[Review] "Leprechaun Returns" goes back to the gold that made the series work the first time
You’ve seen him in space. You’ve seen him in the hood. Now the Leprechaun is back in “requel” form, and he’s nastier than ever in Syfy’s Leprechaun Returns…
…Directed by Steven Kostanski (The Void) from a script by Suzanne Keilly (Ash vs Evil Dead), Leprechaun Returns sees Linden Porco replace Warwick Davis as the titular green character, twenty-five years after he was dispatched in an old well by Jennifer Aniston and company. All these years later, the daughter of Aniston’s character, Lila (Taylor Spreitler) comes back to her mom’s old house where she is joining a brand-new sorority. Lila and her fellow sorority sisters just want to save the environment, but when the Leprechaun suddenly pops up shortly after Lila’s arrival, they find themselves regretting ever having wanted to go green.
Don’t like that joke? Too bad, because you’ll hear a lot of them in Leprechaun Returns, and that’s not a bad thing. Any respectable Leprechaun franchise fan knows that this is not the first time the good ole Leprechaun has seen the “remake” treatment. Back in 2014, WWE Studios put out a blasphemous remake entitled Leprechaun: Origins, that had little to nothing to do with the franchise or its jolly Irish spirit. Kostanski and Keilly wisely make the decision to return the Leprechaun to his roots, bringing him back to his wise-cracking, gleeful, bloody nature that was completely absent in the remake. Like Halloween did in October, it’s refreshing to finally see a direct sequel to the original film while ignoring the off the wall directions in which the others went. The Leprechaun sequels all have their charm, but a part of me has always wished that they were able to find some way to relate to one another. I’m a fan of villain “rebirths” and continuing storylines that made up so many horror franchises of the 80s, so it’s great to see Leprechaun get back to some old-fashioned basics.
That nostalgic feeling is inserted into the film rather quickly, as the moment Lila enters town, she has a run in with Ozzie (Mark Holton), one of the few survivors from the original along with her mother. Massive coincidence? Sure, but as Ozzie says, Devil’s Lake is a “small town”. Holton has no problem instilling the same sweet charm that he did as the character back in 1993. It would’ve been nice to see Aniston reprise her role, but we do get the next best thing, her daughter, in Spreitler’s character, the heroine amongst a group of girls who all deserve at least some consideration as a potential “final girl”. Lila, Katie (Pepi Sonuga), Rose (Sai Bennett), and Meredith (Emily Reid), are all strong, intelligent women who aren’t afraid of a fight and stand out much more than the men in the story. Each has their charms, though Spreitler is particularly endearing as Lila, who gives off the sense that she is trying to be a badass, but can’t quite get there. Not quite the fuck up that is Ash Williams in Evil Dead, but a fuck up in that she can never pull off looking cool after accomplishing something badass. These girls are all well-educated environmentalists, and they act like it, whether it’s fixing up the house with environment friendly techniques, or finding clever ways to take on the Leprechaun. At times, Keilly does play up the “smart women” angle a little too much, with Katie actually going as far as saying, “we are smart women”, as if it’s some kind of rare achievement in the real world, which it’s not. This can cause the already cheesy dialogue to feel rough and forced throughout. What is rare is seeing every female character treated with such respect in the horror genre, so it’s a shame that the exaggerated reminder of that exists at all, since the characters stand on their own as who they are.
Of course, the character whom Leprechaun fans will be curious about is Linden Porco’s portrayal of the sadistic green creature. Let me just ease the fears of those who saw Leprechaun: Origins, you can forget that pile of green-tinted crap, the Leprechaun is his old self again. Porco may not have quite the same charm as Davis, but those are some mighty big shoes to fill, and let’s be honest, no one is going to entirely replace Davis, the same way it’s nearly impossible to replace Robert Englund as Freddy Kruger. But to Porco’s credit, his charm does come close to matching Warwick’s. Porco does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of the Leprechaun, part of that thanks to Keilly’s script, which gives audiences more of the same from the original, but with a little extra gold. This particular Leprechaun looks scarier, his jokes are dirtier, and his kills are bloodier than ever. While this is not necessarily a “scarier” Leprechaun, Porco’s version has a bit more of a bloodlust than his predecessor. His powers may not have the same strength without his gold, and he may have no clue what the internet is, but he knows what audiences want, and that’s, according to his own words, lots and lots of gore.
It wouldn’t do it justice to just say that the kills in Leprechaun Returns are inspired. They are mother fucking out of this world spectacular. Leprechaun Returns has it all in the kills department. From the gloriously gory “rebirth” of the Leprechaun himself, to the not one, but TWO clever, entertaining ways in which our heroines go about trying to dispatch the bastard, Kostanski, Keilly, and the rest of their team clearly had a lot of fun in thinking up ways to insert so much blood, human and Leprechaun alike, that even the audience would feel a bit slimy afterwards. And the effects aren’t just so insanely enjoyable that you’ll blow globs of green gold out of your nose, they’re perfection in terms of appearance as well, including one which harkens back to one my favorite kill types in the early 2000s, the “split in half and slowly sliding apart” death. A lot of that can probably be accredited to Kostanski, who has an extensive background in effects work and is like a kid playing in a bloody sandbox. I get the sense that every ounce of the budget that could be applied to the effects was used, and to great success. Leprechaun Returns, in the midst of more serious horror endeavors as of late, reminds us all how much fun a “kills” based film can be, in case you had somehow forgotten.
Outside of the outrageous Leprechaun kill fetishes and witty humor that will probably leave you with a few quotable lines or three, Leprechaun Returns falters in one key area, and that’s the horror of it all. Keep in mind, the Leprechaun franchise has never been considered a frightening series (except for frighteningly bad), but what’s different here as opposed to the original film is that the characters themselves don’t even take the situation seriously. It’s the curse of the meta-horror age that still rears its ugly head in the genre these days, and ran rampant in the late 90s/2000s. It isn’t enough that the characters scream or say “what are we going to do”. If the cast we’re following is actively trying to make a joke of the situation with one liners or an awareness that they are in the horror film, the comedy will be there, but the horror won’t. If we don’t believe the characters, we as fans become disengaged, and that’s the case here. Despite my love of the cast, I found myself much more excited over how the next kill was going to work, as opposed to rooting for anyone still remaining. I’ll say this though, there’s no argument against the fact that Leprechaun Returns knows exactly what it wants to be.
Leprechaun Returns may not be the best horror film you’ll see all year. It probably won’t be in your top ten, either. But fans of the franchise will welcome the return of the Leprechaun with open arms, and be glad they did. As did Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich earlier this year, Leprechaun Returns brings the franchise back to what made a little film so much bigger than it was in 1993. Leprechaun Returns may be short on cash, but it stands tall as a return to the glorified kills of the 80s-horror era, and is certainly not fool’s gold when it comes to dumb, entertaining horror.
You can now find Leprechaun Returns at the end of the rainbow by renting it on VOD.
By Matt Konopka
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