposite a pair of listless pine cone.

Nonetheless, the film does have a genuine oddness around its edges. This doesn’t save the film, precisely, but does recuse it from being unwatchable. The film is set in a Hollywood filled with alcoholic hucksters attempting to make a buck off tragedy — the male lead works for his uncle’s business, which involves driving a hearse filled with disinterested tourists to Hollywood’s more gruesome historical sites.

There’s something that feels right about this, but isn’t investigated fully. I was a resident of Hollywood for quite a few years, and it is a town that sometimes feels like it was built by sinister occultists and thrives on tragedy. A walk around the neighborhood produces a surprising number of buildings that have ancient symbols embedded in them, from Jackal-headed Egyptian gods to the ruins of Babylon to locations that look legitimately Satanic. Were this world carefully detailed, it would not be surprising to have an ancient Irish evil emerge. In fact, the film is specific about where the leprechaun makes its home: Just outside Houdini’s Hollywood mansion, which could be one of several adjacent buildings on Laurel Canyon, all supposedly haunted.

There is another Hollywood joke that I think is a very good one, even if it is manhandled enough by the film that it’s easy to miss. There is a moment when the leprechaun has paused in Hollywood to work some magic and a passing movie agent throws him some money. In 1994, Hollywood Boulevard wasn’t the bizarre menagerie of panhandling costumed superheroes and cartoon characters it is now, but there were a few (indeed, we briefly see one pass Davis in this scene), and so the fact that an evil leprechaun might get mistaken for a costumed beggar further emphasizes that this is a town where a monster might go unnoticed.

The film takes place on St. Patrick’s Day, and, surprisingly, is the only film in the series to do so, and the movie has an entertainingly balmy conception of the day: For some reason, these scenes mostly take place in an Irish bar downtown, and the bar is filled with cops, drinkers in green plastic bowler derbies, and little people dressed as leprechauns. There are a lot of little people too — they outnumber everybody else in the bar, selling gold foil wrapped chocolate coins. When Warwick Davis shows up, they cheer him on, presuming his is just another costumed actor. They do this by pounding on a table and chanting “One of us, one of us!”, a line stolen from the cult film “Freaks.” (It’s not the film’s only nod to cult movies either; two of the passengers in the heroes hearse are midnight movie stalwart Clint Howard and “Twin Peaks” actress Kimmy Robertson.

I‘ll mention one more thing I like about the film, and it is the element that seems both the most cultish and the most Southern Californian. For some reason, the movie makes occasional detours to a go-kart racetrack in Northridge. There the leprechaun murders several people, including a police officer; he runs this man down in a souped-up, modded go-kart with skulls for headlights and “I WANT ME GOLD” spray painted on its side.

Suddenly, the film’s leprechaun has turned into one of the custom hot rods illustrated by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.
Suddenly, the film’s leprechaun has turned into one of the custom hot rods illustrated by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, a native of Los Angeles who liked to draw big monsters riding tiny, souped up cars.

I share the sentiment that there is no point remaking good films, but there might be a lot of value in remaking bad ones. There’s the germ of a better film here, and an outrageously Irish-American one, This would be a tale in which an Irish leprechaun comes to Los Angeles and discovers that it’s the perfect place for him; the town is a haunted, occult land in which out-of-work little people dress like him for money, the streets are filled with people in costume, and monsters have always driven hot rods through the streets.

I’d love to see that film done well.

Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Movies: Snow in August (2001)

Magic is not the most extraordinary thing in the world: "Snow in August"

Magic is not the most extraordinary thing in the world: “Snow in August”

Snow in August (2001)

Written by: Richard Friedenberg, Pete Hamill (book)
Directed by: Richard Friedenberg
Starring: Peter Tambakis, Stephen Rea, Lolita Davidovich
Summary: A small but lovely magical realist film about the unlikely friendship between an Irish-American boy and a rabbi.

I was briefly tempted to put this film into my Irish-American Crime Movie section. It is, after all, about the unlikely friendship between an Irish-American teenager and a rabbi in Brooklyn in the year 1947, and both must contend with the threat of an Irish-American youth gang. But — and this is a bit of a spoiler, but I can’t discuss the film and be circumspect about the climax — in the last half hour, the boy brings a golem to life.

For those of you unfamiliar with golems, they are creatures made of clay, and the most famous was supposedly created by Rabbi Judah Loew in Prague in the late-16th century to battle antisemitism.  Judah Loew was a real man, by the way, although the story is likely a literary invention of the 19th century. The golem was the subject of a marvelous German Expressionistic film called ” The Golem: How He Came into the World” in 1920, where the creature was thick-featured and burly, with an enormous, blunt wig that really looked like it was made of clay. The golem in this film is very different: Tall, lean, and bald, colored reddish-brown, with a sweet, expressive face that most often expresses a deep sympathy for the characters. The golem also wears a red cape pinned with a button emblazoned with the image of baseball player Jackie Robinson, and there is a reason for this.

His friends are openly antisemitic, and the local Irish gang is violently antisemitic.
The film, based on the novel by Pete Hamill, is set during Robinson’s first season playing for the Dodgers, and the film’s Irish-American child, Michael Devlin (Peter Tambakis), is a fan. He’s alone in this, too; reactions to Robinson from his friends and neighbors are generally racist. For whatever reason, however, Devlin has little patience for intolerance, and he tends to respond to any expression of hatred with dismissive sarcasm. There’s no explicit reason for this, but Devlin is a very bright boy, and, moreover, even in an Irish-American neighborhood, he’s a bit of an outsider. His mother, played by Lolita Davidovich, is an immigrant from Ireland, and his father died in World War II, and Devlin is perceptive enough to know that the fact that she is a single mother and the fact that she is an immigrant has made things a bit hard for her.

It also makes him a little more friendly than he might otherwise be to the neighborhood’s other immigrants, who are Jewish. And that makes things a bit hard for him. His friends are openly antisemitic, and the local Irish gang is violently antisemitic. One in the gang beats a Jewish shopkeeper to death, and Devlin witnesses it. He’s galled, but the gang member immediately starts threatening him. More than that, there is a neighborhood code against squealing; even his mother discourages him, telling him that in Ireland, the worst thing a person can be is a quisling.

Devlin lives very near an abandoned synagogue, tended to by a friendly rabbi, played by Irish actor Stephen Rea. The rabbi asks the boy to help him out on the sabbath; he quickly enlists the boy to help him learn English, trading him lessons in Yiddish, which intrigues Devlin. However, this relationship encourages the local gang to believe that Devlin can’t be trusted, and their threats turn to terrorism, which is when Devlin turns to Jewish mysticism for protection.

The film was made for television, and often feels it. It has a nice sense of the era it is in, but it’s mostly created through costume, set design, and smart location choices, which are relatively inexpensive. The director, Richard Friedenberg, is probably best-known for his work on the Grizzly Addams series back in the Seventies, and he’s not a showy director, favoring relatively static shots in the middle distance or simply placing his characters in the middle of the frame when they have long scenes of dialogue. The script is sometimes a bit too pointed, with characters clearly expressing what a subtler fimmaker would leave as subtext, as though the audience needed the film’s moral spelled out for them.

The film is interested in how much people are alike, despite profound cultural differences.
But these are quibbles. The film is very well cast, and the unshowiness of the direction encourages expressive performances from the cast, especially Rea, who plays a character who is quietly heartbroken from his experiences in Europe. The film showcases its characters’ affection and compassion for each other, so much so that when the golem finally appears, he seems a creation of kindness and neighborliness, and not a monster. And so it feels right that the only badge the creature wears is a picture of Jackie Robinson.

The film is interested in how much people are alike, despite profound cultural differences. This is most obvious in its casting — I don’t believe it was an accident that a famously Irish actor was cast as a Jew. Loloita Davidovitch is an actress of Serbian heritage who seems born to play Eastern Europeans and Jewish women, but here is cast as an Irish woman.  And I don’t know the origin of Peter Tambakis’ last name, but it is not Irish. So even the casting serves as a metaphor for the ways people from one culture or ethnicity can sympathize with people from another.

This is also dramatized in the film. Devlin proves not only to be a fan of Jackie Robinson, but also of Yiddish, which he uses when he’s around Jewish immigrants, to their delight an amazement. (He’s not the first; James Cagney spoke a little Yiddish and liked to show off the fact.) The rabbi, in turn, is fascinated by American culture. He carefully tracks baseball stats and, at one point, Devlin catches him playing along to jazz with a ritual ram’s horn. As they get to know each other, the rabbi and the boy come to realize they have something painful in common — both have lost family members to Nazis. And, as the film progresses, they share something even worse, in that both are targeted for violence.

This relationship is so carefully detailed, and genuinely sweet, that the climax of the film necessarily feels like an afterthought, less a climax to the story than a necessary denouement to wrap up the conflict of the film. And perhaps this is a failing — I’m not sure that the fantastic should feel tacked on in a film about the fantastic. But, then, in this story, the most extraordinary thing is a friendship between two characters who are superficially so different, and yet discover so much in common. No golem is going to feel more amazing, or more important, than that.

Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Movies: Leprechaun (1993)

Warwick Davis in “Leprechaun.”

I’d like to see some more Irish folk and fairy tale characters translates into an American setting. The Irish have some really nasty monsters, including the Dullahan, a headless horseman who sometimes lashes out at people he passes with a human spine used as a whip. There were the occasionally goat-headed Fomorians, who were the ancient inhabitants of Ireland. There is the emaciated fear gorta, who walks the earth begging alms in times of hunger. There was even a real-life pig-faced woman who is supposed to have been born in 1815, who was supposed to have been fed from a silver trough.

There are even some scary leprechauns, although most are harmless cobblers. There is the clurichaun, who may be a relative of the leprechaun or may just be a drunk leprechaun, and are notoriously surly, and will ruin your wine if angered. They’re supposed to prankishly ride sheep and dogs around at night, so they might make for fun characters in a movie, if not especially menacing.

And then, of course, there is Lubdan, the antagonist of the “Leprechaun” film series. I have only seen the first at this moment, and I’m in no hurry to see the rest, although I must credit diminutive actor Warwick Davis, who plays Lubdan and seemed like he’s trying to have fun with it.

1993’s “Leprechaun” was written and directed by Mark Jones, whose background was almost exclusively in writing for television cartoons, such as “Captain Caveman” and “Scooby Doo.” Depending on who you ask, “Leprechaun” was originally intended as a children’s movie that the producer’s thought might do better as a slasher film or as a darkly themed horror film that just evolved into something sillier on the set. Either way, the resulting film stands at a crossroads between childish and adult, and it’s the wrong place for a leprechaun to stand — they’re supposed to be at the end of a rainbow.

There’s not much set design to the film — it feels thrown together on a bargain backlot — but the costume design favors the bright primary colors and occasional neon bursts of 1980s children’s programming. The film stars Jennifer Aniston in her first starring role, and she plays her character as spoiled and perky, smitten by a local hunk and clueless about the ancient evil in her world. She doesn’t talk about the film much — I’ve only found one quote regarding it, where she says she’d rather just forget the whole thing. She’s partnered in the film with three house painters — the aforementioned hunk, his kid brother, and a developmentally disabled adult played by Mark Holton, who is probably best-known for playing the spoiled manchild Francis Buxton in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” and it’s a bit disappointing that he doesn’t revisit that performance here. He does, however, have a habit of simply falling over in scenes, which I’m not sure was actually an acting decision, but is entertaining enough that it should have been revisited more in the film.

The movie doesn’t know or care much about the leprechauns of legend, but what it knows it sticks to with a sort of obsessive fastidiousness. Leprechauns are small and green, have pots of gold at the end of rainbows, and are cobblers. Now, the last of those could have been dropped, as most Americans don’t know or care that leprechauns repair shoes. But the malevolent Lubdan has a thing for shoes — he likes to show off the buckles on his own boots, which he sometimes uses as a weapon, but will also polish any shoes he sees lying around, leaving them in neat little piles on a table. This is a bit at odds with his real mission in the film, which is to reclaim gold that was stolen from him and murder whoever took it, but there it is. In fact, it is briefly used against him — our heroes toss their shoes at him, and Lubdan can’t help but stop and polish them.

This is a detail I rather like in the film, as it feels folkloric, like the sort of thing the heroes of a Grimm fairy tale might do in a pinch. There’s a movie called “Warlock” where the villain is bound to these sorts of ancient rules: He can be injured by driving a nail into his footprints and can be bound by leather soaked in salt water. I wish there was more of this sort of thing in “Leprechaun,” or, at the very least, I wish Warwick Davis had ridden a sheep around. The film is set in North Dakota, and I can’t imagine sheep are in short supply there.

Instead, he tends to hide in cupboards and then emerge from other cupboards, which is a very Scooby Doo thing to do, and he also accumulates a strange assortment of small vehicles, including a tricycle and a tiny car, which he just leaves broken and rusting on the lawn as though leprechauns have their white trash moments. He’s also capable of impersonating the voices of those he has killed, although he never uses this to very good effect, generally doing so in plain sight, which fools nobody. He can, for some reason, be stopped by the use of a four-leaf clover — a theme that was also used in “Red Clover” but would surprise Lucky the Leprechaun, who puts them in his cereal. I would complain that these rules seem arbitrary, but all fairy tale rules seem arbitrary. Instead, my complaint is they just don’t seem magical.

There’s a poem in a book called “Legends and Stories of Ireland” by Samuel Lover in which a woman wants to catch a leprechaun, and she finds him working on what he calls “a pair of dead man’s shoes” that he intends to ransom to the man’s heirs. She challenges him to a cobbling contest, and what follows is actually a battle of puns. “You ladies may have finer souls,” the leprechaun declares, “But match me at an upper-leather!” He eventually beats her with a pun, telling her to grab an awl and get to work. She turns to get her instrument, and when she turns back, he and everything she wanted has vanished: She may have her awl, but her all is gone, the poem tells us.

This is the mix of whimsey and horror of a true fairy tale. There’s a real chill to the declaration that the leprechaun is working on a dead man’s shoes, and there’s a mix of craftiness and wickedness in the punning contest. Nothing like this is to be found in “Leprechaun,” despite Warwick Davis’ attempt to give his character a certain puckishness.

We don’t even really know why the leprechaun cares about his gold so much. There’s some suggestion that somehow it gives him powers, which I understand is expanded upon in later movies, but according to Yeats, the leprechauns’ fortunes comes from “treasure crocks, buried in old war-time.” There’s a subtle malevolence to this as well. The leprechauns may not exactly be war profiteers, but they are thieves of the past, stealing their wealth from ancient mass violence and ancient death. They don’t just make dead man’s shoes, they live off dead men’s gold.

But not Lubdan. He’s just a wisecracking little man chasing after a group of crazy kids, a story whose conception, if not execution, feels more appropriate to Saturday morning cartoons than either slasher films or old fairy tales.

God, it’s no wonder Irish people can’t stand it when Americans mention leprechauns. We never know what we’re talking about.