Tuesday, August 5, 2008
A Frank Review of "Popcorn" (1991)
The Short Version? Castle meets Craven.
What Is It? Horror Comedy.
Who's In It? Scream Queen Jill Schoelen.
Should I See It? Yes.
What a deceptive trailer. "Popcorn" is an anachronistic little novelty. I know I caught it on home video early on, but I could have sworn it was the mid-to-late 80's, not the early 90's. By then, myself and the nation had been pretty well worn out by the avalanche of psycho killers from the previous two decades, so for me in its time, "Popcorn" was a nice change of pace. Two years before "Matinée," this movie delivered a loving homage to the William Castle gimmick flicks of the 1950's-- electrified seats, smell-o-rama... that sort of thing. "Popcorn" is a polygamist marriage of winking throwback, super-lame teen comedy, glossy but mostly bloodless mainstream slasher movie, touches of Dario Argento, and with its reggae from a Jamaican shoot, a touch of the 1986 Robin Williams vehicle "Club Paradise." Taken separately, each of these elements fails, but bound together into a filmic Frankenstein monster, it's hard to hate, if only for its tone deafness. This was definitely an influence on the "Scream" series, if that does anything for you.
The premise is simple-- the heroine is the daughter of a gonzo director/cult leader who perished in a fire while trying to cut down his whole family on film. Now a college student, the girl wrestles with dreams caused by her repressed memories, which she's using as inspiration for a project. Her film class is under-budgeted, so to raise funds, they set up a three movie marathon using vintage props provided by Ray Walston in a cameo. A fourth film from the gonzo director pops up, leading to a new killing spree over the course of the marathon.
The behind-the-scenes drama on this production seems to have been at least as interesting at what made it on screen. Writer/director Alan Ormsby was replaced after three weeks by Mark Herrier, a.k.a. "Billy" from the "Porky's" series. Original lead actress Amy O'Neill, the daughter from "Honey I Shrunk The Kids," was replaced by Jill Schoelen of "The Stepfather" and "The Phantom of the Opera." This might explain why the leads vanish for long stints, leaving undeveloped secondary characters with disproportionately long stretches of screen time. On the plus side, it also means most of the exposition is squared in a handful of scenes, so we're in the theater lickity split. The villain is odd and fun to watch. The movie also has the then-unusual status of being a slasher film for the whole family, as there's no nudity, minimal gore, and not even terribly much cursing. This would be prime material for a PG-13 remake, if it were not a huge box office failure, still among the top 50 biggest second weekend drop-offs of all time.
"Popcorn" isn't a good film, but its heart is in the right place, and I can coast through it easily on period nostalgia. That carries through to the DVD transfer, which is of such low quality as to recall VHS. There are no special features of note.
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