Is there a dafter horror franchise out there than the Leprechaun film series? Each film has been almost universally panned, with an antagonist who is more annoying than scary. Despite this, they’ve somehow gained a cult following with later instalments wisely playing up to this audience, diluting the genuine scares in favour of schlock and gore.
Leprechaun Returns, the newest entry in the franchise, doesn’t break any new ground but it’s undeniably a lot of fun. The set up is familiar: 6 Eco-friendly college students fixing up a cabin (the cabin from the original film) are terrorised by the malevolent, psychopathic Leprechaun, determined to kill anybody standing between him and his gold – and anyone else standing nearby for good measure!
The film benefits from being the only one in the series directly related to the original. It references Jennifer Aniston’s character (even casting an impersonator to do her voice) and maintains the continuity by bringing back original cast member Mark Holton as the clumsy, hapless Ozzie. While not especially subtle, Holton does bring a touch of pathos to his character and elicits a lot of sympathy in just a few short scenes. Unfortunately this can’t be said for the rest of the cast. They all try their best but the characters are just generic stereotypes. Even Taylor Spreitner, who starts off a sympathetic enough protagonist, ends up reduced to a pretty uninteresting cliched character by the end. The only real exception to this is Pepi Sonuga, who is really endearing as the seemingly dumb sorority girl with hidden depths, including a disarming grasp of Latin.
As for the leprechaun himself, Linden Porco does a great job, but the character’s schtick of talking in rhymes and his constant giggling wear thin very quickly. It’s a shame because there are a few brief moments where you can see how dark and menacing Porco’s leprechaun could have been, but the film’s more interested in winking at the audience and he ends up a campy pantomime villain, rather than a genuinely threatening monster.
There are some really funny moments here though, and some knowing jokes that poke fun at the genre (a highlight is when one girl wants to check if their boyfriend is still alive… after he’s been bisected from top to bottom). However, for every joke that lands there’s a hackneyed reference to selfies or camera drones that falls flat. The script is pretty pedestrian on the whole, with a lot of on-the-nose dialogue and some obvious signposting. The film is at its most effective when it sticks to being an old fashioned horror and there’s a welcome abundance of practical effects, which make some of the gory set-pieces really entertaining and memorable.
Let’s be clear, Leprechaun Returns is not a good film. It’s predictable, and relies on a lot of stale old genre tropes, with paper-thin characters and risible dialogue. But in this current era of allegorical, subtle horror, watching a formulaic slasher like this is strangely comforting. This isn’t a film with lofty ambitions; it’s just trying to be a fun, gory B-movie. It achieves this and then some, ending up perhaps the most enjoyable film of the series.
Extras: The special features on the Blu-ray include a look behind the scenes and a featurette with director Steven Kostanski, but most importantly, this edition comes with a second disc featuring the original film! It’s fitting as this is the only sequel in the series that has any relation to the first film, and the two together make a wonderfully schlocky double bill.