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You have to be careful with fantastical creatures, especially when you want to mess with their meaning. For example, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard can get away with crafting a killer unicorn for their brilliant horror deconstruction The Cabin in the Woods because, well, basically because they have the fanboy backup to support such a switch. Besides, the whole entire movie was about debunking terror tropes so why not a one horned horse with a taste for blood. Something similar happens in the weird monster movie Red Clover. If you haven't already guessed, this is a low budget fright flick that wants to take on that fabled Irish imp, the leprechaun, and turn him from a Frosted Lucky Charms loving pot of gold guardian to a wicked demon with a vendetta against a small American town and a thirst for familial revenge. Granted, we've already seen the wee mythological being belittled by dread during the sometimes entertaining Leprechaun franchise. Now, we're supposed to take this new Jeepers Creepers like entity seriously, even when the rest of the experience is constantly wavering between camp and crap.
Karen O'Hara (Courtney Halverson) loves to go out hunting with her goofy Grandpa Pops (William Devane). She has no idea that, eons ago, her little Louisiana town was tormented by an actual, real life leprechaun that demanded some kind of mystical payoff less it go on a gratuitous killing spree. Finally, an old book gives the populace the means of exiling the being to another dimension, yet Karen accidentally releases it when she picks a random red clover. Now, her Sheriff daddy (Billy Zane) is stuck mopping up the many odd deaths that ensue, and while his father tells him it's a leprechaun, Sonny Boy policeman will have none of his BS - that is, until he sees the creature himself. Before you know it, it's a race against time as the O'Haras try and find a way to conquer this beast once and for all before it completes its sacrificial murder cycle and spirits Karen away...FOREVER!
For the most part, Red Clover (originally released as Leprechaun's Revenge) is a rote, by the numbers monster movie. It's a throwback to the days when creature features just needed a monster and a premise to have the drive-in audience necking like crazy. It's not very good when it comes to scares, but it makes up for it in oddball characterization, even weirder casting, and a nice level of local color. Sure, the end result feels like a ghost story stunted by its own lack of imagination, but there are moments when you find yourself actually involved in the narrative and with the characters. Some of this comes courtesy of director Drew Daywalt. With several shorts to his name and a clear eye for what's inherently spooky, we get sequences that suggest what this movie might have been had it stuck to a less traditional treatment. The monster itself is fine. It does tend to look like a reject from a Peter Jackson Tolkien adaptation, but for the most part, we can believe its evil overtures.
Everything else though is a bit of a mess. Devane, clearly recognized a steaming pile of schlock when he sees it, does his best to walk through his role with minimal investment. He's good because he doesn't care. And then there's Zane who appears to be doing an imitation of Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols circa Welcome to the Monkey House. Until he's required to play hero with his onscreen daughter, you keep waiting for the moment when he breaks out into a chorus of "We Used to Be Friends" or "You Were the Last High." As our lead, Courtney Halverson is decent, if not really definitive. We expect a bit more from someone who has to (a) convince her community of some outrageous paranormal pretense, (b) accept the backlash when those in the know try to discredit her, and (c) take up the mantle of he-man when all else seems to fail. She's not bad, per se, just less than iconic. We need a Ripley, not some routine young lady. In fact Red Clover could use a whole lot more electricity. When it does finally spark, we settle in for a b-movie good time. When it doesn't, we drowse.
For those of you who enjoy fawning, self-congratulatory commentary tracks, Red Clover has got one that will really fulfill your needs. No offense to Mr. Daywalt, Mc. Halverson, and F/X artist Jeff Farley, but this is a grade-Z near miss, not a forgotten frightmare masterwork. Still, anyone who gets to express themselves in the medium of their choice deserves a chance to crow, so this review won't take that away from the trio. Besides a trailer, that's all the added content there is. As for sound and vision, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen is decent, but it's definitely not reference quality. There are moments of stutter and times when the lack of a high definition transfer really shows. On the aural side of things, the Dolby Digital 5.1 offers some minimal ambience, but it's not significantly better than the 2.0 Stereo mix. No need to worry about which you select, your home theater will get a near identical workout from each.
As with most things horror, the original Leprechaun franchise is supposedly getting a reboot, that wisecracking little elf with an evil streak that size of the Emerald Isle bound to make his victims suffer through the same level of bad humor that infested the first stab at this series. At least Red Clover doesn't go for the obvious laughs. Instead, it's giggles are unintentional, and unfortunately, plentiful. Still, this is worth a Rent It, if only because it does a decent job of trying to rework an already established idea for a post modern macabre audience. It doesn't always succeed, but when it does, you can understand what drew everyone to the project in the first place...beside a paycheck.
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