In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we are taking a look back at the origins of Leprechaun and how it almost became a children’s film.
Leprechaun was one of the biggest B-Movie hits of the 1990’s when it was released on home video and one of the last things anyone would have expected to spawn a long-lasting franchise. But somehow it did. The series quickly became known for its cheesiness and watched for its ridiculous, irreverent humor and creative death scenes.
In spite of the way the franchise evolved, the original Leprechaun is a fairly tame film. There’s no nudity, almost no swearing and barely any gore. All of these aspects would be played up more in the sequels. Other than the great, cartoonish performance by Warwick Davis, this one is totally different in tone and style than the features that followed it. It barely even feels like a horror movie. There are scary moments, sure, but overall it is whimsical and fun. It turns out that there is a reason for this.
Writer/director Mark Jones wrote Leprechaun as a children’s movie. At least, he wanted it to be a children’s horror. While it seems strange and nearly unheard of now, this was an extremely popular genre in the 1990’s. The era saw things like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, Ernest Scared Stupid, Casper, The Witches, and many more. Under its original script, Leprechaun would have been right at home among these titles. Even as it stands now, it almost feels like it belongs more with them than with the outright horror productions of its decade.
There were disagreements between Mark Jones and the producers as to what exactly Leprechaun should be. The producers wanted a straightforward horror piece. Mark Jones thought the idea was inherently funny and wanted it to be at least somewhat comedic. This battle lasted throughout the entire production.
The producers felt that the feature was entirely too tame upon viewing the first cut, so they went back in and added reshoots. These mostly consisted of additional gore and a few extra death scenes. The most drastic change that was added included a policeman that pulled the Leprechaun over for speeding.
What was initially a joke sequence that ended with the little monster lunging forward instead turns into an overly long and elaborate chase scene. This whole scene bogs the movie down and feels just as tacked on as it is. The Leprechaun chases the cop through the woods, teleporting through the trees, eventually clawing his face and then snapping his neck.
Other than this, the additional gore scenes add a bit of punch to the movie, to be sure, so it’s ultimately hard to say who was right, in terms of exactly what the tone of Leprechaun should have been. It might be impossible to determine who was right in the numerous arguments held over this cheap, silly little picture. What is absolutely clear is that it is Warwick Davis who drives this thing more than anyone else. He knows exactly what it should be, and it might have been better if everyone involved had stopped arguing and gone with his example.
The movie went largely unnoticed when it was first released in a small theatrical run. In theaters, by and large, its performance was dismal. But it was a major, major hit on video which was where everyone began to discover the picture and its bizarre charm. While the director and producers never stopped arguing, the video rentals and sales seemed to suggest that they were both right to a degree.
Still, it’s hard to say whether or not Leprechaun would work better as a children’s movie. It almost is, but not quite, just like it is not quite an adult horror comedy. It has strong elements of both, occupying a sliver of space between the genres. That, I think, is ultimately part of its appeal but it’s also why the film feels so disjointed at times. All in all, it’s simple, campy and fun entertainment. It works in its absurdity and even though each subsequent entry in the series is cornier and gorier than the last, I’m grateful for the franchise that followed.