Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Popcorn (1991, USA)

Directed by: Mark Herrier, Alan Ormsby
Produced by: Ashok Amritraj, Howard Hurst, Torben Johnke, Sophie Hurst, Bob Clark
Written by: Mitchell Smith
Screenplay: Tod Hackett
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace Stone, Tony Roberts, Ray Walston, Derek Rydall
Music by: Paul Zaza
Cinematography: Ronnie Taylor
Editing by: Stan Cole
Distributed by: Studio Three Film Corporation, RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, Europa Home Vídeo e, Penthouse Films
Release dates: February 1, 1991
Running time: 97 min
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: Unknown
Box office: $4,205,000
Plot: A "Leatherface" type murderer who wears other people's faces, kills at an all-night horrorthon at an old theatre put on by a bunch of film students. Maggie, the lead character, believes it's really Lanyard Gates, a crazed film maker who killed his family live on stage, fifteen years ago. And now he's back to kill his daughter, Sara, who is believed to be really Maggie.

Info: Popcorn is a 1991 American horror film directed by Mark Herrier and written by Alan Ormsby. Ormsby is credited with directing all three of the main films within a film, while Herrier is credited with filming the present-day portions of the film. Popcorn was filmed entirely in Kingston, Jamaica. Alan Ormsby was originally the film's director. Ormsby was replaced by Porky's actor Mark Herrier a few weeks into filming. The original lead Amy O'Neill was replaced by Jill Schoelen at this time as well.

According to John Kenneth Muir, the title reflects a trend in the horror films of the 1990s. There were few colorful titles, none as flamboyant as examples of previous decades such as The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Instead most film titles were generic and simple. Besides Popcorn, he cites titles such as The Guardian (1990), The Crush (1993), The Temp (1993), Hideaway (1995), and Scream (1996). He believes this trend was a result of the studio desire for generic, wide-appeal films.

Muir believes the film itself was part of another trend of the time. Horror films which were both postmodernist films and self-reflective. Popcorn took inspiration from the history of the horror films, from the 1950s onwards. While Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) and In the Mouth of Madness (1995) used metafiction as one of their themes. Muir found the films-within-a-film to be more interesting than the frame story. He found them to be a realistic homage to the low-budget horror film of the 1950s and to the gimmicks of William Castle.

Popcorn original 1991 trailer.

Mosquito has similarities to the films of Jack Arnold. Nuclear weapons testing has caused desert mosquitoes to grow into giant monsters, in a plot resembling Them! (1954) and The Deadly Mantis (1957). The film includes stock characters and situations, such a dedicated lady scientist and the military insisting on using a nuclear weapon to annihilate the monster. The gimmick accompanying Mosquito is a life-sized version of the giant mosquito which slides down a rope above the heads of the film audience. This is a tribute to Emergo, the Castle-devised gimmick accompanying House on Haunted Hill (1959). The original gimmick featured a glowing skeleton sliding down a rope.

The title of The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man seems to be a homage to The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), while the visual style of this film is similar to the works of William Cameron Menzies. It includes influences from German Expressionism, with "exaggerated shadows and menacing low-angles". The accompanying gimmick, "Shock-o-Scope", seems to be a rename of Percepto, the electric gimmick which accompanied The Tingler (1959).

The Stench is fashioned after Japanese film, imported and dubbed for the American market. Its accompanying gimmick is an obvious variation of Smell-O-Vision, the gimmick used in Scent of Mystery (1960). Stranger than them is the Possessor. It features extreme close-ups, and functions as a mix between a snuff film and a product of Psychedelia. Its protagonist Lanyard Gates has similarities to cult leader Charles Manson.

Popcorn 1991 VHS distributed by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video.

The frame story is instead a rather typical slasher film. The killer impersonates his victims through use of masks, and his goal is the performance of a snuff-show in front of a live audience. His motivation lies in a crime of the past which scarred him for life. Maggie serves at the final girl of the film, accompanied by a heroic boyfriend. As to the identity of the killer, the film employs a suitable red herring for misdirection.

Muir observes, however, that the film does not use slasher film themselves as part of its self-reflecting depiction of the horror genre. The characters don't seem aware of the relevant tropes, nor do they seem aware of their presence in a slasher film-like situation. Unlike their counterparts in Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997).

The film includes a scene hinting at supernatural horror, which seems out-of-place in this film and is never properly explained. Suzanne, Maggie's mother, arrives at Dreamland to confront Lanyard Gates, gun in hand. As in response, the letters of the movie threater's marquee fall on the ground and in their place appears a new sign: Possessor. Actually no character in this film, including the killer has the ability to do something like this.

Popcorn featurette Mosquito. The famous blood sucking scene.

Release: The film was not a box office success. Popcorn was initially released on home video in June 1991. Variety reported in 1993 that home video sales equaled $2,043,179. Elite Entertainment released a DVD edition of Popcorn in 2001. Special features include theatrical trailers, TV spots and promotional footage. The DVD was discontinued as of January 4, 2010 and is considered OOP (out of print). A domestic Blu-ray release is planned for release through Synapse Films.

Reception: Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 29% of 17 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 5.4/10. John Kenneth Muir identified two distinct films in Popcorn: one is a smart, postmodern film that "self-reflexively gazes back at genre conventions and gimmickry", and the other a rather derivative revival of 1980s slashers that lacks the self-awareness and intelligence of the more postmodern half. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "the best spoof of its kind since Alligator." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it an "ingenious and spoofy little shocker".

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly rated it B and wrote, "Though it isn't even trying to scare you, this is a very nifty black-comic horror movie, one of the rare entries in the genre with some genuine wit and affection." Richard Harrington of The Washington Post wrote that it "has several good ideas that, unfortunately, go unrealized." Stephen Hunter of The Baltimore Sun wrote, "Popcorn isn't too clever by half, but only by seven-sixteenths. It's so busy being droll and ironic it forgets to be any good."

Popcorn 1991 VHS distributed by  CNR Video (German Release).

Chris Hicks of the Deseret News wrote, "On the whole, "Popcorn" is so amateurish in its development, with pseudo-hip dialogue that drops movie references every few lines, it winds up being neither scary nor funny." Gary Thompson of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote that the film spoofs were inspired, but the rest of the film is much worse. Reviewing the 2001 DVD release, Adam Tyner of DVD Talk called it "a wildly entertaining movie", and Patrick Naugle of DVD Verdict called it "a fun little flick."

Film Facts: The title "Popcorn" was linked to an element in the story. This element was removed before the final cut. The producers and distributor liked the title so it was kept.

This was such a box office disappointment in the United States that in many markets it bypassed first run cinemas and was booked directly into second run/discount cinemas.

First feature film for Movie Partners. Director Alan Ormsby was replaced after three weeks of principal photography by Mark Herrier.

The character of "Lanvard Gates" was very loosely inspired by eccentric Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins.

Popcorn 1991 German original theatrical poster. 

After three weeks of shooting, Amy O'Neill was replaced by Jill Schoelen. Schoelen has said that she did not have much interaction with the cast since many of the scenes had already been filmed with O'Neill and in most cases just needed to make quick re-shoots with Schoelen.

The reason that the teenagers listen only to reggae music is that this film was actually shot in Jamaica.

The "Dreamland Theatre" shown in the film is actually The Ward Theatre in Kingston, Jamaica.

Some of the movies advertised in the theatre lobby are The Tingler (1959), The Incredible Melting Man (1977) and Sólo con tu pareja (1991).

It doesn't get much better than going to the movies. It's been one of man's favorite pass times for decades. There have even been films paying tribute to this experience, like Joe Dante's Matinee. Two years earlier, a low budget Horror film similar to that one was released, but flopped. There are some signs of the troubles during production, but the end result is hardly a failure. Instead, it's a fun and occasionally scary romp that pays homage to cinema.

Popcorn Fright Rags t-shirt. No longer available.

Pros: Dynamite concept. Well acted. Eerie score. Provides a few chuckles. Superb effects. Full of neat ideas. A few really chilling scenes. Quick paced.

Cons: Some of the characters are too underdeveloped. Concept not taken to full potential. Tone a tad uneven.

Final thoughts: It's a shame this film wasn't a bigger success. It's not perfect, but it is a small gem. You can tell the people in front of and behind the camera were into their jobs. Lovers of Horror and film in general should give it a shot.

My rating: 3.5/5

Released by Elite Entertainment. This DVD is considered RARE and OOP (out of print).

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