25 Years Later: 'Leprechaun 3' Still Reigns as the Sequel that Put the Leprechaun at the Top of His Game
Ah the Leprechaun films…
...When compiling a list of the best horror/comedy franchises you will find the Leprechaun series. I’m not going to say it’ll be at the top of that list but it’s going to be on there. Yes, somewhere between The Evil Dead series and Critters lies this collection of strange, sometimes funny, and always surprising movies. Now, on the 25th Anniversary of the straight-to-video premiere of Leprechaun 3, directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (Leprechaun 4) and written by David DuBos, it’s time that we reexamine what is easily the best film in the series.
The strengths of this film are many. The location (something that changes in almost all of the films) makes a thematic sense. The structure of the film allows for multiple chases, set pieces, and kills. The writing and portrayal of the titular Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) is the most entertaining of all the films. Finally, the jokes only flirt with the line of being so bad you groan; mostly, the humor is spot on.
I imagine when producers are talking about how to turn a successful film into a franchise, they write down all the elements of the original that they think made it a hit and then force a writer to put those elements into every new film in the series. For the Friday The 13th films, this includes needlessly throwing a body through a window. In the Alien series, eggs and facehuggers seem to have made the list while Xenomorphs did not. And in the Leprechaun collection, we’ve got to send that little psycho to increasingly strange locations.
In the original Leprechaun, the idea of moving a killer leprechaun from his Irish homelands to a shack in the Mojave Desert that characters claim to be in North Dakota was likely due to budget constraints. But it may have also been motivated by wanting to put the Leprechaun into a modern setting. Leprechaun 2 moves our little guy to Los Angeles. Leprechaun 3 ships the killer to Las Vegas. For the most part, these changes in location don’t seem motivated by much other than producers saying, “It’s got to go someplace bigger and weirder!” It’s this logic that gives us the fourth film in the series, Leprechaun 4: In Space and the fifth film, Leprechaun 5: In The Hood. You are probably wondering why going from outer space to an economically depressed neighborhood is a progression in weirdness and to you I say this, “You’re asking a lot of questions for a person reading an article about Leprechaun 3.”
Whatever the motive may be, Leprechaun 3 is the only time in the series where the killer leprechaun is surrounded by other hams attempting to out ham each other. From a terrible magician to a scummy hotel owner to Elvis Presley himself, the sets are filled with over the top characters who make the leprechaun seem in his element. The incongruity of a little person running through the streets killing people doesn’t exist when he’s in a city where seeing white tigers at the entrance to a casino is normal. Somehow, the entire premise of the film is more acceptable when he’s in Las Vegas.
Leprechaun 3 shows amazing improvements to the overall premise. While the first film is a standard trapped in the haunted house film with a leprechaun and the sequel is a nonsensical millennial revenge film about a leprechaun trying to get laid, the third film presents just enough information to set the film on a nice, somewhat logical path to completion. Before the movie begins, a Leprechaun is somehow turned to stone and sold in a Las Vegas pawn shop. The owner accidentally frees the Leprechaun and takes one of his gold pieces. As the gold piece is passed from scum bag to scum bag, the Leprechaun gives chase and kills all who have been in possession of it. I’ve done some pretty extensive research on the possible connections between this film and 1993’s Twenty Bucks and have found the only connection to be that they are both movies that a small minority of the human population have seen at some point. Rather than having scares and near misses drive characters from one room to another without ever being injured too badly, this model of moving the coin from hand to hand allows us to see the Leprechaun kill as many people as possible in increasingly bizarre ways. As more characters die, the stakes get higher for our main characters.
We are given to understand that whoever holds the Leprechaun’s coin can make a wish on it that will come true. In classic Wishmaster fashion, the wishes often lead to your own undoing. When a woman (Texas Chainsaw Massacre II’s Caroline Williams) wishes to be young and beautiful again, she gets what she wants but the Leprechaun decides that when she said she wanted full lips and large breasts that she should see these parts of her body expand until she detonates. It’s not as subtle as turning somebody into a beautiful statue but it sure is entertaining to watch.
While many a message board has been covered in arguments about whether or not the Leprechaun seen in all of the films is the same Leprechaun, I feel that we have to assume that it is not. In each film, the Leprechaun’s personality, weaknesses, and desires change drastically. If you disagree, please meet me at the flagpole after your state has lifted all of its social distancing measures. As far as I’m concerned, the Leprechaun of this third film is the best representation of what the character can be. From his constantly rhyming way of speech to his tainted sense of justice, this character is the most fun to watch of all the Leprechauns. It is in this film that we get some of the best rhyming couplets you're going to find outside of a dirty limerick. Here’s some quick samples:
I want my gold shilling.
Tell me where it is or there’ll be another killing!
For pulling this trick,
I’ll chop off your dick.
We had heard the Leprechaun throw off some silly, violent bars in the two previous films but they never came as quickly or as strongly as in Leprechaun 3. In this film, everything that murdering monster says is a treat.
The biggest strike against this film is that it reveals for the only time in the series (I think) that leprechauns are sort of like wolfmen in that if they bite you, you may turn into one yourself. It’s never explained in any of the books, scrolls, or Encarta CD-ROMs that characters turn to for backstory and exposition but I guess it’s fine. Leprechauns got to come from somewhere. It might as well be the same thing as werewolves.
It’s no surprise that with a film as strong as this one, the Leprechaun series continues to exist. 2018’s Leprechaun Returns premiered on SyFy and now lives on VOD and Blu-Ray. It seems more than likely that more Leprechaun films will continue to be made. Will they ever be as watchable as Leprechaun 3? Given how perfect it is as a Leprechaun film, I think it will not.
By Mark Gonzales