English Actor Warwick Davis has been making movies for a long time, which is no mean feat considering that, because Mr. Davis was born with dwarfism, the number of roles available to him in most film productions would appear to be seemingly limited.
He made his debut as a child playing the Ewok Wickett in Return of The Jedi, and so endeared himself to producer George Lucas that he soon conceived Willow (a fantasy/action film with a little person as the main hero) as a star vehicle for the young performer. Though the film, made almost six years later, was not a commercial success at first, its eventual ubiquity on home video helped turn Davis (who continued to work steadily in film and television) into an unlikely cult celebrity. Today, he continues to work in film, reality television, publishing and has co-founded Willow Management, a talent agency that specializes in finding employment for height-challenged actors.
But it was in 1993 that Davis created what would become perhaps his most iconic (and certainly longest-lived) character: the title role in a low-budget horror film called Leprechaun. The movie itself? Forgettable, a classic case of a project whose creative spark began and ended with the one-sentence original concept. But Davis' singularly maniacal performance turned his titular Irish demon into an instant pop culture icon who became a sought after guest for youth-targeted broadcasts and went on to star in five sequels (and counting!).
So, since this weekend brings us St. Patrick's Day, let's look back at the pieces of this unlikeliest of long-running franchises; all of which, uncoincidentally, probably play best when viewers are in an inebriated state.
Sometimes all it takes is a great hook and a great poster, particularly in the early 90s, when the video store reigned supreme and low-budget indie exploitation films could talk Mom & Pop outfits into giving their wares big promotional pushes in exchange for a better rate-of-return than the higher ticket Hollywood product. Leprechaun came and went from theaters fairly quickly, but its key art, a short, monster faced ghoul in caricatured "Olde Irish" garb peering out from a doorway under the tagline: "Your luck has run out!" was tailor-made for the video market, where it quickly became a cult sensation. Even more so when leading lady Jennifer Anniston became a megastar on Friends soon after.
The movie supposedly began as a mock-scary monster flick for children only to be beefed up to an R rating with new dialogue and extra gory insert shots when the studio realized it might actually work as the real thing. The aforementioned poster is literally the entire joke and thus the entire movie, "Wouldn't it be funny to plug the generic details of Leprechaun mythology into a formula horror movie?" It's clever in spots (The Leprechaun is chasing down the hapless folks who he believes stole his pot o' gold, has a Kryptonite-like aversion to four-leaf clovers, etc.), but aside from how fun Davis is in the role, it's actually kind of a tough sit. Though it's still easy to see how it garnered its "I can't believe this is a real movie!" popularity at the time.
Leprechaun 2 (1994)
Becoming a college culture party tape unexpectedly turned The Leprechaun into a horror icon right up there with Freddy and Jason, so not only did a sequel get made it got a much bigger theatrical release than last time. It's a better looking, better paced movie but some of the genuine-schlock vibe of the original gets lost along the way.
This time around, Leprechaun is in Los Angeles for St. Patrick's Day, scheming to abduct a young woman and make her his bride as part of thousand year curse visited on her family because ... well, okay, it's really just so they have an excuse to have Leprechaun cackle, "Kiss me, I'm Irish!" for the trailer. This would be the last of the series to make it to movie theaters.
No direct connection, aside from the character, is made to the previous film. Supposedly there is a continuity to the series and this second film is really Part 5. Incidentally, this was the first of the series to get a big video release in the United Kingdom, where it was retitled One Wedding & A Lot of Funerals in reference to a then-popular Hugh Grant movie.
Leprechaun 3 (1995)
Part 3 is the first of two Leprechaun installments to be directed by veteran Australian horror/action legend Brian Trenchard-Smith (whose filmography belongs on the must see list of every well-versed cinephile) and, not coincidentally, was easily better than the first two. It's got much more creative kills and extreme gore effects to help the rest of the goings on measure up to Davis' by now effortlessly over-the-top performance.