The Film: Popcorn

The Principles: Jill Schoelen, Dee Wallace, Tony Roberts, Ray Walston and Tom Villard. Written by Alan Ormsby. Directed by Mark Herrier.

The Premise: A group of college film students decide to put on an all-night horrorthon at an old theatre to raise some funds. Maggie is one of the brightest pupils in the class, but she’s been haunted by nightmares that may have something to do with a crazed movie director named Lanyard Gates, who fifteen years ago killed his family live on stage as part of a weird 60’s movie-cult during the premiere of his never-completed film The Possessor. Looks like he’s back to kill Maggie and all of her friends because her mother is responsible for the hideous burns he suffered that night… and she might also be his daughter!

Is it any good: Yes, it’s an excellent example of the last stage of slasher movies from the early nineties before everything got all tame and lame after Scream hit in ’96. The film is very well executed; beautifully shot, features an excellent cast, and above all is a lot of fun. There is not an extreme amount of gore, but the kills are wildly inventive and the make-up effects are awesome. The screenplay by the talented Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Cat People) is a fairly fresh gothic-themed horror story that’s very ease to sink into.

The plot centers on a lovely young film student named Maggie (Jill Schoelen) who’s been having some vivid nightmares lately about a bearded weirdo. Her teacher (Tony Roberts) and fellow classmates have decided to raise some extra cash by throwing an all-night horror film festival at an old theatre that’s about to be demolished. They enlist the aid of Dr. M (Ray Walston), an eccentric proprietor of the local movie memorabilia shop, whom hooks them up with a wide array of monster movie props and gags.

The films shown in the horrorthon are based on William Castle styled productions from the 50’s and include a black and white atomic creature feature called Mosquito in 3-D, in which the students rig a giant mosquito to fly across the audience on a wire during a pivotal moment. In one of my favorite kills in the movie, the slasher via remote control impales a victim with it. There’s also a movie called The Amazing Electrified Man that utilizes the old The Tingler trick of electrifying the audience with specially rigged seats, except that the voltage used in this movie looks extremely high and quite painful. It is also used to kill one of the more annoying and unattractive students, when the killer hooks him up to the power board and fries him alive during the movie. Lastly, there’s a dubbed Japanese monster movie called The Stench that is presented in Aroma-rama! These faux features that are shown throughout the movie really add some wonderfully creative flavor that makes this film a cut above your average slasher.

This brings me to what I believe to be my favorite thing about this film: the location! Popcorn is a horror movie made for horror movie fans. The idea of setting the action during a horror movie all-nighter is brilliant and adds an extra dimension to this slasher that makes it very unique. The atmosphere is sublime to say the least. Also, the plot and design of the film has a really gothic style that’s sort of like a B-movie version of The Phantom of the Opera mixed with a little Freddy Krueger.

The killer is pretty damn creepy, too! His skin has been completely burned off, but he makes masks of his victims’ faces and along with “vocal harmonics” can become anyone he’s murdered. This adds a nice House of Wax touch!

Now I have to talk about the cast because it’s pretty darn impressive. First off, the survival girl is the raspy-voiced brunette hottie Jill Schoelen who horror maniacs know and love from her work in The Stepfather and (ironically) Robert Englund’s 1989 remake of The Phantom of the Opera. She’s at her sultriest here as the tormented coed who could possibly be the killer’s daughter (!). Her mother is played by the ultimate eighties-genre-movie-mom Dee Wallace, who is typically great as usual. The film teacher is seventies Woody Allen regular Tony Roberts, who has the pleasure of being in my favorite death featuring the aforementioned mosquito prop. Ray Walston (Mr. Hand!) shows up for a brief cameo as Dr. M and steals the movie for a bit. Finally, I’d like to mention the late character actor Tom Villard, who I loved in the 80’s teen-comedies Surf II and One Crazy Summer. He plays one of the film students and his character goes through a sudden change towards the end of the film. He does a brilliant job of switching from comic relief to disturbingly creepy that’s very impressive. And he does it while covered with tons of latex, too.

Is it worth a look: It’s a fresh stab at the genre before slashers became generic and unoriginal, so yes I think you should definitely check it out. Bottom line is you’re going to have fun, because that’s what it is. One of the reasons why this and so many other one-hit wonder slashers were so freaking great is because they weren’t made with the thought of building a franchise. They were made because the filmmakers wanted to make a good movie. Pop up some popcorn and watch it with the lights turned off cuddled up to someone warm.

Random anecdotes: The character of the crazed horror director Lanyard Gates was inspired by the eccentric Brazilian filmmaker Jose Mojica Marins – also known as the insane “Coffin Joe” to his hardcore fans.

Cinematic soul mates: The Phantom of the Opera, The Burning, The Funhouse, Candyman and Demons.