‘Leprechaun Returns’ Hints at the Future of Horror

Could 2019 see a revitalization of franchise horror?
By  · Published on November 19th, 2018

Horror, more than any other genre, likes to constantly reinvent its popular image. From the Catholic guilt of late ’70s possession cinema, to the slasher boom of the ’80s, and the zombie oversaturation of the 2000s, horror always has its finger on the pulse of society and swings where it’s needed. While other genres do have fluctuating trends over the years, none feel more pronounced than horror. And certainly, no other genre nears horror’s stable of popular villains, spanning decades and seemingly able to be revived at almost any time for a brand new audience.

But a horror franchise’s longevity isn’t merely its inherent profitability, but rather its life-affirming fandom. While box office numbers clearly help influence a studios decision to option sequels, it’s the audiences who are profoundly impacted by the film that give them a second, or even third, life. Creatives can go back to these franchise wells because, like the Universal monsters before them, they have now become timeless.

But unlike its legendary forebearers, whose sequels varied in creative vision, the horror movie villains of the past 40 years have a sole iconic visage that are seared into our collective imagination. I may not be able to tell you when I first recognized Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber, but I sure as hell remember the first time I saw Freddy, Jason, and even Warwick Davis’ titular Leprechaun. Who would have thought that the return of this diminutive horror titan could possibly usher in the next wave of horror cinema?

SYFY Channel just released the debut trailer for Leprechaun Returns, the newest entry in the long-running ’90s franchise. A new Leprechaun isn’t surprising. Only four years ago WWE Studios released Leprechaun Origins, an attempt to skew the character more towards horror than the originals’ comedic roots. What is surprising, though, is just how good it looks.

Watch the first Leprechaun Returns trailer below.

Not to negate the franchise, but Leprechaun has never been top-shelf horror. Low budget and crude from the start, Leprechaun was the perfect franchise for the late night Blockbuster crowd browsing the stacks. While the first two films were released in a very limited theatrical run, the franchise really found its audience on home video. It thrived with five more straight to video sequels, which makes its return straight to your television all the more appropriate.

Despite Leprechaun’s low bar, what SYFY has done is shown utter uncompromising respect to what audiences want from a new Leprechaun film. The treatment they are giving Leprechaun Returns is just the beginning of a plan to rekindle more fan-favorite horror properties, including Critters and Killer Klowns from Outer Space. This is all because SYFY understands its audience and what they want. It’s no accident that the studio who gave us six Sharknado films premiered a movie called Santa Jaws in the middle of summer.

SYFY could have easily given Leprechaun Returns the “Original Picture” treatment, complete with borderline acceptable special effects, any mockbuster director, and a script written soullessly in a flash. Instead, we have practical make-up on actor Linden Porco, who is earnestly honoring Davis’s iconic original performance. We have a script by Ash Vs. Evil Dead writer Suzanne Keilly, who also penned SYFY’s recent marauding mascot movie Killer High. The film will be directed by Steven Kostanski, most recently remembered for his Carpenter-meets-Lovecraft film The Void as well as being one part of Astron-6, the production studio behind Manborg and Father’s Day.

The film follows a group of sorority sisters who are renovating an old farmhouse for their new sorority house. But we recognize this place and its stony, broken well. It’s the same house from the first film, just sans a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston, but with the original’s Mark Holton back as Ozzie! Naturally, the sisters accidentally awaken the Irish monster, who returns to find his gold, eviscerating anyone he may suspect of stealing it. With a leading performance that respects the buckled shoes before him, plus a creative team with a visionary eye and a firm grasp on its humor, SYFY is setting up Leprechaun Returns to not only be a great entry in the franchise, but potentially the best film in the series. And if you couple that with the success of Michael Myers triumphant return in David Gordon Green’s Halloween, fan-focused revitalized franchises have the potential to be a dominant horror trend of 2019. But that’s only if they keep following these standards being set.

As much as horror fans are averse to the concept of sequels and reboots, we are also the first to champion the ones that get it right, like 1990’s Night of the Living Dead and 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes. That’s because as fans we’re surprisingly forgiving, always holding a modicum of hope that the next sequel or reboot will understand all we’re really looking for: a film that recaptures the original series’ sense of fun. It’s why, despite LeBron James not having much of a background in horror filmmaking, we are still over the moon about the possibility of a new Friday the 13th movie because James is a fan himself. A Leprechaun film doesn’t need to be bogged down by a complex narrative or try to offer answers to questions we never had. What it needs is a smartass central antagonist that we can gleefully root for and against as the body count gets increasingly bloodier. I told you it’s a low bar, but it’s one that requires respect to hit. And that respect is evident in what we’ve already seen of Leprechaun Returns.

But how can we come back from the high of Toni Collette’s screaming mad face? Why would we potentially want to regress back to a cycle of sequels after having such an electrifying year of prestige horror films, crackling with imagination and strong messaging? Because horror is a genre that needs balance. For every Paperhouse, we need The Dream Master. With each piece of thought-provoking art, we need a slice of fun shlock to wash it all down. And after a stellar, albeit a bit bleak, cycle of horror films, the genre could use a couple shots of fun. And if Leprechaun Returns is any indication, we’ll be seeing a whole lot of fun in the new year.

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Jacob Trussell is a writer based in New York City. His editorial work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Rue Morgue Magazine, Film School Rejects, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the author of 'The Binge Watcher's Guide to The Twilight Zone' (Riverdale Avenue Books). Available to host your next spooky public access show. Find him on Twitter here: @JE_TRUSSELL (He/Him)