After enjoying huge success during the 1980s, the horror genre was running on fumes by the early 90s (until getting revived by Scream in 1996). 1991’s Popcorn was one of the films that filled the gap when horror films were beginning to croak and their renewed renaissance.
Popcorn is basically another teen slasher film – maniac running around killing young unsuspecting teens. However, this time that concept almost borders on parody in the world of horror films.
The gimmick here is that the killings are taking place in an old movie theater that is hosting and all-night horror-a-thon. This unique setting is what makes Popcorn stand apart and is a fun entry in the horror genre, especially for hardcore movie fans.
A group of film students are in desperate need of money for support of their school’s film program. Encouraged by their super cool professor (Tony Roberts) they decide to have a horror-a-thon by screening old horror movies and employ all the goofy stunts and promotions that were used back in the day to lure audiences into the seats.
So they set out to renovate an old-style, crumbling movie theater in one of those snappy movie montages everyone loves to do so much. It’s actually a lot of work for them to do this for a one-night only event. But what do you know, the crowds come and the theater is packed up with enthusiastic movie lovers ready for a good time.
The selected films for this night of horror includes ‘The Stench’ in Arom-A-Rama, ‘Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man’ in Shock-O-Rama and ‘Mosquito’ in 3D. It’s kind of ironic that variations on these old cinematic attention grabbers are being employed by Hollywood again in recent years. Maybe Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill would have benefited by being presented in Arom-A-Rama.
The featured 50’s style sci-fi/horror films that play throughout the night are pretty amusing from what we see of them. At times I wished that I could watch them all the way through. They’re perfect recreations of the old cheesy atomic monster and B-movie flicks from that long passed innocent time.
Popcorn is almost a precursor to Scream in a lot of ways. It’s a horror film that references its own genre that the characters are right in the middle of. Plus, the main characters are movie geeks, so they know full well all the conventions that need to happen.
However, unlike Scream, Popcorn never goes as far as it could with the idea and reaches the heights of awesomeness it could have. Because of its low-budget and average quality it was easy for it become another forgettable horror film amongst the pack.
The leading lady is Jill Schoelen who plays the adorable cinema-lover Maggie. This was one of Schoelen’s many Scream Queen-kind of roles she did in the 80s and 90s. She’s kind of got a young Winona Ryder vibe going on. Film geeks are bound to be infatuated with her here. I know I was when I first watched this on HBO late one night in the early 90s. Damn, a cute looking brunette who quotes Indiana Jones? I AM SO THERE!
The cast consists of a few recognizable actors – Roberts, Dee Wallace and Ray Walston who passes through the film pretty quickly. I don’t think he even stops walking. The rest of the cast is made up of anonymous, young actors. There is one or two I remember seeing from other films from this period although I don’t know their names. (Hey, that chick was in Summer School!)
The film does have a lot of drawn out dead space. The majority of it is taken up by the students waltzing around the theater either looking for a fellow student or getting ready to cue up the next stunt for the attending movie audience before – EEK, EEK, EEK. EEK – they’re killed. That’s like a necessity for horror films, but here those sequences are not as interesting or suspenseful as they could have been.
There really isn’t a lot of blood, gore and sex in Popcorn. It seems so innocent today. In fact when rewatching it I started to think of it as resembling a made-for-TV-movie. Some of the dialogue is pretty lousy, some of the actors are dreadful and the characters, other than the villain, are as thin as the movie screen. Even Maggie, our leading lady just coasts through the film in a monotonous kind of bland way.
Popcorn (I just love that title, that’s probably another reason why I remember this flick so well) is definitely not a great movie, but it does have some charm and I just can’t help but enjoy it. The film never gets too pompous and starts to take itself too seriously. It’s a pretty average horror film. It’s not gory, not really that scary, no gratuitous nudity and the motivations of the strange villain who wants to go about theater filling it up with a growing number of victims isn’t that interesting. He kind of resembles Jim Carrey in The Mask.
So why on Earth am I even talking about this flick? Well, because the movie theater setting makes it unique. It’s just a fun place to hang out for awhile until another student gets sliced up.
The whole atmosphere of a movie audience dressed in scary costumes, excited to be putting on their cheap 3D glasses and spend the evening watching some old, bad drive-in movies is really cool. We get a few pop culture references, plus the idea of using old innocent movie stunts as a means to kill has a funny irony to it. Admittedly I might be too forgiving of the movies shortcomings, but what can I do.
Hardcore horror fans and film geeks will probably find the film more entertaining than the average moviegoer. Popcorn is available on Netflix streaming (that’s how I rewatched it). It isn’t available on DVD, except for an expensive out of print disc whose price is really high. I wouldn’t recommend paying the hundred bucks or whatever outlandish price it sells for.
There is talk that it may be re-released with a directors commentary for fans. It has afterall attracted a cult following through the years. It always seemed like a film that was made specifically to become a cult film.
Since Hollywood is remaking every horror film in existence nowadays, I think Popcorn could be one worth an update. If they could find some filmmakers who would actually embrace the love of old movies that the premise plays on and are ready to do some creative ways of dispatching victims during this one big fun night at a horror film festival, a new version of Popcorn could possibly work. It might even be able to improve on the original. Maybe they could incorporate some new cinema gimmicks to create ominous horror. Have movie audiences be forced to eat some gruesome stuff at a dinner-and-a-movie or something.
Until then this film works ok.