Retro Review: ‘Popcorn’

While strolling through the horror section of Black Lodge Video, the cover of a film jumped out at me so I had to rent it. I am so glad I did as it turns out the 1991 horror/comedy Popcorn had the potential to be another by-the-numbers horror flick which stood on the shelves of video stores it ended up being a truly effective horror flick which gave a hearty salute to the genre’s past in the process.

Hoping to host a memorable fundraiser, a high school film club puts on a horror movie marathon in a historic theater they restored. But this theater has a dark history when its previous owner Lanyard Gates went insane and burned to death everyone in attendance of its final screening. Somehow the horrors which happened at the theater are tied to the student Maggie who suffers from dreams about a psychopath who resides there. During the night of the marathon, someone who may or may not be Gates makes his presence known and uses the gimmicks of each film to pick off the students carving off their faces to cover his own horrifically burned and scarred visage. This leaves Maggie as the final girl to finally face her nightmares.

The people in this film were having fun during everything going on and damned if the fun onscreen did not hit me as a viewer. The horror movie marathon of Popcorn was filled with costumes, macabre decorations, William Castle-esque gimmicks, and truly funny riffs on the B-movies be screened. There is even a live band to keep the energy going. Needless to say if the events of Popcorn were real I would attend even if I would be a potential victim of an psycho killer without a face. Director Mark Herrier truly captured some great energy while making this movie and it translates perfectly. In fact he nailed the perfect balance between horror and comedy perfectly as the scary parts are surprisingly effective while the funny parts are genuinely hilarious. The film’s original director Alan Ormsby also got to leave his fingerprints on the flick as he directed the Jack Arnold-inspired movies which screen at the festival.

One of the best qualities of Popcorn is the cast who are filled with endlessly charming young actors who are incredibly likable. Each of them will be easy for the audience to root for and actually feel bad when they are picked off by the eventual killer. Even the known actors like Dee Wallace and Ray Walston who could have easily just gone through the motions for a paycheck actually deliver the goods. Walston in particular is great fun in his scene. Veteran 80’s scream queen Jill Schoelen is particularly great as the film’s protagonist Maggie. As the film’s villain Toby, Tom Villard enjoyably chews up scenery aided by some truly memorable make-up fx.

This is the kind of movie made for horror fans by those who obviously also love the genre. While it was a flop upon its initial 1991 release it deserves to be rediscovered now in an era where the self-aware horror it engaged in is viewed in higher favor. Hopefully, Popcorn will one day get the respect it deserves as so many horror movies of its ilk have in recent years.