Category Archives: 1990s

The Faculty (1998)

*. Back in the ’90s it was the thing to describe every movie like a pitch, as a blend of Movie X and Y (and maybe Z). The Faculty happily adopted this approach, and I think very few reviews avoided calling it Invasion of the Body Snatchers (of whatever vintage) and/or The Thing meets The Breakfast Club.
*. That it should be such a knowing hybrid is no surprise, coming from the pen (or keyboard) of screenwriter Kevin Wiliamson (who had been called in to make a story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel more hip for the target audience). As Kim Newman puts it in Nightmare Movies, Williamson “became the go-to guy for teen demographic terror” at this time with Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Scream 2 (1997) and this film. Before fizzling out career-wise. I mean, he went on to write a lot for TV, but while people still watch these silly horror movies, who watches Dawson’s Creek today? Who?
*. The Faculty is actually a fascinating movie in terms of career arcs. Look at the cast. Josh Hartnett in his virtual debut and before Black Hawk Down, Elijah Wood before The Lord of the Rings, Jon Stewart before The Daily Show, Jordana Brewster before Fast 5 (and counting). Oddly enough, Laura Harris’s career may have been winding down, though she’s very good here. There’s also Salma Hayek, Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Usher, and instantly recognizable character actor Daniel von Bargen. This really was Hollywood High in the ’90s.
*. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, another interesting figure career-wise. Was it all downhill after El Mariachi? Well, Sin City was pretty good. But that’s about it for me. He’s certainly an odd, and probably a poor fit for this material.
*. So a curious blend of people coming up, people at the top, and a handful of veterans in various roles. And it’s also a movie that marks a watershed in terms of its effects, with some decent practical work unfortunately overwhelmed at the end by lots of very shaky CGI.
*. It’s a movie that couldn’t miss, but also couldn’t really work either. It’s just too derivative even for Williamson’s brand of knowingness. Take the roll call of kids: the nerd, the jock, the bitchy hot chick, the new girl, the goth girl, the rebel bad-boy. And yes, the token Black guy. Familiar. Well played, but just not that interesting.
*. Maybe they should have focused more on the faculty. They seem like they might be an interesting bunch. At times they even seem to enjoy messing with the kids. But as with most if not all alien body-snatchers they ultimately don’t have a very compelling story or motivation. Yes, they’re going to take over and then there won’t be any more of the bad feelings that you experience in high school. But just what will life be like? Will we all splash around like dolphins in freshwater lakes and streams? Will the parasitic slugs ditch their human bodies completely? Why keep them?
*. So OK, we’ve been here before. Even the jump from society at large to high school had already been made in the remake of Invaders from Mars. There’s just not enough that’s new here, so it ends up playing more like a rehash than a new interpretation of what’s being sampled. The Thing is obviously referenced in the testing scene and the business with the spider head, but those scenes aren’t done nearly as well as in the original and they don’t add anything new by way of homage.
*. Still, it’s a movie that has its fans. It’s a bit of fun and goes down easy. I wouldn’t say it has a cult following, but it’s a minor favourite that I look at and think should have been something more. Instead of being a mix of this and that it would have been better served if it had a clearer idea of what it wanted to be and stuck to it. But high school is a tough place to forge an identity. All anyone wants to do is fit in and be popular. Maybe the original story had more punch to it, but in Williamson’s hands it settles for just wanting to be liked.

The Puppet Masters (1994)

*. Robert Heinlein’s novel The Puppet Masters has been described as the original SF story of aliens taking over human bodies, but the novel itself was a long time coming to the big screen. Instead we got movies with similar themes made in the 50s like Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A film version of The Puppet Masters was in the works at the end of the ’50s but the release of The Brain Eaters apparently jinxed it, so we had to wait another thirty-five years for this adaptation to arrive.
*. Was it worth the wait? Well, even though it’s largely forgotten today I think this is a darn good flick and a solid, indeed better than solid, adaptation of the novel, mostly faithful but updated in necessary ways that make it both more contemporary and cinematic.
*. Of course, when I say “contemporary” I mean by 1994 standards. There’s a wonderful scene here where one of the military guys holds up a 3 ½ inch floppy disk and tells the war room that “this disk contains every emergency contingency we’ve drawn up dealing with this kind of crisis since 1959.” Well, at least it’s nice to know they did have contingency plans for things like this.
*. I know I’ve said it before many times, but it’s so nice to go back to a time of in-camera creature effects. And I think they came up aces with the aliens here. They remind me a bit of the flying pancakes in one of the original Star Trek episodes (“Operation — Annihilate!”), in that they’re basically rays not slugs, with a whip-like tail they use for zipping around. This makes them a lot more threatening than the creeping terrors in the book or their cognates in The Brain Eaters, who can only crawl around on the floor after being transported in glass jars by their human hosts. They’re also given a bit of an Alien vibe as they come forth from their eggs ready to attach themselves to a host right away. Which made me think, again, of just how influential Alien was, in so many ways. Its fingerprints are everywhere.
*. I want to get back to the script. It’s credited to Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, and David Goyer. Elliott and Rossio went on to write films like Aladdin, Shrek, and I believe all or most of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, so they’re professional hands when it comes to entertainment. They were also fans of Heinlein’s novel and wanted to stick as close to it as possible. The studio was less in love with the novel and wanted something a little more generic. This led to a lot of rewrites, in a process that went on for years.
*. For example, it’s interesting that the head of the studio didn’t like the idea of the aliens arriving by spaceship and instead suggested “spores.” When told this was just ripping off Invasion of the Body Snatchers he then went with having them come back hitching a ride on the Space Shuttle. Which they didn’t go with (they had a spaceship), but which is the delivery vehicle used in The Invasion. No idea ever goes unused in Hollywood, no matter how weak. The “B version” of the script for this movie was actually set on a military base as well, but then Body Snatchers came out and that part had to be changed. You see, people do at least try to be different.
*. One curious divergence from the novel is in the eschewing of Heinlein’s heavy political preaching about the evils of communism. I say this is curious because ever since Don Siegel’s 1956 film the Body Snatchers movies have always invited discussion of their metaphorical meaning, with all kinds of different interpretations as to what the pod people represent in our own time. There’s none of that here. The aliens are just aliens. They don’t mean anything. If there’s a political message to this movie then I missed it completely.

*. Otherwise, the changes the writers made mostly struck me as improvements. Of course, there was no way the nudity of Operation Bare Back and Sun Tan was going to work on screen. However sensible, it just would have just looked ridiculous. It made sense that Sam’s love interest is a scientist and not another agent because the plot didn’t need another agent but it did need someone to explain stuff to us along the way. As for the ending, well, it was a mess in Heinlein too. What they have here isn’t good, but it isn’t any worse, and is at least more cinematic.
*. There are other nice additions too, like the way the host chimps can communicate with the humans by way of typing on a computer. The aliens in this movie have actual personalities, and they’re mean little bastards. They like to mess with people.
*. So the alien that was smart enough to lower its body temperature so as to avoid being discovered wasn’t smart enough to realize that its host walked with a cane and so couldn’t go striding around nimbly without one? Hm.
*. Not a huge budget, and I’m afraid it shows at times. I like the fight in the helicopter at the end, but there’s some shaky blue screen (or green screen) going on there. The mother ship in the basement of the Des Moines City Hall, however, registers as a real disappointment, as it was to Rossio when he visited the set and argued that it wasn’t a spaceship but only “a slime-covered parking garage.” There are some things that you need money to build, and clearly they didn’t have it.
*. Donald Sutherland anchors things as the Old Man. He was quite reliable in roles like this at the time, and I got a kick out of him telling his son “Oh Sam, give it up,” in their fight at the end. Yaphet Kotto is also here, though he just seems to stick his face in the door. Richard Belzer is a wonderful presence, without any dialogue that I can remember. There’s a tradition of roles like that in conspiracy thrillers.
*. The leads — Eric Thal as Sam and Julie Warner as Mary — aren’t household names but she’s attractive and smart and he has a magnificent mane of hair and can take his shirt, and indeed all the rest of his clothes off and not look ridiculous. I was going to praise him for that wide, gaping thing he does with his mouth when ridden by an alien but then I noticed that he does the same thing at other points in the movie when he isn’t possessed. So maybe it’s just something Thal does to show intensity.
*. Director Stuart Orme wasn’t well known at the time, mainly having directed a lot of Genesis/Phil Collins videos. But I think he does well enough, especially considering the genre he was working in and the aforementioned budget constraints. This is a movie that so wants to be an alien-invasion blockbuster but it’s set in Des Moines.
*. It flatlined at the box office, though I remember going to see it when it came out so it got my money. I’ve heard it’s gone on to be recognized as a “good bad movie” but I don’t think that’s right. I’d call it a good little movie that’s only undercut by its aspirations to be something bigger.

Body Snatchers (1993)

*. A word you’ll hear in most retrospective reviews of Body Snatchers is “underrated.” A lot of its muted initial reception had to do with its very limited release by Warner Brothers, giving it a domestic gross of under $500,000.
*. Not everyone underrated it though. Roger Ebert, most notably, awarded it four stars and thought it “by the far the best” of the Body Snatcher films, which was a ballsy call at the time and, despite its growing reputation, still is. But was he right?
*. It’s certainly a more interesting movie than I think you’d anticipate. You can get that much just from the credits. Abel Ferrara was a surprising choice to direct. A story from Larry Cohen and screenplay by Stuart Gordon? It’s indie-o-rama in here. Then Meg Tilly, Lee Ermey, and Forest Whittaker among the cast. One anticipates something different.
*. And for the most part you get something different, though it sticks to the staple elements that worked so well in the past. There’s the atmosphere of paranoia and “is s/he or isn’t s/he one of them?” There are the garbage trucks and dustpans. There’s the point-and-scream, which is here used to great effect in a couple of scenes but is a well they go to once too often.
*. There is also a similar structure to the story: a slow build-up followed by a lot of running around. Suspense turns to action. I think most people, most critics anyway, think the first part of these movies shows them at their best. Danny Peary complained of the 1978 version that “about halfway though it stops being suspenseful,” while Gene Siskel thought it turned into “just another chase story.” That’s also the effect here. I absolutely love Meg Tilly’s “Where you gonna go?” scene and its climactic air-raid siren howl, but after that things do get a lot less interesting and the explosive climax is less cathartic than lazy.

*. It’s a tight production, what Ebert called “a hard-boiled entry in a disreputable genre,” but one that indubitably works. I like how quiet the first part of the movie is, beginning with that obligatory overhead car shot taking us to the military base. A setting where we might expect to find Lee Ermey, but one that also makes us question its significance.
*. There is a question here that can be asked of all the Body Snatchers movies, including 2007’s The Invasion. Horror is a genre that often exploits contemporary social anxieties: radiation (giant monsters), environmental disaster (ecohorror), venereal disease (body horror and the slaughter of promiscuous teenagers), the breakdown of the family (anything by Stephen King). But the Body Snatchers movies, by the very way they insist upon being read metaphorically, resist clear analysis in this manner.
*. Stephen King thought the initial story capable of so many different renderings because it tapped into a primordial well of fear that new interpretations could be layered on: “although the uneasy dreams of the mass subconscious may change from decade to decade, the pipeline into that well of dreams remains constant and vital.”
*. Here’s Ebert again: “The first film fed on the paranoia of McCarthyism. The second film seemed to signal the end of the flower people and the dawn of the Me Generation. And this one? Maybe fear of AIDS is the engine.” Hm. You could debate all of this. But just on the last point, how is this a movie about AIDS? Only if you want to see everything at the time as being about AIDS (Cronenberg’s The Fly being another example of a movie that got so labeled).  If I had to plump for one interpretation I’d guess this is a movie that has something to say about militarism and the way the army turns individuals into killing machines. But even that’s a message that’s made complicated.
*. I guess the most basic point is just the one Jack Finney wanted to make about individualism vs. the group. That’s made more explicit here in Ermey’s speech to Whittaker about the necessary for him to be “conformed”: “It’s the race that’s important, not the individual.” This is a somewhat new idea: earlier pod people had worked together without conflict but there was still a sense that they had individual identities, even without the ability to feel or show emotion. What Ermey is invoking is something more like the Borg Collective from Star Trek: The Next Generation, whose drive to assimilate made resistance futile.

*. The Borg were first introduced in 1989 so they’re worth mentioning in this context, but what do they, or the pod people here, represent? Commies? By this point the Cold War was over and the Wall had fallen. So, cult members? Groupthink? Corporatism? Was a loss of individualism such a pressing anxiety at this time?
*. I like the effects and the dark, formal, and rigidly posed photography. I like the cast. Terry Kinney (I had a hard time placing his face, but he was a regular on Oz) looks overmatched by his wife even before she’s transformed. We know he’s not going to be up to the job. Meg Tilly, “the woman who replaced your mom,” is wonderful. I love how, in the big scene that I mentioned, she’s the one trying to calm Kinney down as he goes into hysterics (“that’s right, that’s good, you’re listening now, that’s very good, I know you’re frightened, I know you’re scared, that’s OK, I understand that you’re confused”). Billy Wirth already looks like he’s an alien, doubling down on the ambiguity these movies revel in. Gabrielle Anwar projects as smart, and as vulnerable as a girl who looks like she weighs about 70 pounds would be.
*. The chances still are that you don’t know this movie, unless you were around at the time. So it remains underappreciated, if not underrated. And while I wouldn’t call it the best of the series it does full credit to the franchise and stands out as one of the better horror efforts of this period.

Animal Farm (1999)

*. I made the point in my notes on the 1954 Animal Farm that its style of animation was very much of its time. The same might be said of this adaptation, directed by the Academy Award-winning veteran effects man and former head of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop John Stephenson. Stephenson had, most notably, done the effects for Babe (1995), which this movie will immediately put you in mind of.
*. Orwell’s novel is a classic, both dramatic and accessible. Stephenson was an obvious choice to direct. The cast was all-star, with Pete Postlethwaite as Mr. Jones and the voice of Benjamin the donkey, Peter Ustinov as Old Major, Patrick Stewart as Napoleon, Kelsey Grammar as Snowball, Ian Holm as Squealer, Julia Ormond as Jessie (an Australian shepherd), Julia Louise-Dreyfus as Mollie, and Paul Scofield as Boxer (his final film role). Whew! Add to that a budget of $22 million, a fortune for a TV-movie, and you should have really been expecting something great.
*. Those expectations, alas, are cruelly dashed. This version of Animal Farm is awful.
*. It’s not too hard to say why. The story is trashed even worse than in the 1954 version, which at least had the excuse that it was being financed by the C.I.A. In this movie we get a subplot added involving the relationship between Mr. Jones and Pilkington (and Pilkington’s wife) which I thought totally unnecessary. A narrator is added in the form of the aforementioned Jessie, an animal not in the original. Napoleon’s canine praetorians have disappeared, to be replaced by a Rottweiler, while there aren’t enough pigs to constitute a social class. The ending is changed, again, to something a lot more upbeat, indeed uplifting.
*. I don’t think any of these decisions work, or add anything of value. Another new wrinkle, that has the pigs producing Stalinesque propaganda films, is another such novelty. At least in that case I could say it was kind of interesting, even if it was an idea that, like the other creative decisions, didn’t make sense. I also didn’t think the all-star voices were very apt. Stewart does well enough as the tyrant, foreshadowing his later turn as Macbeth, but he’s the only one who I thought passed muster.
*. I was thinking of writing more about this, but there’s no point. Given the talent involved it’s a huge disappointment that seems to have gone off the rails right from the planning stage. Save your time and go back and read Orwell.

Critters 4 (1992)

*. Or, Critters in Space. But since space is where they came from in the first place, and the alien angle was always kept in play in the other movies by the presence of the intergalactic bounty hunter Ug, going off-planet isn’t as big a jump as it would be in other horror franchises of the time, like Hellraiser: Bloodline, Leprechaun 4: In Space, and Jason X. But it’s also only fair to give the little furballs credit for being the first horror franchise I can think of to make this transition.
*. In my notes on Critters I mentioned that it was a movie made out of horror clichés but that nevertheless still worked. That’s the case again here, though I don’t think it works quite as well. Basically this movie is riffing off of Alien. Charlie has been frozen in a pod along with some Critter eggs, and is found floating in space by the scruffy crew of a salvage ship. They bring the pod on board and then head to a corporate space station to collect a finder’s fee. When they arrive at the station, however, it is deserted, and its nuclear core is melting down as the Critters hatch and go wild.
*. That’s a fair bit of plot to get through in just a short movie, and there’s actually more to it than this. There are also other borrowings, like a trip to a trash bin that’s modeled after the one in Star Wars. Indeed, there is so much going on here that I couldn’t follow it all. What was the significance of the experiments being done to create a bio-weapon? Did that relate somehow to bringing the Critters to the station? I feel like I missed something there.
*. While not as good as Critters or Critters 2, I at least thought this a better effort than Critters 3. What’s curious is that this movie follows as a direct sequel from Critters 3, even beginning here with the final minutes of the previous movie. But despite this connection, and the fact that they were filmed at the same time, this one feels completely different in tone. The comedy is almost all gone, and even Ug has turned into a bad guy. A transformation he only explains by saying that “things change.” Indeed they do.
*. Still, there are a few things that bring this up a notch from what you might expect. There’s one slightly gory kill, notable because the series has never gone for gore. There’s Angela Bassett and Brad Dourif as crew members. There’s an AI named Angela that only those of us with memories of early Windows operating systems may fully appreciate.
*. So not as bad as I was expecting, though I was expecting something very bad indeed. A horror classic it ain’t, but at least I didn’t have to suffer too much in hitting for the cycle.

Critters 3 (1991)

*. “Starring Leonardo DiCaprio in his film debut.” So says the DVD box, making the most of this movie’s sole selling point. At least I can’t think of any other reason someone would be drawn to it.
*. Leo was 16 years old. Cary Elwes had been offered the part of Josh (“don’t call me Joshua”) but turned it down. I guess neither of them suffered any lasting effects to their careers from their decisions.
*. A star is born? It would take a keener eye for budding talent than I possess to have seen it. It’s not much of a part, and to be honest I don’t think he stands out in any way. Aimee Brooks as Annie totally outshines him. But there’s no telling how these things are going to go.
*. “You are what they eat.” I’ve mentioned the passing of a golden age of tag lines before. This one is pretty good.
*. There is little to detain us here. The basic idea wasn’t bad, with the Krites (nobody actually calls them Critters) hitching a ride from the sticks to the big city. Specifically a run-down apartment building run by Joshua’s mean step-father. The Critters proceed to terrorize the remaining residents of the building while engaging in the usual gremlin-style vandalism. The only returning character is Don Oppel’s Charlie, who again saves the day.
*. It’s hard to think of anything good to say. It’s a very cheap movie, and looks it. It’s not funny or scary. When the Critters run wild one of them drinks a bottle of dish soap and starts blowing bubbles. Another eats a whole pot of beans and begins to fart. That’s the level of the humour. There are no interesting twists like the giant Critterball at the end of Critters 2. Instead there’s just the usual stuff. They even throw in the old horror bit, which I think got started with Psycho, of coming up behind someone who’s seated in a chair, only to find out that they’re a corpse.
*. Shot simultaneously with Critters 4, which it leads directly into by way of a painfully protracted end-credit sequence that breaks off with “To be continued . . .” Could there have been anyone who cared?

Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996)

*. By saying some nice things about Leprechaun 3 I hope I bought myself a bit of credit for being fair-minded. So believe me when I say that with this next entry in the Leprechaun series it’s obvious that they were totally out of ideas. The Leprechaun himself (a still game, if floundering, Warwick Davis) doesn’t even have any rhymes left. Instead he can only make lousy one-liners, like crushing one victim with a cargo container and saying “Smashing! Simply smashing!” or asking another who is hanging over a ledge “Do you like hanging around?” In short, he’s turned into a little green bore. His riff on Richard III is the only highlight, and it doesn’t reach very high.
*. Add to this a pastiche of clichés and borrowings. There’s a ship full of space marines with oversize weapons. They (the marines) go by names like Sarge, Sticks, Lucky (the first to die), Mooch, and, of course, Kowalski. There are some nods to The Fly (the original and the Cronenberg version) that fall flat. The climax has the survivors running around the ship trying to get off before the autodestruct counts down to zero (a device that was already so old it creaked in Critters 4). Then the Leprechaun is destroyed (for now) by being blown out an airlock.
*. As with so many catastrophically bad movie this one tries to do too much. Yes, we’re lost in space. But all the sets look like the inside of your local paintball or laser-tag tent, and you can even see where the actors’ marks have been taped on the floor. They had a good idea at the end where the Leprechaun is supersized, but the effects are so poor it’s ruined.
*. It’s hard to overstate just how stupid all this is. And not in a good way. There’s a totally gratuitous, and appalling, scene where the character of the sexy princess flashes her boobs. But then I guess turnaround is fair play so the beefy hero has to take his body armour and his t-shirt off when he gets nicked in the shoulder. And then, just to finish things off, the heroine has her pants ripped off by the spider creature so she can play out the final scene in her underwear. Please. And of course they have matching wounds on their arms, which is where every hero gets wounded, don’t you know. But they ain’t got time to bleed.

*. None of it makes sense. Why are they still trying to save the princess after she’s just tried to kill them? Why is it so important that they get to the bridge to talk to the guy who’s trying to disable the autodestruct? Just so they can brainstorm together?
*. Woeful acting. A worthless script. The idea of launching horror franchises into space became a bit of a thing around this time, with Hellraiser: Bloodline sending Pinhead into space around the same time and Jason X going the same route a few years later (I think the aforementioned Critters 4 actually got this trend started, but can’t be sure). Apparently here the inspiration came from just wanting to do a spoof of Apollo 13. Because why not? Didn’t that seem like a movie ripe for this kind of treatment?
*. Sure you can find people out there who enjoy this one for being so bad it’s good. I sure didn’t. Even most of the leprechaun folklore has gone. This leprechaun doesn’t care about shoes, and even his gold is an afterthought. He also doesn’t have any weaknesses like iron, or a clover, or a medallion. Basically he’s invincible, and he knows it. And you know what that means. More movies!
*. Well, how could things get any worse?

Leprechaun 3 (1995)

*. Reviewers were quick and by my rough reckoning universal in panning this third instalment in the undistinguished Leprechaun franchise. Indeed, they really put the critical boots to it. But I wonder what they could have been expecting. The first two movies hadn’t been good. This was the first of the series to get a direct-to-video release, which was a pretty clear heads-up that they didn’t think they had anything special to offer. So as not-good as Leprechaun 3 is I don’t see how anyone could have been disappointed enough to hate it.
*. The alternative title, Leprechaun 3: In Vegas, tells you all you need to know about the plot. Yes, once again the little fellow is after his gold and willing to do anything to get it. Except for some reason he doesn’t talk about his gold this time. Instead he keeps referring to his shillings. Did they actually mint gold shillings? I don’t think these are British coins he’s after, but I still wonder.
*. There are other changes in store as well. I mentioned in my notes on Leprechaun 2 how the leprechaun folklore is kind of vague, allowing for a lot of freestyle improvisations that may not have any basis in whatever record is being kept of these things. In this movie a handy CD-ROM (go ’90s!) lets us in on some relevant background like the fact that leprechauns really like potatoes, which is odd since potatoes an Old World crop and the leprechauns in these movies are either 600 or 1,000 years old. Then there’s a medallion introduced that the Leprechaun is afraid of for some unspecified reason (in the first film it had been a four-leaf clover). And finally it also turns out that if you get bitten by a leprechaun you turn into one. Or at least some people do. Good to know.
*. Given the quality of the first two movies I think your expectations should be kept low, as mine definitely were. And so I wasn’t disappointed by Leprechaun 3 at all. In most respects I think it’s better than Leprechaun 2. I say this for two main reasons, one general the other specific.
*. To begin with the general: a lot more is made in this movie of one of the coins being able to grant whoever has it a single wish. Since we’re in Vegas here that’s perfectly fitting, as this is a town that’s all about dreaming big, and then having those dreams blow up in one’s face. So time and again people get what they wish for only to have the rug pulled out from under their feet. Except for the final victim, whose wish never seems to have been granted at all. Either I missed something there or the writer/director had just grown tired of the idea.
*. The more particular point follows from this. There are a few decent kills that are, though crudely produced, at least imaginative. A sleazy casino owner is electrocuted by a sexbot that comes out of his TV. A woman who wants a makeover gets an extreme version leading to explosive results. A magician falls victim to one of his own tricks gone wrong.
*. This is all to the good, and I’d add that the cast are above average for this tier of entertainment as well. Warwick Davis considered this to be his favourite of the Leprechaun films and he does look like he’s having fun. Caroline Williams does a nice turn as the player with low self-esteem. Lee Armstrong is easy to watch bouncing around in her sexy magician’s-assistant costume. John Gatins and John DeMita are expendable, but manage to stay just this side of being awkward and annoying.
*. So it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I’d say it was quite a bit better. But of course it’s not a good movie. As you could say at pretty much any time with this franchise, this should have been the end. Alas, what happened in Vegas wasn’t going to stay in Vegas. Next stop: the final frontier!

Leprechaun 2 (1994)

*. Not all bad. A step down from Leprechaun, to be sure, but not a complete piece of crap. There are actually a few interesting ideas here.
*. They wanted Jennifer Aniston back, and offered her the princely sum of $25,000, but she was already working on Friends so that ship had sailed. I guess Ken Olandt was busy too, so instead we have Shevonne Durkin as Bridget and Charlie Heath as Cody. They’re not A-listers, which means they fit in pretty well here.
*. Warwick Davis did come back, but is he the same leprechaun as in the original movie? He’d said there that he was 600 years old, but here he’s celebrating a wedding that apparently occurs only once every thousand years. So while he’s a leprechaun he may not be the leprechaun. If that even matters.
*. The plot is just a bit of stupidity about the Leprechaun (I’ll capitalize it here, as I don’t think he has a name) marrying a girl if she sneezes three times. I don’t know if that’s real leprechaun lore or if they just made it up. There seems to be a lot of leprechaun lore that’s new here. Instead of his weakness being four-leaf clovers he’s now undone by iron. But like I say, maybe this is a different leprechaun.
*. I mentioned some interesting ideas. Unfortunately they’re left underdeveloped. There’s a good kill when the jerky guy thinks he’s going to kiss Bridget but instead he’s kissing a pair of lawnmowers. Alas, we never actually get to see the big mulch, or even its aftermath. But the concept was neat. There’s also what seems to be a convention of little people in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day that nothing is done with. Again, it’s a good idea but it doesn’t pay off. The only thing it leads to is a shoehorned reference to Freaks.
*. Otherwise this is pretty much a dull second chapter, typical of most cheap horror franchises. It was the last of the series to get a theatrical release but still looks like a straight-to-video title. The Leprechaun’s home, for example, should have been more of a fun house. Instead it’s just a really boring set.
*. Given the Leprechaun’s character as a magical trickster it’s a shame that after two movies he had yet to crack a single good line (or rhyme), and there’d been almost none of the Nightmare on Elm Street-style surrealism you’d expect. A tiny hand coming out of a phone is the only example here, and that’s just stealing straight from Freddy.
*. So, as with the first film, not as bad as it might have been but still failing to live up to the character’s potential. As the luck of the Irish would have it though, he’d be given many more kicks at the can.

Leprechaun (1993)

*. I have one distinct recollection of seeing this movie on its theatrical release nearly 30 years ago. There’s a scene where the Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) drives a tiny electric car into a pick-up truck and knocks it on its side so that it rolls all the way over and back up again. A guy sitting somewhere behind me in the cinema yelled in exasperation “Oh please! Be real!
*. I can understand what he was objecting to, but it’s a tricky point. I mean, this is a 600-year-old leprechaun with various supernatural powers, including teleportation and incredible strength (he tears the door off a police cruiser with his bare hands). So what does it mean for such a movie to “be real”?
*. I think it just meant that, while the Leprechaun has magical powers, the laws of physics still apply in most situations, and that if he’s going to use a mechanical tool, the toy car in this case, to achieve a certain result it has to be able to achieve that result on its own. Now obviously such a car would simply bounce off a truck, not send it into a roll, which was in turn offending these rules.
*. The bigger takeaway, however, is that by this point in the movie the audience had already given up on Leprechaun. It was obviously a Very Stupid Movie that was meant to be heckled. And coming out of the cineplex I think we all agreed it was just terrible. I wasn’t eager to renew my acquaintance with the little man in green. But, on this the first time I’ve been back to take a second look, to my surprise I rather sort of liked it. It’s still a terrible movie, to be sure, but it seemed like a harmless bit of fun.
*. It didn’t start out that way. Apparently writer-director Mark Jones had just wanted to do a horror film but Davis lobbied for more humour. Then some parts had to be re-shot to make it gorier for the target audience. The result is a bit of a tonal mess, but there were a number of movies occupying the same ground at the time. Jones admits being influenced by Critters and I was thinking of Arachnophobia while watching it. Not really funny or scary then, but at least something different than the usual slasher murder rally.
*. You can tell it’s not the usual slasher right away because these are all sympathetic characters. We don’t immediately want to see any of them get killed. And indeed all of the major characters will survive (the movie has a total body count of only four, which is a tally you’d expect Jason to hit in a pre-credit sequence). It’s harder than Disney, but it’s not hard.
*. After a long intro/credit sequence it’s ten years later and we kick things off with . . . an overhead/aerial car shot! I’ve wondered before about where this became obligatory in horror movies. I also wonder if directors are even conscious of borrowing it (from The Shining?), or if it’s just become a reflex.
*. Introducing Jennifer Aniston, who would be embarrassed by it in later years. I don’t know why. Everyone gets their start somewhere. Scarlett Johansson got her break in Eight Legged Freaks. Charlize Theron? Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest. Which is the same discount franchise that introduced us to Naomi  Watts in The Gathering. Leonardo DiCaprio’s debut was Critters 3. These things happen. I mean, Ken Olandt co-stars as Nathan here, a more buff version of Kevin Bacon wearing a wifebeater and a tool belt. I even thought he was Kevin Bacon the first time I saw him. And what was one of Kevin Bacon’s first roles? A soon-to-be-corpse in Friday the 13th. You see? Everyone starts somewhere.
*. OK, being critical I have to say there isn’t a single funny line or good kill in the entire movie. But Aniston is watchable and the evil little guy is amusing with his obsessions over his gold on the one hand and shining everyone’s shoes on the other. This was a character with a lot of potential: a trickster with a bag of gold and a heart of pitch. Unfortunately he doesn’t get a lot of help here from the script, relegated to repeating the same dull catch phrases, and not sounding terribly Irish either. What’s even more depressing is that his potential would largely continue to go unrealized for another seven movies (as of this counting). And all he ever wanted was his gold!