Review Date: September 17, 2001
Released by: Elite Entertainment
Release date: 7/31/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Interactive horror movies are one trend I missed that I wish I had been around for. It wouldn't matter if it was a William Castle "ramalicious" spook bit or a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show
(yes, folks, I'm ashamed to say I never did the Time Warp in a broken down old theater). I have been reduced to vicariously imagining what it must have been like to share space with other horror movie fanatics while prop monsters whizzed over our heads and deviously implanted buzzers shocked us out of our seats at the scariest moments. Popcorn
takes place during one of these horror marathons. Although it is truly just another crazy killer on the loose story, it is the setting that makes it more appealing than other derivative slasher flicks.
Maggie (Jill Schoelen), a film student at the University of California - Oceanview, has been having bad dreams. Her nightly visions consist of a longhaired Charles Manson type hippie pursuing an unknown young girl named Sarah with a sword. Although the dreams are disturbing, Maggie halfheartedly welcomes them. The story unfolding in her mind will make a great screenplay. Her mother, Suzanne (Dee Wallace-Stone) seems more concerned about the dreams than Maggie herself.
Maggie's real world is fortunately more lighthearted than her time spent in golden slumber. A group of her fellow film students are planning a fundraiser in the form of an all night "Horrorthon" modeled after a William Castle fright fest, complete with promotional gimmicks. This festival promises to pull out all the stops, including 3-D glasses, "Odorama" nose guards and signed waivers removing the coordinators from liability in case of a heart attack. Featured (fictional) films are Mosquito in Super 3-Dimensional Projectovision, Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man, incorporating the obligatory seat buzzers, and a Japanese import called The Stench in Amazing Aroma-rama. Borrowing props from Dr. Mnesyne's (Ray Walston) movie memorabilia shop, the group gets busy setting up the abandoned Dreamland Theater for the elaborative, interactive event.
In the process of organizing the event, someone discovers and plays an old film reel titled "The Possessor", a disturbing short involving extreme ocular close-ups and eerie mantras that is instantly recognizable as Maggie's nightmare materialized. The history of the film turns out to be equally alarming. Lanyard Gates, an avant-garde filmmaker in the '60s, had a hobby of dropping acid and lensing psychedelic, nonsensical films that mostly involved surreal close-ups of himself and his buddies. Audiences who had the unfortunate task of sitting through one of his screenings could not take his films seriously and laughed through all of them. This drove old Lanyard right over the edge; "The Possessor" was his swan song and revenge. He filmed the entire movie save for the ending. Then, at the screening, he proceeded to kill his entire family live on stage, all except for his daughter Sarah. She was saved by her aunt, who shot Lanyard and inadvertently started a fire that consumed his body and several innocent bystanders. Where did this mayhem take place, you ask? At the very same Dreamland Theater that is soon to host the UC-Oceanview Horrorthon.
The fun doesn't stop there. On the night of the Horrorthon, everything seems to be going off without a hitch. Large crowds show up to purchase tickets to the festival. Film reels are locked and loaded. Props and actors alike hit their cues with rehearsed precision. Audience members decked out in their Halloween best hoot and holler at the screen with enthusiasm. However, someone has taken it upon himself to remind everyone of the horror that was the Possessor. Members of the unsuspecting theater group are picked off one by one by methods perfected in the B-movies splashed on the silver screen. One is gored by a flying mosquito prop with an unusually sharp proboscis, another is poisoned by the noxious and not entirely harmless gas emitted at the height of The Stench, and a poor wheelchair-bound student is electrocuted at the chair-buzzer controls during the climax of The Amazing Electrified Man
. Has Lanyard Gates come back from the dead to complete his unfinished business? Was he ever dead at all? Or, worse still, is it some other madman copying Lanyard's work for bizarre reasons of his own? The answer will shake up Maggie's knowledge of her family tree and prove that sometimes it works to hide in plain sight.
Popcorn was written by Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things
) under the pseudonym Ted Hackett. In retrospect, this 1991 movie is the predecessor to the Scream
trilogy and other wink-wink horror homages penned by writers like Kevin Williamson. Like those films, Popcorn
pays tribute to horror movies of yore just by virtue of its rowdy movie theater setting and focus on old movie props and posters. Steven Spielberg, Citizen Kane, Indiana Jones
and George of the Jungle
are examples of some of the names and titles dropped to elicit knowing grins from Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers alike. There has been some backlash against those types of tongue-in-cheek horror films. With the exception of Scream
, I myself have participated in that backlash mainly because the pop culture references only served as nice packaging for a bland story and mediocre villain. Popcorn
does not contribute a new iconic baddie to the horror history books. In fact, the killer is a rather unimpressive, comically insane cross between the Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Phibes. However, I can't deny that Popcorn
is a very cool homage to horror past.
Old horror movies weren't the only thing Popcorn
made me reminisce over. Remember the days of horrible old EP videos? Chalk it up to Elite to present this movie exactly as we remember it as rented from our neighborhood Mom and Pop video store: grainy, murky and almost unbearable to watch. I've seen home movies that were of higher quality. This transfer is unacceptable in the era of digital technology.
Popcorn is presented in 1.85 anamorphic widescreen. Important note: when I initially sat down to watch this DVD, I was frustrated when it appeared on my TV screen in 16x9 mode. If this happens to you, there is a quick fix. Be sure your DVD player's TV mode is set to 4:3 letterbox, not 4:3 pan and scan. Some players have the capability to automatically adjust themselves to play at the correct aspect ratios. Mine is not one of those. If you have a similar player, that quick adjustment should fix the problem and will save you the aggravation of watching the movie in a wretched full screen transfer.
Considering how bad the picture is, I approved of the Dolby 2.0 mono audio. It's certainly nothing to write home about, but I can't completely denounce it either. Although the rear speakers don't get much, if any, use, the cheers and jeers of the audience come through clearly and are nicely delineated from the rest of the movie's sounds. There are good bass tones, and music and dialogue are audible and well balanced.
The only extras available on this disc are the original theatrical trailer (which is slightly misleading, making us believe the Possessor is the film's killer!) and seven 30-second TV spots. By the time you're done watching all of them, Popcorn's tag line ("Buy a bag, go home in a box") will be cemented in your head with the tenacity of It's a Small World.
For all its faults, I really liked Popcorn
. I guess I'm a sucker for tongue-in-cheek entertainment that utilizes pop culture allusions to embellish a story. When I understand the implications of an obscure reference, it makes me feel like a member of some secret club. That's probably why I liked Scream
and why I continue to watch The Simpsons
after 10 seasons. I highly recommend this movie for what its worth: a fun retrospective of horror movies put together by fans of the genre.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - D
Sound - C
Supplements - C
- Running Time - 1 hour 31 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- 12 Chapter Stops
- Dolby 2.0 Mono
- Original theatrical trailer
- Seven 30-second TV spots