Leprechaun’s Director Looks Back at 30 Years of Four-Leafed Horror

Leprechaun’s Director Looks Back at 30 Years of Four-Leafed Horror

Released in 1993, horror comedy Leprechaun featured a post-Willow Warwick Davis playing against type as the title monster, and introduced the world to a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston. It spawned an eight-film franchise—all of which are now on Hulu—and io9 was excited to chat with Mark Jones, who wrote and directed the first film and created a horror phenomenon in the process.

There will not be a pop quiz, but here’s the full series: Leprechaun (1993), Leprechaun 2 (1994), Leprechaun 3 (1995), Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997), Leprechaun in the Hood (2000), Leprechaun: Back 2 the Hood (2003), Leprechaun: Origins (2014), and Leprechaun Returns (2018). And maybe a ninth film on the way? Read on for our interview with Jones for more.

Cheryl Eddy, io9: If you read anything about the 1993 film, you’ll find stories about how it underwent some tonal shifts as it was coming together, from straight horror to comedy to some gore enhancements. Is that accurate? What was that experience like from your point of view?

Mark Jones: Well, the script went through different drafts. When Trimark said they were going to green light it, I had turned it into some comedy. I had done a kind of a horror thing, but I always wanted the leprechaun character to be something with a personality, so it wasn’t like a slasher movie. The studio kind of resisted as we were prepping, and they said, “Well, maybe we should take out some comedy.” And I said, “No, that’s what’s kind of charming and makes it different.” I wanted it to be a Scooby-Doo live action kind of tone because I used to write cartoons and I wrote [for] Scooby-Doo. So there were a number of comedy scenes that were cut out that I think, you know, there’s a director’s cut out there; we should find [the scenes and add them back]. But I think it was enough of what I wanted it to be that I think the kids liked it. They did find it.

I think a lot of people, once the movie became sort of a cult classic, now they’re saying, “Oh yeah, we [were in favor of] all the comedy.” It was all scripted and all shot, other than about four or five scenes that were cut out. I kept pushing. I would have liked it to have had a little more comedy, and [be more] over the top … there were some inserts of gore, but pretty much it was the tone. They wanted it just a little horrific and make it R-rated, because kids don’t want to go see a picture that isn’t R-rated. It’s funny, even if you’re under 17, you think if it’s not R-rated, it’s going to be for babies. So I was okay with getting an R—but what I think worked was what I kept fighting for, which is don’t take it too seriously. Have fun with it. It’s a fun horror comedy. And I think it prevailed.

io9: You wrote and directed the first film and produced the sequel, but what was your involvement in the rest of the series?

Jones: Happily, just financial and credit. But I enjoyed where they were going; Warwick knew his character. We bump into number seven, Leprechaun: Origins, and I thought that was complete—they didn’t use Warwick. It was a total shift. They wanted to, I guess, do a straight horror and I don’t think it worked as well. [But then] number eight, Leprechaun Returns, was basically a sequel to my first one. They didn’t [have] Warwick, but they used an actor who really did a good job of getting the character, I thought.

io9: What did you think of the direction the franchise took, with the Leprechaun going to space and going to the “hood” (twice)? Do you have a favorite among the sequels?

Jones: Well, probably, again, Leprechaun Returns was my favorite. But I like In the hood and Back 2 the Hood. I thought they had fun with it and Warwick kept the comedy alive. I thought number three in Vegas was kind of interesting. Four, In Space, was a little bit over the top. But some people love that. You know, it’s funny, there are people who [say] number four is their favorite, [or] it’s their least favorite. There’s people who, number one’s their favorite, [and for some, it’s] not their favorite. So, they obviously did enough to please a lot of people. I’m happy it’s going and I think they’re going to do another one, a reboot, that I think is going to be bigger in budget, maybe theatrical. They don’t like to tell me too much because they think I’ll ask for more money.

Leprechaun’s Ozzie (Mark Holton from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and Nathan (Ken Olandt from April Fool’s Day and Summer School) take aim at you-know-who.

io9: Having the whole series on Hulu will definitely help get people excited about it. Are you looking forward to people discovering the series for the first time now that it’s going to have this big platform?

Jones: I think it’s great that they’re doing it. Everybody should take a look at it. Not too long ago, an eight-year-old kid found out I did Leprechaun and he said, “I love Leprechaun! I’ve seen them all!” So eight-year-old kids still are catching Leprechaun that came out, you know, 30 years ago.

io9: Why do you think the Leprechaun movies have such an enduring popularity?

Jones: There is kind of a simplistic coziness to it. It wasn’t trying to be something it’s not. The first one, it was fun and it didn’t take itself too seriously, and I think Warwick is a great part of why. He just was that character. He made it his. He would do things on the set and I would go, “Oh, that’s great, let’s just do that.” And then he continued it. It’s the chemistry—it worked. You can never predict why, and it surprises me, very happily, but who knew after we did the first one—I was hoping it would just go to video and make some money. I didn’t think there would be two, and three, and four… but I’m very happy because I love the character and [it was the first movie I directed]. So that’s always special.

io9: As you’ve mentioned, Warwick Davis brought a ton to that first movie and helped shape the character going forward. But a lot of people know Leprechaun because it stars a then-unknown Jennifer Aniston. What made you want to cast her for that part?

Jones: I’ll tell you simply, we were going for unknowns because we were paying scale. We just needed the right girl to play the lead human. My casting director, Lisa London, brought her in—we saw maybe 30, 40 girls—and when she walked in, my producing partner and I looked and said, “I hope she can act,” because she just had a charisma. She really did. I did not know who she was. She had done a couple of episodes of television, but I did not have any idea. She just was something unique, and obviously I could see it in the room. And she’s now Jennifer Aniston, so it obviously worked. But I remember fighting a little bit with the studio to cast her. Now, if you talk to every executive, they’re going to say, “No, no, we wanted Jennifer from day one.” Well, they did not, which is always funny, but I did. There was something special [about her]. And she was a pro, she knew what she was doing, she had a lot of fun. It was her first movie. At the time, it was a good experience for everybody.

  • Leprechaun is streaming on Prime Video
  • Leprechaun 2, 3, and 4: In Space are on TenPlay
  • Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood isn’t streaming anywhere in Australia
  • Leprechaun: Origins is also on TenPlay
  • and Leprechaun Returns is on Netflix.

Want more entertainment news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and DC releases, what’s coming to cinemas in Australia this year, and everything streaming this month across all platforms. Check out our dedicated Entertainment tab for more.