Title: Popcorn (1991)
Director: Mark Herrier/Alan Ormsby
Cast: Tom Villard, Dee Wallace Stone, Jill Schoelen, Kelly Jo Minter, Ray Walston, Tony Roberts
Popcorn is one of those films that celebrates the act of going to the movies with your friends; the joy of watching some cheesy, half assed and unintentionally funny b-movie at your local theater as the pop corn flies through the air and the crowd cheers at the screen as it watches a film through their red and blue tinted 3-D glasses. Oh the fun of watching a movie with a rowdy audience! Popcorn also pays its respects to that time in cinemas when certain film producers marketed their films through the use of gimmicks. One particular producer from the 50’s was famous for promoting his films this way, his name was William Castle. For example, for his first self produced film entitled Macabre (1958), Castle would give you a thousand dollar life insurance that a family member of yours could cash in case you died of fright while watching the film. He also stationed nurses and hearses outside of the movie theater just in case! These gimmicks proved to be successful and Macabre went on to be his first self produced hit. Other films with equally interesting gimmicks followed, for example for The Tingler (1959) starring Vincent Price had one of the most interesting of all these gimmicks. In the film, there’s a creature that attaches to your spinal cord and comes to life whenever you show fear and dies only when you scream in terror! So Castle rigged theater sits to vibrate during the most terrifying moments in the film, as Vincent Price’s character hollers from the screen “Scream! Scream for your lives!” Needless to say, everyone in the theater was screaming at a given point in the film. God what I would give to be one of those lucky people who got to see these movies this way! But alas, all we have today are films that pay homage to that bygone era. For example, the film I’ll be reviewing today entitled Popcorn.
In Popcorn we meet a group of film school students who discover that their university has just cut the budget for their film class, so in a desperate move to find funding for their film class, their professor organizes an all night horror film festival to show three classics horror films that used gimmicks to promote themselves. One of the films is called ‘Mosquito’ and on that one, at some point in the film a giant mosquito will hover on top of the crowd. Then there’s ‘The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man’ in which at some point in the film, theater seats are rigged to give audience members a harmless jolt of electricity! The final film of the night is called ‘The Stench’ and on that one, odors are released into the crowd that would go in accordance to what is happening in the film. The students hope that the gimmicks will draw in the crowds. So, one day, while preparing the theater for the festival, the group of students stumble upon an old film canister, unbeknownst to them the film held within is called ‘The Possessor’ a film that was made by a cult leader (and filmmaker) called Lanyard Gates. The Possessor is filled with grotesque imagery that somehow resembles the nightmares of one of the film students! How could this be? How can she be dreaming about a film that she’s never seen? The mystery unravels as the all night horror film festival marches on!
So that’s the basic premise for Popcorn, and while it has been used before, I must admit it’s a pretty nifty premise for a horror film. I’ve always loved that idea about a cursed film; last time I saw that premise played out was in John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns (2005) which was also about a cursed film called “The Absolute End of the World” a film supposedly so horrible, so frightening, that simply watching it triggers madness, chaos and death. We also got a similar story in The Ring (2002). On Popcorn the film is called ‘The Possessor’, and it was made by a filmmaker who doesn’t take criticism very well. As a slasher Popcorn functions well, though lovers of gore will be displeased with the fact that many of the deaths on this film are bloodless, though that doesn’t mean they are any less effective. With the villain in this film, the filmmakers were aiming to create another great horror icon, akin to Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. The character was played by Tom Villard, an actor who normally played nerdy characters in such films as One Crazy Summer (1986), it's very interesting how on Popcorn he is playing against type. This was to be the only film in which Villard got a first billing role; unfortunately, the film never took off; it was not a box office hit. Still, I see this film as one of the last bastions of the 80’s horror scene, because even though it was released in 1991, the film retains that silliness, that goofiness that I love so much from films of the 80’s. This was a horror film of the 90’s, but with an 80’s sensibility to it. For example, there’s this scene in which suddenly, right smack in the middle of the horror festival, the projector stops functioning! Of course the crowd goes nuts! So what do the organizers of the film festival do to quiet down the crowd while they fix their technical troubles? They bring out a Reggae band! So suddenly the horror festival is a reggae concert? Ha! How nuts is that? Then again maybe that scene has something to do with the fact that the whole film was shot in Jamaica?
The way I see it, Popcorn is kind of like the horror version of Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993), another film that pays homage to the era of films promoted with gimmicks. Both of these films pay homage to William Castle and his special brand of film marketing. Cool thing about Popcorn is that while it is a love letter to those old 50’s and 60’s horror films, at the same time it mixes things up and becomes an 80’s slasher, so basically, it’s like a mish mash of two different eras in horror film history, and speaking of mish mashing, to me Popcorn felt like someone took all those old William Castle films, Sam Raimi’s Darkman (1990), Bad Dreams (1987) and The Phantom of the Opera (1943) put ‘em all in a blender and hit puree! My only gripe with watching this movie is that the image quality on the dvd was piss poor. This was a bad transfer all together, the sound was terrible, the image was grainy and dark…a proper release is in order. I managed to enjoy the film anyways, because I know the film isn’t supposed to look this way, all I kept thinking was how much more I could be enjoying this flick if the transfer had been properly handled. I hear the folks at Elite Entertainment might be releasing this film on a special edition Blue Ray soon, let’s hope it looks better than the dvd I saw.
One of the films within a film 'Mosquito'
Popcorn was half way directed by Alan Ormsby, the writer behind such classics as Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1973) and Cat People (1982). Ormsby was responsible for the film within a film segments of Popcorn, that’s right, he’s the guy behind the films they are showing at the horror festival, which by the way are a trio of entertaining segments, a highlight of the picture. The rest of the film was directed by Mark Herrier, an actor who appeared on films like Porky’s (1982), Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983) and Porky’s Revenge (1985). Popcorn was Herrier’s sole directing gig, I honestly can’t imagine why he got this gig though, besides to short films he made, he had no previous experience in directing feature films. I guess this was his one and only chance to direct a feature film, unfortunately, it failed at the box office. So anyhow, that’s the deal with Popcorn my friends. While not an entirely original concept and not an amazing film by any standards, Popcorn remains an enjoyable watch, a forgotten curiosity of 90’s horror before 90’s horror tried being “hip and cool” with films like Scream (1996) and I Know What You did Last Summer (1997). If you’re a horror fan, you’ll get a kick at all the little nods to old horror films, like for example, in the film, posters of classics like The Tingler (1959) and The Incredible Melting Man (1977) are prominently in display in the theater lobby! At the same time, Popcorn displays an 80’s horror slasher vibe to it that I really dug. So there you have it my friends, if you can, search this one out for a night of silly, horror fun! Atrociously bad dialog included! Glad to announce that this popcorn wasn’t stale at all, just remember that in the world of Popcorn, you buy a bag, but go home in a box!
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5