Thursday, November 16, 2017

#2,459. Popcorn (1991)


Directed By: Mark Herrier

Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace




Tag line: "Buy a bag, go home in a box"

Trivia: Director Alan Ormsby was replaced after three weeks of principal photography by Mark Herrier









As a film fan, I can’t help but love 1991’s Popcorn. A late addition to the slasher genre that also dips its toes in supernatural waters, Popcorn pays tribute to the great William Castle, and even has a few familiar faces among its supporting cast. Throw in a rollicking reggae soundtrack (the entire film was shot in Jamaica) and you have a movie that, even when it isn’t perfect, is always a hell of a lot of fun.

To raise money for their fledgling film club, a group of college students follow the advice of senior member Toby (Tom Villard) and host their very own horror movie festival. 

After renting the theater (which is weeks away from being demolished), the students, aided by master showman Dr. Mnesyne (Ray Walston), begin their preparations, knowing full well that the only way they can make the movies (a trio of 3rd-rate sci-fi / horror films from the ‘50s and ‘60s) more appealing is by relying on some William Castle-like gimmickry (electric buzzers in the seats, odor pellets released through an air duct, etc). 

Yet what starts as a good, wholesome bit of merriment quickly takes a dark turn when Toby discovers a short film stashed among Dr. Mnesyne’s props. The movie, made over 20 years earlier by a cult leader / killer named Lanyard Gates (Matt Falls), aka “The Possessor”, contains images eerily similar to those that Maggie (Jill Schoelen), one of the students, has been experiencing in a recent string of nightmares. While Maggie herself finds it all terribly exciting (she’s convinced her warped dreams have the makings of a great horror flick), her mother Suzanne (Dee Wallace) is more than a little worried, and tries to convince her daughter to forget about the festival and leave town altogether. 

What is Maggie’s connection to “The Possessor”, and is she truly in as much danger as her mother believes? The answers to these questions will eventually be revealed, but only after innocent blood has been spilled. 

With its tale of a murderous cult leader who supposedly rose from the dead, Popcorn offers viewers a few supernatural-inspired thrills (the best of which occurs when Dee Wallace’s Suzanne visits the darkened movie theater, prepared to do battle with “The Possessor”). In addition, the kill scenes (which, admittedly, are more creative than gory) harken back to the slashers that were so popular in the previous decade. 

Yet, for me, the strongest sequences in Popcorn are its “films within a film”, snippets from those movies shown during the festival, including Mosquito (a take on the giant bug flicks of the 1950’s), The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man, and The Stench, a Japanese import that relies on a gimmick similar to Odorama. All are cheesy as hell (Mosquito stars a flying bug that’s obviously moving along a wire), but their cheesiness only adds to our enjoyment of them, and I found myself wishing that all three of these mock movies actually existed. 

Along with Ray Walston and Dee Wallace, Popcorn also features Tony Roberts in the role of Mr. Davis, the teacher who helps Toby, Maggie and the others get their horror festival off the ground. As for the students themselves, all are competently portrayed, and most of the movie’s humor is a direct result of their shenanigans (especially good are Elliott Hurst as the wheelchair-bound Leon and Ivette Solar as Joanie, who is secretly in love with Toby). 

And while I can definitely see it grating on the nerves of some viewers, I really enjoyed the reggae soundtrack, particularly the two songs performed by Ossie D. and Stevie G. (a cover of “Saturday Night at the Movies” and a tune titled “Scary Scary Movies”, written for this film). 

Popcorn did have its share of production woes. When the initial director, Alan Ornsby, fell behind schedule, he was dropped in favor of Mark Herrier (though some of Ornsby’s work, primarily the three “films with a film”, did make the final cut); and Amy O’Neill, the actress originally cast to play Maggie, was replaced midway through by Jill Schoelen (as a result, several scenes had to be re-shot). 

Yet while neither of these changes had an adverse effect on the film, the movie’s main plot ("the Possessor" looking for revenge) never gels as it should, and the big twist at the end is revealed way too early (which quickly takes the edge off of it). But with so many other things working in its favor, Popcorn proved to be one of the more entertaining horror movies to emerge from the first half of the ‘90s.







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