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 into 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 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 was 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 selected movies (a trio of 3rd-rate sci-fi / horror films from the ‘50s and ‘60s) more appealing is by employing some William Castle-style 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 cult leader / killer Lanyard Gates (Matt Falls), aka “The Possessor”, contains images eerily similar to those that fellow student Maggie (Jill Schoelen) 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 not before plenty of blood has been spilled. 

With its tale of a murderous cult leader who allegedly rose from the dead, Popcorn offers viewers a few supernatural-inspired thrills (the best of which occurs when Dee Wallace’s Suzanne visits a darkened movie theater alone, 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 in vogue some 10 years earlier. 

Yet, for me, the strongest sequences in Popcorn are the “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 is obviously moving by way of a wire), but that cheesiness only adds to the enjoyment of these movies, and I found myself wishing these three mock films 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, they 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 (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 (meaning 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 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.

1 comment:

Jake Moore AKA: @RiverCityOtter said...

Dave, Found "Popcorn" just watched & the film really works on many levels. Very enjoyable slice of 1990's slasher era! So glad you reviewed this film & always glad to see more Dee Wallace but Tony Roberts really looked cast fish out of water. Liked quite a bit of the horror sight gags. Not the greatest but fun film I rated 6/10.