[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 8 – Popcorn (1991)

Director: Mark Herrier
Cast: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace, Derek Rydall, Malcolm Danare, Ray Walston, Tony Roberts
Screenplay: Alan Ormsby
91 mins. Rated R for strong violence, and some language.

I remember fondly the days of wandering the local video store, seeing the VHS poster art, and wondering what existed on the video tape. One of the videos I desperately wanted to view but couldn’t (as it was always out) was Popcorn. At this point, I’m under the impression that the video was stolen but management never found out.

A group of college student filmmakers are set to hold an all-night horror movie marathon at a rundown movie theater in hopes of raising enough money for their various projects, but a serial killer begins offing viewers as the films play, and he may have supernatural connections to a cult leader filmmaker looking to complete his long-unfinished work.

Popcorn’s title and poster do little to explain the plot of this movie, so I pretty much went in blind, and I may be speaking from a level of emotional connection, but I loved this movie. I grew up admiring the works of William Castle (the famous gimmick king of horror who is heavily-homaged through the various movies playing at the marathon), watching the MonsterVision marathons, and heading out to the classic cinemas that would cater to these types of events, so this film hit all my buttons. I love that it avoids the trappings of slasher films until necessary, seemingly styling itself as an 80s teen comedy. Once lulled into that false sense of security, the film kicks in with silly gags and goofy kills. It became a celebration of the types of films it lampooned.

The cast is full of newcomers and veterans, who do a lot of the heavy lifting. Dee Wallace (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Cujo), Ray Walston (Popeye, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), and Tony Roberts (The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three, Serpico) get essentially glorified cameos in the film, but they help to solidify the material, allowing Jill Schoelen (The Phantom of the Opera, The Stepfather) to lead. Schoelen misses some of the chemistry with her cast mates, which is understandable given she replaced another actress three weeks in (the same is true of Alan Ormsby, who was directing), but she’s capable enough. The real standout is Tom Villard (My Girl, Heartbreak Ridge), who plays the lovable and tender Toby. We should’ve gotten more work from Villard, but sadly he passed away due to AIDS-related illnesses just a few years later.

Mark Herrier had to step in as director after the movies-within-the-movie were shot, and he had a lot on his plate as a first-time director, but he handles the material’s tone quite well, never straying too far into camp or despair. He keeps the film light and fluffy, like its titular snack.

Popcorn may not have anything to do with the movie (apparently it was tied to something more meaningful in a previous draft), but it evokes the kind of movie you’ll be seeing. It’s popcorn entertainment, a film you can watch while you gather around with your friends, some greasy and salty snacks, and enjoy together. Bet on who dies first, and enjoy yourselves. At the time of this review, you can finally find Popcorn streaming on Shudder. You won’t regret it.

-Kyle A. Goethe

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