Popcorn (1991)

The Premise

Popcorn bills itself as horror comedy. The first few minutes lean heavily on the horror side as it opens up with a fever-dream that would make Dario Argento blush. It’s a lurid, uncomfortable, introduction that features a man with a sacrificial dagger looking to plunge it into a young girl named Sarah.  It’s um…kind of fucked up. Luckily, it’s all just a nightmare in the main character’s mind. We’re introduced to Maggie and apparently this whacked out shit happens to her on the regular.  In fact she finds it fascinating and decides it’s going to make a great film!

Before the viewer can gather their wits about them the film promptly whisks them away to the fledgling Film Department of University of California Oceanview. Naturally, the department is struggling to survive. An influx of cash is direly needed. This leads to one the program’s students, Toby, concocting a plan that revolves around recreating a 1950s style horror movie marathon. Um, just go with it OK.  

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What follows is the film department, which apparently only consisted of roughly seven students and one lonesome professor, bringing this horror-a-thon to life. What could possibly go wrong?  If you guessed that Maggie’s fucked up dreams were merely a twisted premonition that was waiting to come gnashing and clawing into her world like some unholy rebirth then give yourself five bonus points!

The horror movies are projecting, the crowd is a buzz with energy, the snack bar is open, and the killings are about to begin.  It’s time for some Popcorn!

The Appeal

Popcorn is reminiscent of the 80s vampire flick, Fright Night. That movie was part Hammer Film homage and part 80s special effects spectacle. Popcorn mimics this formula like a younger sibling just dying to be as cool as it’s older brother. This time we’re getting homages to the 1950s and 60s cinema craze. Specifically, the gimmick and prop laden affairs of William Castle. Mr. Castle was infamous for rigging theaters with all sorts of sensory gadgets and monsters that helped immerse viewers in the horror experience. He was essentially creating cinematic fun-houses. Yes, it sounds incredible and I’d give anything for this to make a comeback.

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The all night horror marathon in Popcorn is similarly staged with the film students getting into costumes, rigging the seats with buzzers, and having monstrous props appear during the films. Part of Popcorn’s appeal is watching the college kids set this all up with pomp and glee. If you as the viewer aren’t jealous of this horror movie marathon then you’re dead to me. Still, much like Fright Night, Popcorn’s final act descends into practical effects madness as light is shed on it’s mysterious villain. It’s a formula that works surprisingly well, and one I’d like to see copied more often in the horror genre.

Final Thoughts

Popcorn was a rare sought after horror gem of the 90s. Until recently it remained unavailable on DVD or Blu Ray, but Synapse Films has brought it back into the limelight. I’ve spent most of my internet years, as a horror fan, seeing people clamor for Popcorn’s release. I’m still in disbelief that I actually own a copy. I think some horror junkies are bound to be disappointed with the film’s insane cult status. Set your expectations accordingly as Popcorn features a low body count, zero nudity, and very little in the way of gore. Also, please don’t mistake it as a generic slasher film. However, if you know what to expect, then what you will find is one of the better horror films of the 90s that is filled with spunky energy, great performances, and horror movie homages.

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Our heroine, Maggie, is played by 80/90s mega-cutie, Jill Scholen, and she is simply marvelous. In fact, the whole cast is game for whatever gets thrown at them…especially the mysterious villain. Without spoiling it, the antagonist’s completely over the top, go for broke, performance is what cemented my adoration for Popcorn.

I think a big part of what makes this movie work is it’s unique premise that pays respect to the classics while successfully making its own mark. In a way, Popcorn reminds me of a horrific version of another 1990s film: Matinee. Both films are love letters to a bygone era of movie theaters. If you’re a film historian who is hip to the films of William Castle, or you are old enough to remember a time when going to the movies was an actual event, Popcorn will tug at all your nostalgia soaked heart strings. It’s a unique and energetic film that is, thankfully, once more available to horror fans.

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