Thursday, September 10, 2009

Popcorn (1991)

As part of my continual quest to find the perfect horror movie I stumbled across Popcorn (1991) a while back while flipping through titles such as The Beast Within, The Mangler, and Cannibal Holocaust. It has a pretty impressive cast loaded with veteran genre stand-outs like Jill Schoelen (Cutting Class, Curse II, The Stepfather), Dee Wallace (Cujo, The Howling, The Hills Have Eyes) and Kelly Jo Minter (Nightmare on Elm Street), and, like most decent slasher films, it has a great back story: insane filmmaker Lanyard Gates in an act of defiance against his detractors creates a movie with a live ending that includes the slaughtering of his entire family on stage which ultimately ends in the theater burning to the ground killing everyone inside. Brilliant! So I thought that I’d plunk myself down for a nice evening of gratuitous nudity, gore and off-color humor that the movie seems to have promised. Let me interrupt for a second to say that popcorn as a food is horrible. It is bland, smells awful, and gets stuck in your teeth (if you’re lucky enough to still have teeth after gnashing them down on a petrified un-popped kernel). Totally useless and annoying. Unfortunately, Popcorn (the movie) lives up to its name.

The plot of the movie is great. A group of theater students need to raise money to keep their department afloat. So what brilliant fund-raising scheme do they come up with? Auctioning off props from old productions? Selling celebrity autographs? Bake sale? Prostitution? Nope. How about restoring a burnt-out theater for an all night horror movie marathon? Oh yeah! I can see the bodies piling up already. O.K., maybe the plot doesn’t make too much sense since the theater restoration would undoubtedly cost more than the ticket sales for a one-night horrorfest, but this is supposed to be a horror film not Good Will Hunting after all. It turns out that this horror movie marathon is possibly the only good decision that the producers of Popcorn actually made. The movies that are featured are an homage to a bygone era of moviemaking. Creature-features like “Mosquito”, “The Stench (filmed in Smell-o-vision)”, and “Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man” are all throwbacks to the 50’s era films made by William Castle such as Macabre, The Tingler, and 13 Ghosts, and are absolutely the types of shows that are only likely to be seen today on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Son of Svengoolie or Joe Bob Briggs reruns. The coeds attempt to recreate the same gimmicky movie-going experience complete with electrified seats, nurses giving fake injections to out of control patrons, gag-inducing smell-o-vision, and a giant remote control mosquito that hovers menacingly over the audience.

The movie has a distinctly 80’s low-budget slasher flick feel complete with bad editing, grainy filming and plot discontinuities. It has all of the ingredients that it needs to slip delightfully into being a great exploitation flick, but sadly for some reason it never reaches that desired grindhouse status. Admittedly, the production of the film was fraught with problems including switching directors and lead actors midway through filming. But every fourth-grade fan of the genre knows how to solve any problem with production of a horror film: more nudity and more gore, bitches! If you pile on the dismembered corpses and nude coeds and pepper in some distasteful jokes all will be forgiven. Sadly, the makers of this film must not have gotten that memo. As it stands, I seriously doubt that Popcorn even warrants an “R” rating.

However, somehow almost inexplicably the movie is still watch-able, which I attribute to the way the cast, directors, producers…well, anyone involved in the film, really… seems to not take themselves too seriously. I mean, the villain is played by the sincerely goofy Tom Villard (One Crazy Summer), and the best piece of acting in the whole film is from a one-minute cameo appearance by Ray Walston (Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgemont High). Popcorn also has probably the worst closing scene to a horror movie ever, which is saying something. Plus, there is a montage in the middle of the film as the students restore the theater, and you can never go wrong with a montage. Can you? Anyway, the saving grace of the whole picture is the hat-tip the horror films of the 50’s which (even though they distract the viewer from the plot) take on a persona of their own and act as their own character in the film. Also, the near total lack of gore, sex and suspense make Popcorn probably the only slasher movie in history one can watch with the whole family, but I highly doubt the uninitiated will have the patience to sit through the entire thing.

1 comment:

TJ said...

Seriously, even the subtitle of the movie is family oriented. "buy a bag, go home in a box."

Great review, as usual, Dan. and I have to agree with you. I loathe popcorn.