This week’s double feature focuses on Trimark Pictures and two of it’s more popular releases Leprechaun and Return Of The Living Dead 3. Trimark was formed in 1985 and was renown for producing genre themed titles, such as these two, predominately for direct to video release, though there were some theatrical releases such as Peter jackson’s Dead Alive. Trimark merged with Lionsgate in 2000 but, in the 15 years of it’s existence it was quite prolific. I am not a huge fan of either of these two flicks but, they are entertaining and just needed a little bit more skill behind the camera and they could have been something really special, though both have a cult following and certainly pass the time well along with a few brews.
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Leprechaun at no time expects to be taken seriously and while it is obviously a horror/comedy, the mix doesn’t always quite work. The story opens with Daniel O’Grady (Shay Duffin) returning from Ireland and making the outrageous claim to his wife (Pamela Mant) that he has caught a leprechaun and now, with it’s gold in hand, they are rich! But the vicious little fairy creature (a scenery chewing Warwick Davis) has followed him back here to the O’Grady farm in South Dakota, wants his gold back and will kill to get it. After dispatching O’Grady’s wife, the man manages to seal the creature in a crate, locked in with a four leaf clover, and then proceeds to have a heart attack. 10 years later, a single father (John Sanderford) and his daughter Tory (Jennifer Aniston) have bought the house and are fixing it up with the help of a trio of not-so-handymen (Ken Olandt, Mark Holton and Robert Hy Gorman). No surprise to say, the gold is found, the creature accidentally freed and now the occupants and their hired help must battle the murderous leprechaun as he terrorizes them for the return of his stolen booty. Will they make it to the top-o-the morning?
Leprechaun is a silly flick and I get that. I think my problem with it is that at times the humor and horror elements don’t quite mix. Sometimes it is a little too silly for it’s own good. It’s also a little too anxious to exploit the Leprechaun clichés and with a moderately small body count, a little too hesitant to embrace the horror elements. Directed and written by Mark Jones, who did a lot of TV work and a lot of it aimed at teens or young audiences, seems to be holding back when the film needed a more devious and over-the top-hand like a Sam Raimi or Eli Roth. It’s moderately fun, but could have been a real treat in the hands of someone willing to have a much better time with the premise. The film’s FX are mixed, with visuals looking cheap, yet, the gore and Davis’s make-up looking very good. The film does have a TV movie feel, which is probably due to it’s TV veteran director and while it does provide some chuckles, especially watching a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston going one on one with a little critter in a green leprechaun outfit, it just doesn’t really cut loose and run with it’s story and really spatter us with red and green like it should.
Cast performs well enough. Davis is the star and the diminutive actor is the only person who seems to understand exactly the degree of horror and comedy this flick needs. Whether it is slaughtering his prey or, dispensing typical leprechaun shenanigans, Davis is perfectly over-the-top. Maybe he should have directed. Aniston is a cute and feisty heroine and she seems to take her role seriously which helps make it work as well as it does. Olandt is the hunky handyman, love interest and he is fine as that, but the film wisely sidelines him and let’s the livelier Aniston take center stage when battling the nasty fairy creature. The rest are fine including Pee Wee’s Big Adventure’s Mark Holton who plays a sort of man-child house painter that is oddly comic relief in a film that already has comic elements.
To rap things up, I am moderately entertained by Leprechaun, but it’s not a favorite and I think it could have been much better with a far more twisted hand guiding behind the camera and writing the script. There is solid work by Warwick Davis as the title villain and at least the character is dead-on in terms of the proper mix of horror and comedy. It’s fun too, to see Jennifer Aniston…before Friends, Brad Pitt and needless generic rom/coms…as our heroine and it did generate enough interest to produce a series of increasingly silly sequels. Worth a look and could have a bit more impact viewed closer to St. Patty’s Day.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) gold seeking Leprechuans!
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 (1993)
Second sequel to the cult classic Return Of The Living Dead decides to drop the humor and play it’s story straight with some surprising elements of Romeo and Juliet thrown in for good measure. I really wish I could like this more, but a weak middle act really brings it down after a solid beginning and then a really gory and over-the-top finale.
The film starts with army brat Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) sneaking his sexy, rebellious girlfriend Julie (Melinda Clarke, billed here as “Mindy”) into the secret army base his dad (Kent McCord) works at and witnessing a horrible experiment where a corpse is re-animated using the gas from a mysterious metal drum. When Curt’s dad tells him later on that he has been reassigned, Curt and Julie run away, but a motorcycle accident takes Julie’s life. Three guesses where Curt takes her body and what he does with it. Suffice to say, Curt and the re-animated Julie are now on the run, not only from the military, but from a vicious gang of Latinos they have a bad encounter with and Julie’s increasing hunger for human brains. Will true love prevail or will Julie eat the love of her life and anyone else who crosses her path?
Written by John Penney and directed by Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna there is a lot this flick gets right and it’s sad the middle act slows things down and really kills the momentum of this otherwise fun and gory flick. Yuzna is a decent director, but doesn’t have quite the pacing or devious imagination Re-Animator‘s Stuart Gordon had in that classic and the film could have used it for the stretch of time Curt and Julie are on the lam. The set-up is well-done and well-handled, introducing us to both the young lovers and the zombie filled drums from the first flick. Once Julie is re-animated, the couple flee into L.A. and things really slow down as they hide out in the sewers from an army clean-up team and a gang of bad acting Chicanos. A lot of time is spent hanging out in a sewer pump room with a character called Riverman (Basil Wallace) and it’s only when the Latino gang lays siege to their hideout and Julie goes on the attack, with her makeshift body piercings (the pain helps her control her hunger) that the film slams into gear and the gory over-the-top fun begins. From that point on, Yuzna delivers, as we return to the secret base where a rescue attempt to free the imprisoned Julie leads to a zombie breakout bloodbath. And it all works and really well. It’s too bad that the middle of the film is such obvious filler and they couldn’t have padded the time with something more entertaining. It’s like the middle act came from another movie. Back on the plus side, there is some really well done makeup and gore effects and some very inventive zombie designs, as the military is trying to use them as bio-weapons, and it all makes that last act…complete with an oddly sweet and tragic final scene…work really well, as did the opening act setting up the story. But that darn middle act really slows the gears down and keeps this from being a consistently entertaining horror treat.
The main cast are all good. Edmond is a solid hero and believable as a frustrated army brat tired of loosing friends and his feeling of stability, when dad is reassigned. He then does a good job demonstrating love is stronger than brains and guts, as he protects his girlfriend, who is now basically a homicidal monster. Mindy Clark is very good as Julie and once re-animated she does a great job conveying Julie’s confusion, fear and at the same time, hunger and aggression. She really tugs the heart strings when Julie is captured and imprisoned in the army base and it’s one of the few times, outside Romero’s “Bub” in Day Of The Dead, that we feel pity and endearment for a zombie. McCord is solid as Curt’s dad, torn between duty and family and Superman II’s Sarah Douglas gets to play a good, bad girl as the army officer chomping at the bit to take Col. Reynolds’ (McCord) work away from him and proceed with her own gruesome experiments. Basil Wallace also gives us some surprising depth to his Riverman character and he has some nice scenes in the last act. The rest are adequate, thought, I felt the actors playing the Latino gang members were overdoing it, as was the script with the Spanish catch phrases. Do L.A. Latinos really say ‘esai’ that much? Ay! Caramba!
Overall, this is an entertaining enough thriller with a very effective set-up and a really good and gory finale. One that is sadly dragged down by a mid-section that is obvious filler to pad out the running time till we get to that finale. Too bad, a more imaginative and interesting way of making use of that time wasn’t found, as the middle act is simply dull till the blood and body parts start to really flow again. The scenes in and under L.A. lack the energy and imagination of what came before and comes after and it’s a shame. The main cast, especially our leads, are solid and there are some really imaginative gore and zombie FX to go along with a clever way of continuing the franchise, while taking it in a new direction. I really want to like this more, but that flabby middle definitely looses it some points. I still recommend it, if you haven’t seen it and “Mindy” Clarke does give us what might be one of the sexiest zombies on film.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) zombie hotties, though I wish I had it in my heart to give it more.