If I’m ever asked to name my favorite movie, I’ll usually select Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant 1976 satire “Network.” Certainly that movie has shaped me as much as any film I’ve watched; it is a sharply insightful look at how corporations and corporatist logic govern our modern world, although it’s best remembered today for prophesying the ascendancy of sensationalism in TV news.
Yet while “Network” is without question a great movie and one I tremendously admire, it isn’t the movie I most enjoy returning to. That distinction belongs to a strange little horror comedy named “Leprechaun 4: In Space.”
Since this film defies logical analysis, I’m not going to write a traditional critique. All I’ll say is that, whenever someone lists so-bad-they’re-great movies, “Leprechaun 4: In Space” should always be there, right next to the likes of “Troll 2” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space.”
For those who like to overthink their bad movies:
- This movie has a very obvious drinking game. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith and writer Dennis Pratt make no effort to conceal their movie’s derivative origins. Take a shot every time you catch a reference to another movie, in particular sci-fi and horror films from the ‘70s and ‘80s. If you’re a movie buff, you’ll be sloshed pretty quickly, but if you find yourself faltering there, take a shot when a character brags about how brilliant they are. That’ll do the trick.
- A funny little detail I haven’t seen noted anywhere else: The antagonist is never referred as a leprechaun. Since there is no continuity between sequels in this franchise, each one can be reasonably considered its own self-contained universe, and since Warwick Davis’ character is first introduced to us as an “alien son of a bitch” from a distant planet, we have no reason to assume he is any kind of Earthly mythological creature… such as a leprechaun. He is just an alien who happens to dress, look, and act like a leprechaun.
- In a similar mind-tripping vein, the “leprechaun” may actually be in the right here. The movie’s story begins when a group of space marines invade his homeworld so they can mine its resources and steal his personal property. The leprechaun wrongs a grand total of one person – the Princess Zarina, who he kidnaps so he can coerce her into marrying him. Everyone else he goes after has already tried to kill him and continues to do so, all because they consider him an inferior being. He can hardly be blamed for scheming to take over the universe so he can get a little respect. If “Starships Trooper” (which was also released in 1997, nine months after this movie) can be praised for its implicit critique of imperialism, why not this movie?
- Leprechaun with a lightsaber! The film starts out a bit slow, but things pick up roughly twenty minutes in, when yes… The leprechaun grabs a lightsaber and kills his first victim with it. That’s when things start getting good. Perhaps “leprechaun with a lightsaber” is the opposite of “jumping the shark” when it comes to schlock quality?
- The leprechaun does something very unexpected. I’m not going to spoil it, but suffice to say that everyone who has watched the movie with me has expressed surprise when they see this moment.
- Dr. Mittenhand should be a meme. I have absolutely no idea why this hasn’t happened yet. Guy Siner’s performance as the mad scientist Dr. Mittenhand defies description. It was clearly conceived as a hybrid of Dr. Strangelove and Seth Brundle (aka The Fly), but Siner’s grandiose mugging and histrionic overacting turn it into the stuff of legends. He steals the movie in every scene he’s in.
- The leprechaun’s best kill outdoes “Spaceballs.” I personally didn’t find “Spaceballs”’ shoehorned jab at the chestburster scene from “Alien” to be very funny. When the leprechaun decides to play off of that famous “Alien” moment, though, it actually causes me to laugh out loud every time I see it, especially when one character later remarks that the victim “would have wanted it that way.”
- The sets are reminiscent of “Star Trek.” This is not a good thing, since I’m referring to the original 1960s TV series “Star Trek.” The alien planet looks like a laser tag arena, the CGI spaceship could have been put to shame by PC screensavers from the same era, and the spaceship’s interior could have been built in a high school. Even by ’90s direct-to-video standards, it’s really bad. That said…
- There are genuinely impressive makeup effects here. This movie has a weird relationship with its $1.6 million budget. The CGI and planet exteriors are unjustifiable by that standard, and yet the makeup is incredibly impressive. Props must of course go to the work on Warwick Davis’ so-called leprechaun, but the work on Dr. Mittenhand (in both his iterations) is hilariously over-the-top… and yet oddly effective.
- The movie has some of the most awkward microaggressions imaginable. Because our entertainment incorporates the prejudices of the culture that produced it, one is often forced to wince through tasteless jokes about men in drag to get to the good stuff in a movie. That’s what happens in “Leprechaun 4: In Space,” and it’s an extremely offensive dark spot in what is otherwise a delightfully silly little comedy.
I’ve wanted to write a tribute to “Leprechaun 4: In Space” for several years, but since I’ve been otherwise engaged on St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween for the past few seasons, I figured I’d seize my chance to promote its cause now. “Network” may be the favorite movie that I mention when it comes to what I revere, but “Leprechaun 4: In Space” is about as much fun as I can have when watching a movie. If each of us is only allowed one public guilty pleasure, then “Leprechaun 4: In Space” is mine.