19 March 2012

YEAR OF BLOOD: THUNDERING JAYSUS, DO YOU THINK I'M DEAD?

You didn't think I'd stop with just one? Faith and begorrah, there are six of the fecking things!

The first Leprechaun wasn't exactly a box-office dynamo, but it cost pocket change to make it, and profitable horror films weren't on every street corner back in 1993, so Trimark Pictures greenlit a sequel in short order, giving this one more than twice the budget and a somewhat posher release date (April instead of January). Leprechaun 2 also wasn't exactly a box-office dynamo, to the tune of just barely eking out a profit on its $2 million price tag, and the series' fortunes took a decisive hit as a result, but that story will wait for next time. Right now, we're here to dissect the corpse of a movie that only a few people, apparently, were ever really asking for, and which goes out of its way as quickly as possible to alienate anybody who held the original in sufficient esteem that they might have been enthusiastic to see its story continue.

The last thing we knew of our diminutive Irish pixie, played by the tattered scraps of Warwick Davis's dignity, he (or maybe just his angry disembodied spirit) was at the bottom of a well, his corpse melted by Jennifer Aniston. There are no wells in Leprechaun 2, nor is Jennifer Aniston around; in fact, there is nothing that connects the two films other than Davis himself, and the general appearance of his make-up and costume - though both of those have been redesigned ever so slightly, presumably to take advantage of the inflated budget, for it is undeniably the case that he looks far more like a magically malicious creature of fairy, and less like a dwarf in a Wal-Mart costume - and it is sometimes proposed by fanboys desperate, for some reason that even God does not know, to maintain the integrity of the Leprechaun franchise, that this leprechaun is a different one. In fact, this is an unnecessary intellectual soft-shoe: in the first scene, we are told by the leprechaun that he is 1000 years old exactly, and in the first movie, he was only 600. Therefore this movie's opening scene, despite looking like it's set in Ireland in the 1400s or so, takes place in 2592; when the movie skips forward another millennium, it is therefore 3592, and the Los Angeles of the distant future just happens to look like it did in 1993, because of Jungian cultural memory or some such.

Or maybe, screenwriters Turi Meyer & Al Septien just didn't care, and the fanboys need to get over it. It is a bit dismaying that whereas even a series as devoid of the minutest artistic seriousness as the Friday the 13th pictures could remember where they'd left Jason's body at the end of the last one, the folks behind Leprechaun 2 so transparently do not give a shit. But we're talking dodgy horror sequels from the mid-1990s. It is brutal idiocy to expect anything nice or decent to come out of this.

Anyway, even if it pukes all over continuity, my feeling is that Leprechaun 2 is a better movie, on the whole, than its predecessor. Or perhaps I'd be better to say that it has the better story and screenplay. This would have been achieved if all that had changed was the omission of the horrible kid-vid comic relief of the little boy and his mentally-challenged buddy, so it's not really saying much of the film, but it's still a generally more credible riff on the traditional idea of the leprechaun, and the plot isn't trying so hard to fit into the essentially dissimilar formula of a late slasher movie. It is, simply, a sturdier narrative, and much more adequate as a horror picture on account of reducing the leprechaun's clownish antics (he still gets to quip, and some of those quips still take the form of pop cultural references that the leprechaun would probably know about) and edging closer to actual violent violence, though the state of the culture in 1994 was still such that an R-rated horror movie is a fairly tame and neutered thing; though unlike its predecessor, I don't think Leprechaun 2 would have managed to swing a PG-13 if it came out now.

If the last film exploited the leprechauns' famous attachment to gold, the sequel hinges on their noted tendency to abduct and marry human females and commit terrible acts of bodily mutilation on them to turn them into leprechaun baby-making factories. This, at least, is what the filmmakers want us to believe. The mythology around it is kind of arcane and stupid: on their 1000th birthday and every 1000th birthday following, leprechauns can marry any human woman who sneezes three times without anyone telling her "God bless you". Our particular leprechaun was born on March 17th, conveniently enough, and in what is presumably 993 CE, he is thwarted in his effort to take a bride when his slave William O'Day (James Lancaster), her father, willingly sacrifices himself to the leprechaun's wrath to save her. 1000 years later, on March 17th (in blatant disregard of the calendar reforms of the intervening millennium, and yes, this fact bothered me through the whole movie), the leprechaun is revived when a bum drinks whiskey near the tree outside Harry Houdini's former home in L.A. where a contingent of Irish fans sent a tree to the magician, and it was apparently in this tree's root system that the leprechaun has dwelt all along, and not in a crate in North Dakota after all, unless he reincarnated back in the roots of his own proper tree after being killed, you know what, it's not even worth worrying about it. He comes back, in L.A. Done and done.

He immediately goes on the hunt for a descendant of O'Day, to marry her and fulfill a curse he laid on his former slave; he finds one in the form of Bridget Callum (Shevonne Durkin), a woman without any personality to speak of, outside of her contentious relationship with Cody (Charlie Heath), working as a huckster for a shady "death-places of the stars!" tour organised by a hard-living old drunk named Morty (Sandy Baron). The short version of what happens is that the leprechaun abducts and marries Bridget, but in the scuffle, he drops some of his gold, and Cody unknowingly pockets a single piece; and the leprechaun being an anal sort about gold (and shoes, the original film told us, but this trait is disappointingly dropped here), he can't consummate his new marriage until that last piece is found, which gives Cody and Morty time to plan a trap for the little beast, and Bridget time to continually not escape, because she is kind of a stupid person, and in one key moment runs deeper into the leprechaun's subterranean lair even though running up the stairs and out would require fewer steps.

So, okay, it's still awfully stupid, but at least it lacks as many outrageous contrivances and detours as the original had. We are obliged to take the bits of good where we can get them in these sorts of movies. At the very least, the leprechaun is a more believable threat here, and the chase to stop him makes quite a bit more sense, allowing the characters to be more active and not to simple permit themselves to be penned into a single building just because that's a thing that happens to horror movie people. And Warwick Davis continues to be genuinely good in the role, still chomping into an unbelievably dreadful Oirish accent and hamming up all the character's pointless rhymes and so on and so forth; still skittering around like a mad little bug, still being absolutely self-delighted. The overall darker tone helps to set off the character's comic moments better, and while the wisecracking killer is absolutely my least favorite kind, there are a few lines that got me, a little bit (the leprechaun's horror at being revived by blended Canadian whiskey chief among them).

Here is where my muted enthusiasm for the film absolutely stops: in pretty much every way that isn't the leprechaun himself, Leprechaun 2 is a wasteland, compared to the original, or on its own terms. Director Rodman Flender, despite an awe-inspiring name, doesn't keep things moving nearly as well as Mark Jones did in the last one, and he give into the film's tacky cheapness without fighting it even a little: sets are over-lit and underpopulated, the blocking is clumsy and exists solely to usher us from one line to another with minimum grace - at one point, Cody and Morty sit down, and then immediately stand up and leave, just so Cody can overhear some exposition that will be important later on.

And the acting... Christ. Baron's crabby New Yorker shtick works tolerably well, but the two leads are psychotically dreadful. Heath is apparently a decade too old to play his part, and never tries to "youth" himself up; his expressions are perpetually confused and his reactions always half a beat late. But he's got nothing on Durkin, who speaks with some peculiar mix of Eastern Europe and Irish accents and mis-emphasises virtually every single line of dialogue she is given, even simple ones like "What are you doing here?" Even by the standards of running around and screaming and maybe flash a bit of nipple (or maybe it's a body double; we never see breast and head in the same shot), she is an embarrassment to Leprechaun 2, a film that should presumably be impossible to embarrass.

On the other hand, that it comes even as close to being remotely tolerable as it does, with its relatively hole-free script and competent narrative development on its own terms is something of a surprise; Leprechaun is not at all a good movie, but I still would have imagined that it was the pinnacle of its franchise, and while Leprechaun 2 is still mostly a shitty '90s fantasy-horror picture, it's one of the more palatable of the field, shockingly bad performances and all. By and large it makes sense, and that is half the battle; and by setting itself in Los Angeles, it makes its industrial cheapness into a characteristic rather than a flaw. And even two films in, I'm growing attached enough to Davis's enthusiasm that an excuse to see him flit around and cackle is appealing on its own, though I do wish there was anything in these films that even came close to his level.

Body Count: 6, including the leprechaun's needlessly explosive demise. And though the gore is still pretty weak sauce - a finger dismemberment, and a death-by-lawnmower that the filmmakers seem positively ashamed of - it's a huge step up from the last one.

Reviews in this series
Leprechaun (Jones, 1993)
Leprechaun 2 (Flender, 1994)
Leprechaun 3 (Trenchard-Smith, 1995)
Leprechaun 4: In Space (Trenchard-Smith, 1997)
Leprechaun in the Hood (Spera, 2000)
Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (Ayromlooi, 2003)

7 comments:

Michael James Roberson said...

Haha, yeah, I actually did think you were doing just one. I only made it through the first three of these godforsaken movies, so if you make it further you're of heartier stock than I.

Tim said...

It helps that I've already seen Leprechaun 4: In Space, so I'm prepared for the worst. And if it's not the worst, than I desperately need to find out how bad that can be.

KingKubrick said...

I'll tell you what the worst will be, the WWE produced gritty-reimagining that's lurking in the near future. It's going to make the Nightmare on Elm Street reboot look like Touch of Evil.

Cody said...

I've never actually seen this one, but I took the fact that a character shares my name as a sign to finally contribute: I've been reading your blog for a few years now, and it has become a treasured resource in the pursuit of my own burgeoning cinephilia, as well as a source of great laughter to a fan of shitty horror movies. Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to do this!

Tim said...

KingKubrick- That project has all the seeming of one that is going to get cancelled at some point. This, anyway, is what I shall tell myself at least until the first trailer hits.

Cody- Thanks for the compliments, and welcome on board! Always glad to have a new commenter pipe up!

Shalen said...

English nitpick: You can't "vivisect" a corpse, since the verb means "to operate on while still alive."

I adore this blog. I just found it via google searching for film reviews and am still enjoying the massive, glorious archive.

Tim said...

Well thank you! And thanks for the correction, as well - I am in no position to censure others for critiquing usage.