It is hard to believe, but Leprechaun is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. With a poster declaring “your luck just ran out”, the film was released theatrically on January 8, 1993. Leprechaun introduced a new, titular horror villain played by Warwick Davis and launched a horror franchise that went on to become a video store staple throughout the 1990s.
At first glance, Leprechaun comes across as pretty standard b-horror slasher fare with a supernatural angle, but, you have to admit, there is something undeniably fun and enduring about the silly premise presented here.
Dan O’Grady (Shay Duffin) steals 100 gold coins from a leprechaun (Warwick Davis) while on vacation in Ireland. The leprechaun follows him home, but Dan locks the murderous midget in a crate, held at bay by a four-leaf clover. Ten years later, J.D. Redding (John Sanderford) and his daughter, Tory (Jennifer Aniston), rent O’Grady’s property for the summer. When their new neighbors accidentally release the leprechaun, he goes on a murderous rampage to reclaim his gold.
Leprechaun was written and directed by Mark Jones and stars Warwick Davis (Harry Potter and Star Wars), Ken Olandt (1986’s April Fool’s Day), Robert Hy Gorman (Sometimes They Come Back and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead), Mark Holton (1985’s Teen Wolf and Madhouse), and features Jennifer Aniston (Horrible Bosses and TVs Friends) in her big screen debut just before she went on to find super-stardom. The film was the first to be produced in-house by Trimark Pictures and released theatrically. Reportedly, Jones’s original idea for the film was to have a much darker tone, but franchise star Warwick Davis had the idea to add a big dose of humor to the story. Jones liked the suggestion, and the tone of the film was shifted from one of straight horror to a horror comedy.
Honestly, it’s hard to say if Leprechaun is an all around true success or not. Yes, I find the film funny and entertaining. I have watched it numerous times over the years, but, even now, there are aspects of Leprechaun that I’m not entirely sure are genuinely played for laughs or if the scenes fall somewhere in the “so bad it’s good/funny/whatever” category of b-horror. The fact of the matter is that what we are dealing with here is a murderous leprechaun who rattles off rhyming one-liners before killing his victims in various gory and gruesome ways. These are the things the franchise has come to be known for. It is what the fans want to see. Truthfully, if you’re not down for the ridiculousness of it all, Leprechaun is simply not for you. Personally, I’m all in.
Upon its release, Leprechaun was met with overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics. The film currently has a 23% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, despite the poor critical reception, Leprechaun turned a big profit for Trimark. The reported budget for the film was just under $1 million, and it went on to gross nearly $9 million at the box office.
Not surprisingly, due to its financial success, a string of sequels soon followed. To date, the Leprechaun franchise has turned out five sequels and a remake/reboot. Like its predecessor, Leprechaun 2 was released theatrically, in 1994. This time, however, the profit wasn’t as big. The rest of the series went direct to video and DVD. The 1990s was a time where horror video rentals was thriving, and it is reported that Leprechaun 3 was the highest selling direct-to-video movie of 1995.
Interestingly, the director of Leprechaun, Mark Jones, made a similarly themed small creature horror title that was released that same year, Rumpelstiltskin.
A young widow’s wish to see her policeman husband one last time frees a demonic being that wants her infant son’s soul.
I don’t want to go off on a HUGE tangent about another horror movie in this article, but I am a fan of Rumpelstiltskin as well. Admittedly, I am a sucker for campy creature features and films that are colorfully lit with a palette that starts with the poster art and follows through the finished film. Whereas the Leprechaun production is, at times, lit in yellow, blue, and green, Rumpelstiltskin is often presented in purple and blue. Just look at this…
Sadly, Rumpelstiltskin was not able to find the same amount of success as Leprechaun.
Through a series of sequels that has taken him to Las Vegas, space, and The Hood, Warwick Davis’s Leprechaun character has stood the test of time, and, I would say, is as recognizable as the big-time horror villains of Freddy, Jason, Chucky, Pinhead, Michael, and Leatherface.
In a 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Warwick Davis said of the character and film:
I don’t think for a minute we, as filmmakers, pretend they’re anything else other than entertaining popcorn movies,” he says. “I would suggest people sit down with a can of beer, put their brain in the fridge, and watch the film. You don’t need to think about it; you just need to enjoy it. I get tweets daily and they refer to Leprechaun. It’s amazing. The Leprechaun films are cheesy, they’re low-budget, but they have a serious following. They watch marathons on St. Patrick’s Day.
You can read the full Entertainment Weekly article here. It is an interesting read that chronicles the Leprechaun series all the way from how the original idea came from a Lucky Charms cereal box up to the 2014 reboot and even hints at a possible return of the character in a slightly different form: a vamprechaun. Yes, a vampire and leprechaun hybrid.
Like many of the horror franchises that have hit it big over the years, there has been a wide array of merchandise associated with the Leprechaun series including action figures, masks, costumes, comic boks, and t-shirts, just to name a few. Now, Leprechaun has become a St. Patrick’s Day tradition. The film and the series are shown annually around the holiday.
Are you a fan of Leprechaun and its line of sequels? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and be sure to check out the attached trailers for Leprechaun parts 1-6!