31 (More) Days of Fright: Leprechaun

Peep that face. This guy is magically delicious.

This January, in support of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women Against Rape, friends and family have raised over $1,500 (which, when matched by my employer, totals $3,000). As a result, I now have to watch and write about thirty-one horror movies: one each night. Any donors who contributed over $30 were given the option to choose one of the horror movies I must subject myself to. After each viewing, I will write some things about said movies on this website. Be forewarned that all such write-ups will contain spoilers, and many of them will refer to unpleasant and potentially triggering situations. Today’s film, as recommended by the amazing Lisa Whittington-Hill, is the Celtic curio that spawned several sequels: Leprechaun, directed by Mark Jones (Rumplestiltskin – he’s got a wheelhouse). Lisa Whittington-Hill is the publisher of fantastic news and culture publication, This Magazine, which is currently holding a very important donation drive. I highly encourage you to support their journalistic efforts! I rented Leprechaun from the good people at Bay Street Video.

What happens:

Trigger warnings: broad Irish stereotypes.

Rhyming couplets from the Leprechaun himself (Warwick Davis) open the film, warning “whoever steals my gold / won’t live through the night.” We then see Daniel O’Grady (Shay Duffin) exit a limousine and down a bottle of Jameson’s before entering his North Dakota bungalow. His wife, Mrs. O’Grady (Pamela Mant), greets him at the door, confused as to why her husband has decided to arrive home in such luxury. Daniel tells her they can soon ditch this crummy house for a mansion. He opens the package he sent to himself from Ireland and reveals what he discovered: a satchel of gold coins! O’Grady explains to his wife that he found a “wee person” and forced him to take him to his gold, so he now gets to keep it. “It’s the rule, y’know.”

Daniel goes to unpack while his wife makes some tea. She soon begins to hear a creepy child’s voice singing nursery rhymes. Mrs. O’Grady follows the voice, which leads her to one of Daniel’s suitcases. The voice asks for help, saying it can’t breathe inside the suitcase. She unclasps the bag and out pops the Leprechaun, who looks like Lucky (from the cereal boxes) crossed with a monstrous troll. His emergence from the suitcase spooks Mrs. O’Grady, who topples backwards down the basement stairs and dies.

Dan O’Grady: most dangerous Irishman this side of Liam Neeson.

Daniel returns to the living room to find not his wife, but the Leprechaun, toting a serving tray of tea. Shocked to see the imp this side of the Atlantic, Daniel retrieves a four-leaf clover from his drawer and uses it (and a pistol) to repel the Leprechaun. He drives the creature into the basement where Daniel finds his dead wife. The Leprechaun plays with Mrs. O’Grady’s corpse, so Daniel shoots him a few times. He then stuffs the Leprechaun’s body into a large wooden crate he conveniently had in the basement, nails it shut, and places the four-leaf clover on top to make sure he stays contained within.

O’Grady douses the crate in gasoline, then runs upstairs to find matches. All the while, the Leprechaun vocally taunts him. Daniel loses his breath and falls to his knees, having some sort of attack, just as he lights the match. As the collapses entirely, the match blows out.

Ten years later, J.D. Reding (John Sanderford) and his teenage daughter, Tory (a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston), drive in their Jeep to what will be their new home: a bungalow in remote North Dakota (that just so happens to be the former residence of the O’Gradys). Toty, as evinced by her L.A. Gear sneakers, would much rather be in Beverly Hills, and grumbles during the entire move-in process. (Confusingly, they’ve managed to pack all their belongings into a Jeep, primarily in paper shopping bags.) Understandably, she’s less than impressed with the cobwebbed old home.

Noticing the many large spiders that have taken up residence in the basement, Tory makes plans to move into a hotel. She gets spooked and runs upstairs, directly into a major slice of beefcake, house painter Nathan Murphy (Ken Olandt), who has decided to eschew sleeves altogether. He laughs when he hears Tory was scared by a few spiders – just like a girl, he says – and their gentle battle of the sexes begins. As Tory reminds Nathan, “This is the ‘90s, bud.” No room for gender stereotypes here.

Sleeves, as all craftsmen know, are not conducive to painting.

Nathan’s fellow painters, his kid brother Alex (Robert Hy Gorman) and the Oliver-Hardy-esque Ozzie (Mark Holton), discuss the aliens Ozzie claims to have seen. Meanwhile, Tory prepares some Nestea and brings it to Nathan in the basement. After being scared (again) by a falling tarp, Tory finds a large crate. Nathan, obviously, is keen to open it up. But they are interrupted by a commotion outside. Ozzie has had a painting mishap and has inadvertently painted his face blue. He goes inside to wash off and is led into the basement by a creepy child’s voice singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

Ozzie hears the voice coming from the basement crate. He puts his ear alongside it and brushes off the dying clover (which has held up impressively after ten years). The Leprechaun immediately busts out of the crate and introduces both himself and his occupation. (He’s a shoemaker by trade.) The Leprechaun demands to know where his crock of gold is. Then he eats a scorpion. (He hasn’t eaten in ten years, after all.) He threatens to bite off Ozzie’s ear and use it to make a boot (crafty!) if he doesn’t bring him to his gold. Ozzie flees upstairs, but the Leprechaun uses magic to close the door. However, his magic is weak after being trapped for so long, and Ozzie is able to break the door open.

Ozzie informs the others about the leprechaun he spotted in the basement, but no one believes him, as he has a reputation for telling tall tales. They reluctantly venture into the basement anyway, but find only a broken crate and some rats. (Still: rats are a cause for concern.) When back on the surface, they see a rainbow. Ozzie is convinced it’s a “magic rainbow” (whatever that is), since it hasn’t rained in a while. There should be gold at its end. He and Alex rush to the end point of this rainbow and find a rusted-out truck. Inside, they first find a gold coin, then a whole pouch of similar coins. Ozzie figures this is what the Leprechaun was talking about, but Alex thinks he’s foolish to believe in mythical creatures.

To test if it’s real gold. Ozzie bites the coin, but accidentally swallows it. The two oddball friends decide to hide the rest of the gold in the old well by the O’Grady farm. Alex says they can use the money to get Ozzie an operation to make him smart. (What a mean kid!)

Back at the farm, Tory retrieves some paint from the back of the Murphys’ truck and feels someone caressing her shin. At first, she thinks it’s Nathan (who I guess would be face-down in the dirt underneath his truck?), but then the caressing turns to scratching. Tory screams and falls down in the dirt. Though it was definitely the clawed hand of a leprechaun, Tory’s dad and Nathan suggest it was a possum that touched her. Then they hear a cat meowing from a little hole in a tree. JD reaches into the tree to grab the cat (seems like a good idea), but something bites him. When he pulls out his hand, his palm has a very nasty wound. The group rushes JD to the hospital in the painters’ truck and – unbeknownst to them – the Leprechaun pursues them on a cute little tricycle.

The Leprechaun, dark horse entry into the Tour de France.

While Nathan and Tory get JD admitted into the emergency ward, Ozzie and Alex visit the local pawn broker to get their gold coins appraised. The shop owner (John Voldstad) thinks it could be worth more than $55,000. The strange symbols on the coin mean it could have even more historic value. He asks to hold onto a coin for further study.

While Ozzie and Alex leave to meet up with Nathan and Tory at a diner, the shop owner consults his ancient tome on Celtic folklore. That’s when a tricycle rolls out of nowhere and bumps into him. The shop owner, mystified by this happening, goes to the safe to store the coin for safe keeping. But the Leprechaun leaps out from inside the safe and bites into his arm. The shop owner falls to the ground in pain. The Leprechaun then takes a pogo stick and hops up and down on the prone owner’s chest until he bleeds all over and dies. Then, of course, he shines the dead man’s shoes. (The Leprechaun is obsessed with shoes; like an Irish Imelda Marcos.) He trades the tricycle in for one of those Power Wheels trucks in the shop basement.

Back at the diner, Tory and Nathan wonder where Alex and Ozzie have gone. Tory is distraught that her very first day in a new town, her dad has been hospitalized. The Leprechaun speeds down the highway in his little truck, attracting the attention of a confused highway trooper. He pulls over the Leprechaun and asks him to take off his mask and step out of the vehicle. The Leprechaun disobeys and claws the trooper’s face instead. What follows is an intense Raimi-esque chase through the forest. The trooper hides behind a tree, his face covered in blood. Thinking the Leprechaun is gone, he ventures out into the clearing and sees the little guy’s hat. The Leprechaun starts to play hide-and-eek, popping up from behind several different trees. Eventually, the trooper, exhausted from running, collapses against a tree. The Leprechaun then drops from a branch above onto his shoulders and breaks his neck.

At the diner, Nathan and Tory have an argument about eating meat. Tory doesn’t kill animals, she says, but then Nathan asks about her leather (?!) sneakers. Ozzie and Alex eventually join them at the table. The Leprechaun returns to the O’Grady farm house and frantically searches the house for his gold. He finds instead some Lucky Charms cereal (or a reasonable facsimile) and a lot of shoes to be shined. When our heroes return to the house, they’re perplexed. Apparently someone or something ransacked the house, but also left their footwear very clean. Tory, feeling unsafe in the house, makes plans to find a hotel room.

One of about 73 Lucky Charms jokes in this film

While Ozzie and Alex discuss the finer points of killing leprechauns, they hear a tricycle bell from outside. Nathan heads outside to investigate, but is caught by a bear trap. As he writhes on the ground in agony, the Leprechaun appears and attempts to amputate his caught leg with an axe. But Nathan fights back with his flashlight. Alex and Tory join him in beating the little man with sticks and stones while Ozzie calls the authorities for help. But, unfortunately, no one believes him – not even the super-boss Sheriff (William Newman) with mirrored sunglasses – because Ozzie has called in so many hoaxes.

Alex retrieves a shotgun and Nathan blows the Leprechaun away, spattering green blood everywhere. Alex and Tory manage to wrench Nathan’s leg free from the bear trap, and Nathan unloads his shotgun into the bush where the Leprechaun fell. Confident the creature is dead, they wait for the authorities to arrive, but they realize Ozzie told them about a leprechaun, so the police probably aren’t coming. They all load into the truck to drive Nathan to the hospital. But the truck won’t start. Alex lifts the hood to check on the problem and it’s the Leprechaun (obviously)! The little green guy leaps out and traps the heroes in their truck. He smashes in the window and makes good on that promise to bite Ozzie’s ear. But the resourceful Tory takes the truck’s cigarette lighter and burns the tip of the Leprechaun’s nose. He scurries away to the barn in pain.

But it’s not long before he emerges from the barn in a Mad Max / Battle Bots vehicle of sorts, and drives it right into the truck’s side, causing it to roll over. Our human friends escape the overturned cab and run inside, with the Leprechaun pursuing on foot. They slam the door and catch his hand in the door frame, cutting it off at the wrist. The hand, animated on its own, then unlocks the door and returns to the now one-handed Leprechaun. He retreats to recuperate.

Momentarily safe inside, Tory uses her Zach Morris vintage portable phone to call the police. (The landline has died.) Though the battery dies partway through the call, she’s confident they know they require aid. Sheriff Cronin dispatches a trooper to visit the O’Grady farm, but we see the dead trooper – murdered by the Leprechaun – in his cruiser. The Leprechaun impersonates his voice and tells the Sheriff he’ll check it out. (No one is coming to help them now!)

At the house, Tory is still (somehow) having trouble believing the monster is a real leprechaun. Ozzie then lets slip about the gold he and Alex found, and Tory demands to know everything. She dons a leather jacket (see, that’s actually made of leather), takes the shotgun, and visits the well. She retrieves the pouch of gold and – moments later – the Leprechaun materializes out of thin air. Tory tosses him the pouch, saying he can have all the gold back. The Leprechaun seems very pleased and has a real sensory overload with his gold. Tory returns inside while the Leprechaun counts his coins. Only one problem: a single coin is missing.

“Expelliarmus!” shouts the new Defence against the Dark Arts instructor.

Alex heads to the fridge to get some ice for his brother’s leg, but the Leprechaun is hiding inside. He scares Alex, but the others rescue him and shove the Leprechaun’s hand on a hot stove element. The Leprechaun then torments them, popping out of various kitchen cabinets. The gang runs around the house and the Leprechaun drops down from the chimney. Nathan shoots him down and convinces himself the Leprechaun is dead. “Not a chance, me’ lad,” the Leprechaun shouts as he hops up from the floor and runs away. “Diddly diddly dee!” The Leprechaun skateboards circles around them, crank calls them on the telephone, and eventually Ozzie realizes what the Leprechaun wants. The missing gold coin is, if you’ll remember, in Ozzie’s belly.

Before Ozzie sacrifices himself to this Leprechaun, Nathan suggests Tory visit old man O’Grady. O’Grady is still alive, but has lived in a rest home since his stroke. They head outside to the Jeep, but are waylaid by the Leprechaun. This time, they’re ready for him: they toss a box full of shoes all over the lawn. The Leprechaun is compelled to pick them up and shine them, giving Tory time to escape in the Jeep. Still, he pursues her on roller skates until she gives him the slip.

“Pick on someone your own size … uh … well, carry on then.”

At the rest home, Tory finds Daniel O’Grady’s room number in a file conveniently labelled “ROOM NUMBERS” on the desk at which a security guard dozes. She trudges through spooky hallways until reaching O’Grady’s room. Tory begins to ask Mr. O’Grady how to kill the Leprechaun until she realizes something: he’s the Leprechaun in disguise! The Leprechaun chases her in his wheelchair until she hides herself in the elevator. In that elevator, the real Daniel O’Grady falls from the ceiling, his face covered in blood. He’s dying, having been wounded by the Leprechaun, but with his dying breath he tells Tory how to kill the monster: she needs to find a four-leaf clover in the field by his well and place it on the Leprechaun’s body.

Tory drives back home and finds the overly green patch of clover (which we’ve never seen before, somehow). She gets on all fours and frantically searches for a four-leaf clover among the others. But the Leprechaun seizes her wrist and warns, “Little girls shouldn’t look for four-leaf clovers!” Tory runs away and finds a police cruiser. Relieved, she hops into the car, but immediately realizes the trooper is dead. The Leprechaun appears at the driver-side window, so Tory jams the cop’s nightstick into the Leprechaun’s eye and moves to the backseat.

The Leprechaun gets into the cruiser and tears out the dead trooper’s eyeball, then places it into his own ruined socket. (That’s not how eyes work.) The now fully-visioned Leprechaun moves toward Tory, but Nathan suddenly appears at the car’s side and blows the Leprechaun away with the shotgun. The gang all return to the clover field and search for one with four leaves – all of them, save Alex, who has gone rogue, setting up bear traps in the barn and muttering to himself: “I can get him, I can get him.”

On the hunt for the four-leaf clover, Tory begins to lose hope. She also loses patience with Ozzie’s belief in magical things. Ozzie, however, encourages her to have faith. As soon as that conversation ends, she finds it – the four-leaf clover! (The power of magical thinking!) But back in the barn, the Leprechaun captures young Alex and tries to force his head into one of the bear traps. That’s when the others appear at the barn door and Ozzie tells the Leprechaun that he’s swallowed his last coin. Sacrificing himself to save his friend Alex, Ozzie runs away with the Leprechaun hot on his heels.

“Shoot him again, Nathan! His soul is still dancing … and it’s an Irish jig.”

The Leprechaun catches up to Ozzie and tackles him to the ground. He then takes the buckle off his shoe and gruesomely begins to slash Ozzie’s face with it as if it were a razor. Before Ozzie can bleed out, Alex appears over the Leprechaun’s shoulder with the balled-up four-leaf clover in his slingshot. “Fuck you, Lucky Charms,” he says, and fires the clover directly into the Leprechaun’s mouth.

The Leprechaun begins to melt, then falls back into the old well with a massive green explosion. Ozzie, bleeding profusely, asks if he finally did “a smart thing.” But while they’re recovering, the melted skeleton of the Leprechaun emerges from the well, still demanding his gold. Nathan rushes up to him, butts him back into the well with the shotgun. He then pours gasoline down the well and lights a match. After the explosion, the police arrive, and the film ends with the Leprechaun warning that he’ll be back.

Ozzie learns the dangers of swallowing coins extend beyond your digestive tract.

Takeaway points:

  • Leprechaun is a strange film. The movie desperately aims for the dark comedy of later Nightmare on Elm Street or Child’s Play films, but fails in the departments of humour and inventive murder. The jokes seem more intended for young kids, but the gruesome scenes – particularly the eye-gouging and the face-slashing – make it entirely unsuitable for young ones. Somehow the film has spawned several sequels which have brought the titular Leprechaun to Vegas, to space, and to south central Los Angeles (twice).
  • As stupid as the film is, it does adhere pretty closely to traditional leprechaun lore (much of which I learned after the fact). The only differences are that leprechauns traditionally wore red jackets – not green (though the Leprechaun’s jacket gets fairly bloody over the course of the film) – and that capturing a Leprechaun traditionally entitles you to three wishes (instead of a cache of gold). But otherwise, it’s weirdly canonical.
  • The film Leprechaun has some unusual acknowledgements in its credits, giving thanks to both George Lucas (for releasing Warwick Davis from his contract) and former Vice President Dan Quayle (for rushing through Warwick Davis’s work visa). Thanks are not given to Lucky Charms, however, as they originally gave the filmmakers use of their trademark image for the cereal scene, but rescinded it after seeing the gory final film (necessitating expensive reshoots).

Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: Leprechaun knows what it is: a bad horror movie with some ridiculous moments and a few gross-outs. It doesn’t aim for any higher. You know what you’re in for.

Nothing beats a shirt that visually explains your occupation.

Best outfit: Though Jennifer Aniston’s L.A. Gear sneakers feature largely in the film, I can’t get over painter Ozzie’s thematically appropriate paint brush shirt.

Best line: “Ozzie, you can kill anything. You just gotta’ know how to do it.” – homicidal young Alex, imparting advice.

Best kill: Someone being pogo-sticked to death is an indelible image. Probably symbolic, too. (Though of what, I couldn’t say.)

Unexpected cameo: Comic foil and so-so painter Ozzie is played by Mark Holton, better known as Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure or Chubby from the Teen Wolf movies.

Unexpected lesson learned: I was entirely unaware that Leprechauns were traditionally cobblers / shoemakers. This is an actual folkloric lesson that I learned.

Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Three Guys That Paint.

Next up: Deadly Friend (1986).

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