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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Pop Culture Fridays: Leprechaun 6

Sometimes coming across a depiction of massage therapy in popular media can be about as rare as coming across a character with my first name…

I am Kirby Clark Ellis, MMT, BCTMB and this is Pop Culture Fridays!

To celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, this month’s PCF is a look back at Leprechaun 6 (to be more culturally sensitive, I’ll refrain from using the movies subtitle). Leprechaun 6 is a dark comedy, slasher film from 2003 featuring the talents of Warwick Davis as the titular character (whom we only know as “the Leprechaun”). It is also surprisingly one of the few horror films that has any depiction of massage.

Leprechaun 6, just like all other 5 movies before it, follows the plot of a group of adults unknowing stealing gold coins from the Leprechaun, which sets the imp off on a murderous rampage tracking his gold down and taking revenge on those who thieved it away.

This instillation follow the story of the heroine, Emily, in the urban Los Angeles. Emily works at the Beauty Salon as either a cosmetologist or esthetician but is saving money to attend a university in Kansas. Yolonda is her strict boss, a no-arguments, no-nonsense type.

Emily struggles to please a loud customer, Doria. Doria is the type of client with unrealistic expectations (like wanting to look like Julia Roberts) and is known to change her mind mid- service. We’ve all had client’s like this that seem impossible to please.  

Emily is excited when she comes across the Leprechaun’s stash of gold to make a better life for herself and sharing her find with her three other closest friends. This of awakens the dormant evil Leprechaun.

With her sudden gains in leprechaun gold secured, Emily shows up to her last day at the Salon and is arguing with Yolonda about Doria. Emily is refusing to give a massage to the loud client from before, “it’ll take me three hours to rub her down” and threatens to leave.

Yolonda convinces her to stay, reminding Emily of how much she helped Emily through her life challenges and that the Emily she hired always kept her word.

Doria is seen laying Prone (face down) in a massage table, covered with only two towels laid across her back and gluteals. Emily runs out of oil, making unprofessional comments about the client’s body/weight again. Doria doesn’t fully hear Emily’s slight, but insists, “get that Caribbean coconut (oil).”

But as Emily shuffles off to cry in a supply closet, the murderous Leprechaun creeps up on Doria. Face down in the face cradle, Doria screams to Emily, “hurry up, come start rubbing me before I cool down!”

Which is invitation enough for the mischievous Leprechaun to answer her demand.

Now, I have some critiques on the service that The Leprechaun renders, but first; I’d like to talk about what I like.

The Leprechaun begins by blowing his warm breath onto his hands and rubbing them together (in my practice I use a warm towel) but this is an important part of first contact techniques- making sure the hands of the therapists are at least body temperature.

Next, our titular character eases into the work by applying gentle effleurage to Doria’s upper back, whose moans encourage The Leprechaun to keep going. In an interesting choice, he transitions into some tapotement strokes to her right shoulder blades- very rapid repetitions at first, then alternating hacks one hand at a time. Doria exclaims, “this is wonderful, work it!”

And perhaps most shocking of all, The Leprechauns treatment plan shifts into an Ashiatsu session! The wisecracking imp somehow manages to (as if by magic) be standing on top of Doria barefoot over the towels. He compresses each side of her back by slowly walking forward, shifting his weight to one side then the other as he steps closer and closer off the towels and onto Doria’s bare skin toward her neck. He almost slips and falls but is able to regain his balance.

“You’ve got magic in those little hands!” Doria shouts. Which prompts The Leprechaun to give up his charade, “yeah, I’ve always had a way with the ladies.” Scaring Doria going into full on wails of despair!

Finally, The Leprechaun is shown to be proficient in even applying petrissage to Doria’s neck- albeit with far too much force, eventually snapping Doria’s cervical spine and killing her.

Which is as fine a place to start with my critiques as any. A critical skill to develop is control so the depth of pressure and intensity of force applied remains therapeutic instead of being harmful and potentially injurious. The Leprechaun starts off so strong with the effleurage and tapotement strokes.

Although, I wouldn’t be worth my salt as a therapist if I failed to point out that The Leprechaun could stand for a proper manicure and pedicure before working with any other clients. Those talons are waaaaaaaaaay past the appropriate length of the free edge- he’s going to scratch someone bloody! In school, we were trained that if you turn your palms toward yourself, look at your nails, and can see the whites jutting out over the tips- you were due to trim them down.

The Ashiatsu portion shows good form in a less utilized modality of massage. But The Leprechaun fails to follow basic Ashi- safety by standing on the client’s back without Ashi-bars! Those are vital for the safety of both client and therapist- they also allow for more advanced maneuvers like stretching and targeted body regions. Clearly demonstrated by the fact that he nearly falls off Doria and the table before catching his balance.

Let's move on to my critiques of Emily. First and foremost I want to say that it is not clear if Emily is licensed or registered (or whatever other options are available to my good friends in California) as a massage therapist. It is not unheard of for salons to also have space set up for massage therapists to work away from the salon chairs and stations. But we are lead to believe that Emily is either a cosmetologist or (less likely) an esthetician, given her ability to switch between hairdressing and bodywork. The lines of Emily’s scope of practice are grey here – which is also not unheard of- massage therapists will sometimes massage the face, estheticians have been known to offer foot or arm massage, and cosmetologists- who really knows where their scopes end? (I jest) This service that Emily sets out to provide would appear to be outside the scope of practice we know Emily has- The Leprechaun’s service certainly is… maybe he has a massage license.

I’ll also address the use of towels to drape with instead of table linens. I’m not a fan. I know everyone is different and some modalities require towel draping (either by virtue of practicality or tradition). Draping requirements by law are going to differ (or be totally absent) from state-to-state, but in my opinion- good old table linen sheets can’t be beat (especially to help protect the vinyl of the tables!

One more thing before Emily’s most egregious mistake- running out of oil! It happens, we’ve all been there. Sometimes you rush back into a treatment room and forget your massage bottle or holster. Sometimes (although rarely) you might even misjudge how much oil/lotion is left in your pump bottle or squeeze tube. But when this happens, it is a quick and easy fix. A therapist should be out and back in quickly with replenished quantities of massage lubricant. There certainly shouldn’t be enough time for anybody else to be able to sneak in, impersonate you, and give that much of a massage during your absence.

Finally, Emily- as a professional, should know better than to say anything disparaging about a client’s weight or body to anyone! Not to her manager in the doorway, not to a coworker in another room, definitely not in the same room under your breath so the client could here it. Big no-no! I believe in and practice body positivity and shame-free massage. Anybody and everybody is welcome on my massage table. A professional knows that it is not their place to make judgmental comments about their clients. Trust, Compassion, and Respect are necessary for therapeutic work to begin.

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark Ellis, MMT, BCTMB


What about you? What are your favorite (or least favorite) representations of massage therapy in pop culture? Let me know in the comments below.

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