Saturday, December 28, 2013
LEPRECHAUN (1993), LEPRECHAUN 2 (1994), LEPRECHAUN 3 (1995), LEPRECHAUN 4: IN SPACE (1997)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: (1-3) *drama,* (4) *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, metaphysical*
If there was ever a school for horror villains, the Leprechaun must have been copying answers from Freddy Krueger's paper.
That said, of the four LEPRECHAUN films I recently re-viewed on a 4-disc collection, all but one of them can be watched in a spirit of simplistic "dumb fun," if one happens to be in the mood for flicks about killer leprechauns.
Mark Jones' script for the first film sets the undemanding standard for all the films that follow. The franchise's sole gimmick is an inversion of the genial image of pop-culture leprechauns. In place of merry pranksters who match wits with humans over wishes or pots-of-gold, we have a leprechaun allegedly named "Lubdan"-- though I never heard him so called-- who obsesses over his gold pieces and will kill any trespassers with his reality-altering, "Nightmare on Clover Street" powers. The only consistent plus of these four films is Warwick Davis' boisterous, if scene-chewing, performance as the Leprechaun. The plots are all stupid: human finds gold or some other treasure, leprechaun kills to recover said treasure. Yet I find that Davis's malicious glee wears better than the emoting of a lot of pint-size predators, particularly "Chucky."
The 1993 original begins like a lot of demon/ghost films: someone transgresses on a supernatural thingie's boundaries, and then manages to seal the critter up in a house that innocents will later attempt to live in. Once Lubdan gets free from his place of confinement, he makes life miserable for the people who have moved in, whom he assumes have custody of his missing pot-of-gold.
The script tosses in one motif that has the ring of archaic legend: every time someone tosses shoes at Lubdan, he can't resist picking them up and giving them a shine, because he's a shoemaker at heart. But there's no depth to the motif: it's just there as a stopgap to the Irish evildoer's magical powers. Jones also makes the Leprechaun vulnerable not just to traditional iron, but also to the touch of a four-leaf clover, which seems a little desperate to me. LEPRECHAUN is also slightly noteworthy as the first theatrically released film to star Jennifer Aniston, who might like to forget her performance here. She doesn't come anywhere close to the Hall of Fame for Scream Queens, though she does get one nice scene. As she tries to escape the lethal leprechaun by jumping into a cop car-- one complete with a lepre-killed police officer-- Aniston's character manages to grab a nightstick and poke Lubdan's Irish eye out. But her hunk boyfriend gets the honor of blasting Lubdan back to Kilkarney County-- however temporarily.
LEPRECHAUN 2 comes the closest to creating a mythic mood. It opens in Ireland, a thousand years prior to the present day. Lubdan has somehow managed to enslave a human to his will; a motif which sounds closer in spirit to Christian tales of devilish enthrallment than to Celtic faerie-stories. Lubdan announces to his slave that he intends to marry. He plans to take possession of a particular bonnie young beauty, and in a mood of largesse will even set his slave free. For some reason the leprechaun can take possession of her if she sneezes three times and no one says "God bless her." However, when the slave sees that it is his own daughter Lubdan has selected, he prevents her enslavement by speaking the blessing. Before the leprechaun kills the rebellious slave, the irate imp announces that in a thousand years he will seek one of the slave's descendants. This certainly seems to be the only time the leprechaun ever displays anything resembling patience, but from a mythic standpoint, it does recall stories of descendants tormented by the banes of their ancestors.
However, once the film moves into the present, it's just Freddy Krueger time again, as Lubdan seeks his modern-day bride over the objections of all and sundry. There is one reality-changing death worthy of the NIGHTMARE series: Lubdan mesmerizes a male victim with the image of a nude woman, suckering the fellow into sticking his face into a grinding device. The leprechaun's shoe-fetish is addressed more or less in passing, and there's also a minor meditation on the evils of greed, as the male protagonist's uncle tries to make a deal with the baleful bogtrotter. He of course comes to a bad end. Once again Lubdan is destroyed by film's end. Unlike some serial monsters he never shows any interest in seeking out his former opponents-- possibly because most of the heroes are so forgettable.
LEPRECHAUN 1 and 2 are just simple dumb fun, but LEPRECHAUN 3-- the first direct-to-video installment-- is as dire as dire gets. Through some folderol Lubdan, last seen exploding after the hero shoved a chunk of wrought-iron through his guts, appears in Las Vegas, but magically transformed into a stone statue. This time when he's resurrected, the Leprechaun loses all pretense of being a creature who doesn't know modern ways, as he starts indulging in Freddy-like pop-culture quotes, as when he tells the young protagonist, "Come over to the green side of the Force." The young guy in question gets ahold of one of Lubdan's magic coins, which gives him or anyone else the power to make wishes. Lubdan goes around killing everyone who's come in contact with the coin, usually with very makeshift, unimaginative deaths. The writer of this video-turd apparently couldn't be bothered to think along the lines of leprechaun-stories; any old fantasy was OK with him. At one point Lubdan bites the young dork, and as a result the dork begins to change into a human-sized version of a leprechaun. Leprechauns=werewolves? Who knew? The dork does gain a few magical powers with which he fights the leprechaun, but their combat is not lengthy enough to elevate this film to the combative mode.
For all the comedy lines liberally strewn throughout the first three films, I still consider them essentially *dramas,* in that the viewer in theory should want the leads, no matter how dorky they are, to survive the viridian villain's victimizations. LEPRECHAUN 4, however, plays more fast and loose with the viewer's sensibilities, so that I label it a comedy. It's also a combative comedy, given that there are extensive scenes in which Lubdan matches his malevolent magicks against the high-tech weapons of a group of outer space mercenaries.
Since Part 4 shares the same director and most of the same producers as the execrable Part 3, I have to believe that Part 4 is more tolerable because the writing-team is better. To be sure, even though IN SPACE is more bearable, it's still corny, derivative humor. But at least there's a little life in it, as when the film opens with the space marines preparing to assault an "alien" base and reciting the slogan, "Semper fi! Do or die! Kill kill kill!" The film might be seen as anticipating Jason Voorhees' slightly later journey to outer space, but the real template followed here is the ALIEN franchise.
The backstory makes no sense whatsoever. The viewer only knows that the mercenaries work for a weird cyborg doctor named "Doctor Mittenhand," which is patently a spoof on "Doctor Strangelove," since the actor playing Mittenhand essays a German accent as thick as strudel. The "alien base" is some lair cooked up by Lubdan the Leprechaun, but one never knows what if anything either Mittenhand or the mercenaries know about him. Lubdan-- having shifted back to sex again after making money his obsession in the third film-- has brought to his lair Zarina, princess of the empire of Dominia, in order to woo her. Zarina is repulsed by Lubdan but intrigued by his promises of vast wealth, while for his part Lubdan wants to marry her so that he can kill her father and become the lord of the empire.
The marines break in and manage to blow Lubdan into pieces. However, in a nasty spoof of ALIEN's face-grabber scene, one of the marines pisses on Lubdan's remains-- and the evil elf sends his glittering essence into the man's dick. Cute line from another marine: "I'd give you a round of applause, but I see you already got the clap!" Later, back on the mercenaries' ship, the Leprechaun re- births himself from his "daddy's" member-- not coincidentally, while the marine is trying to have sex. Nevertheless, IN SPACE wisely cuts away and does not try, on its budget, to emulate the ALIEN scene which supplied the seminal (hah) inspiration.
After that, Lubdan starts slaughtering marines, while mysterious Mittenhand-- who seems to have had some idea of Zarina's presence at Lubdan's base, though he has no idea what the Leprechaun is-- tries to use Zarina's DNA to clone himself a new body. Lubdan interferes and turns the good doctor into a slimy spider-creature.
What most differentiates IN SPACE from the other three films is that now all of the characters, at one time or another, are mouthing the same cornball lines as Lubdan. Most of the mercenaries have Earth-names-- as does the female lead, the Acerbic Female Doctor, name of "Tina"-- yet they appear to inhabit a far-future civilization. However, the Black Guy Marine makes jokes about "superstitious black" stereotypes from the twentieth century. No one has the slightest idea what a leprechaun is, though, and the mercenaries continually identify Lubdan as an "alien"-- and indeed, the villain "dies" the same way the original Alien died. Yet, if one takes it as an intentional comedy, where nothing is at stake, the inconsistencies take on a certain comic logic.