Popcorn (1991)

Directed by: Mark Herrier and Alan Ormsby (uncredited)
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Dee Wallace Stone, Derek Rydall, Tom Villard, Tony Roberts and Ray Walston
Runtime: 91 minutes
Release Date: February 01, 1991
Home Video Release:  Synapse Films, March 7, 2017, DVD/Blu-ray combo Collector’s Steelbook Edition

A feverish dream sequence opens POPCORN with images hinting at cult sacrifice.  Film student Maggie Butler (Jill Schoelen) wakes, scribbling notes about her recurring dream to incorporate the ideas into a script for her student project.  Over a hasty breakfast, Maggie discusses her plight with mother Suzanne (Dee Wallace Stone) who has recently started receiving threatening phone calls regarding past indiscretions.

On the way to class, Maggie runs into boyfriend Mark (Derek Rydall).  He’s most interested in getting busy with his attractive girlfriend Maggie, but she rebuffs his advances saying she needs to concentrate on her script.  As they join their motley crew of classmates, we find the film department is trying to raise funds and build awareness for their efforts.  Student Toby D’Amato (Tom Villard), supported by Professor Davis (Woody Allen regular Tony Roberts), proposes an all-night movie marathon showing old horror films that feature audience engagement gimmicks.  The abandoned Dreamland Theater provides the perfect location, allowing the students to pull together decorative memorabilia, prep the theater and promote their film festival.

Buried in a chest of props, they find a short film reel featuring an independent film entitled The Possessor.  They screen the film, only to find a seemingly experimental film featuring moments from Maggie’s dreams.  Professor Davis explains that is was produced by Lanyard Gates, a madman who led a film cult in the 1960’s.  The Possessor was Gates’ crowning achievement, an open ended short that concluded in a live stage performance of Gates killing his family in an attempt to impress the harsh critics.  Gates’ efforts were thwarted, saving his daughter only after he murdered his wife, and burning down the theater in the process.  Gates’ body was never recovered . . .

The box office draw for the event is successful, attracting a large crowd and providing the backdrop for murder, mayhem and mystery during the festival proceedings.  POPCORN delivers a straightforward horror experience that would set the stage for the horror trends of the 1990s, all the way down to the single word title of the film.  It takes the framework of a 1980s slasher and complicates the narrative with delightfully inventive self-referential details that keep the audience firmly engaged.  Most of the young actors are attractive, competent, and deliver distinguishing performances, keeping things lively before a potential untimely demise.

In addition to The Possessor, we get the additional films-within-a-film Mosquito (in 3D with a giant bug gag), The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man (featuring “Shock-o-Scope” in the seats of the audience), and The Stench (with the self-explanatory “Odorama”) interspersed throughout the film festival.  Alan Ormsby directed these short films before being replaced by director Mark Herrier, giving POPCORN a unique back and forth attributed to the distinctive styles between the two, juxtaposing serious moments against an overall lighter tone.  All the shorts are well integrated into the main plot, adding flavor without distraction (a feat even more successfully executed by Joe Dante for 1993’s MATINEE).

POPCORN has an interesting background extending beyond rotating directors (as detailed extensively in the Blu-ray’s special features).  One of its key financial backers was Century Films Jamaica Limited, leading to filming in the island nation’s capital of Kingston.  The Jamaican influence provides an interesting tone once it is drawn to your attention and is most notable in the soundtrack and performer extras filling out the audience for the film festival scenes.  This isn’t a bad thing, but avid movie viewers will probably pick up on the vibe fairly early (even if the reggae band for the festival’s entertainment isn’t a dead giveaway).

About the Synapse Films Release:

  • All Region / playable worldwide
  • Brand-New 2K Scan of a 35mm Interpositive Vault Element
  • All-New Blu-ray 7.1 Surround Sound Mix Supervised by Synapse Films (Original 2.0 Stereo Mix also Included) – limited to 3,000 steelbook editions
  • 5.1 Surround Mix Included on DVD
  • Audio Commentary with Director Mark Herrier, Stars Jill Schoelen, Malcolm Danare, and Special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls
  • MIDNIGHT MADNESS: THE MAKING OF “POPCORN” featuring interviews with Director Mark Herrier, Stars Jill Schoelen, Derek Rydall, Dee Wallace, Malcolm Danare, Ivette Soler, and Elliott Hurst, Special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls, Composer Paul Zaza, and Distributor Executive Jonathan Wolf (55 mins, HD)
  • Electric Memories – An Interview with Actor Bruce Glover
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Television Trailer and TV Spots
  • Still Gallery
  • Liner Notes from Michael Gingold
  • English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  • New Collector’s Edition Cover Design by Justin Osbourn/Slasher Design

Final Thoughts:
POPCORN may not have hit the mark at the box office upon its initial release, but it has thrived on home video with a growing cult audience appreciating its interesting and somewhat offbeat delivery.  It’s a very good looking movie that throws a lot of compelling detail at a fairly simple premise.  The ride is what counts here, not the final destination (which most people will see from miles away).  Synapse Films delivers an amazing package for a film that deserves to be seen by horror fans seeking a more traditional murder by numbers experience, practical effects and a film that designates an interesting pivot point for the genre itself.  The extras are also generous and informative.

Are a fan of POPCORN?  How do you feel this film stack up against the more meta/self-referential tide noted with the later release of Wes Craven’s SCREAM (1996)?  Share your thoughts below and in our BBandBC Facebook Group.

Contributed by Drew Beckmann