Hey, I think this might be a first: a cult film about a film cult.
Before we tear into all that, let me double-check the bill for this schlocky late night fright-fest fundraiser. Leading the way is Mosquito!, presented in Project-O-Vision. The 3D is so vivid that you’ll feel as if you could reach out and touch one of those colossal bloodsuckers! Oh, wait. You can! If the dazzling visual effects in The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man don’t do it for you, the Shock-O-Scope jolts from underneath your seat sure will. And after the AromaRama of Japanese import The Stench is… well, nothing. I don’t see The Possessor on here anywhere.
You see, fifteen years ago, Lanyard Gates screened his incomplete opus The Possessor to his film cult. He was in the process of filming its finale live in front of the audience, on the verge of plunging a ceremonial dagger into his second victim when… Bam! Amidst the chaos, the movie theater went up in flames. The cultists’ bodies were burned beyond recognition, so for all we know, Gates could still be alive and kicking today. And hey, what better time to at long last finish The Possessor than in front of a mob of rabid horror fans who mistake all this murder and mayhem for more ballyhoo?
Popcorn‘s three movies-within-a-movie aren’t mocking or sneering at genre flicks of decades past. They’re doting tributes, down to the inexorably 1970s color timing and grain structure of The Stench. The film as a whole is a love letter to cinema – to the shared communal experience of watching a movie you adore with a hundred other crazed lunatics. By design, the film students desperate to rake in a little cash for their underfunded department are all so darn likable. They don’t fit neatly into the traditional slasher buckets with the jock, the stoner, the obnoxious comedian, the slut, the preppie, and on and on and on. No, this band of film fanatics are us. They’re united by more than their love of the medium. Unlike most ’80s horror fodder, they have distinct personalities that transcend a single, immediately identifiable trait. They genuinely come across as friends, and every last one of them is somebody you’d genuinely want to pal around with too.
C’mon, look at the cast! Of course you’d want to hang out with ’em. Scream queen Jill Schoelen (The Stepfather) stars as Maggie, our film-crazed Final Girl-in-waiting whose recurring nightmares turn out to be straight outta The Possessor. At home, Dee Wallace from The Howling plays her mom. At school is Woody Allen mainstay Tony Roberts, with all the charm and smarm you’d hope for in a film studies professor. The list of familiar faces keeps on unspooling, from Kelly Jo Minter of A Nightmare on Elm St. 5 to my personal favorite martian, Ray Walston.
Even though Popcorn made its way into theaters in 1991, it has the infectious fun of an early ’80s slasher flick. This isn’t the type of movie to settle for mindless swipes of a machete. Its kills are so much more inspired than that, taking care to incorporate the gimmicks from this late-night triple feature picture show into the murders. Popcorn strikes just the right balance, where the attacks are suspenseful but nothing too visceral or gruelingly intense, in keeping with the tone of the film overall. A face-changing psychopath also helps to douse Popcorn with some Scooby-Doo-flavored seasoning. I can’t get enough of its occasionally ghoulish sense of humor, such as when the madman goes all Weekend at Bernie’s with one of his victims to throw Maggie and her kinda-sorta-boyfriend off his trail.
Popcorn is such a blast that its missteps are easily overlooked, whether it’s the one overtly, inexplicably supernatural sequence in an otherwise quasi-realistic flick or a reggae band distracting the audience from a power outage by playing electric instruments. Even with as many times as I’ve watched Popcorn over the years, it’s aged startlingly well, continuing to hit all the marks it sets out to. That’s remarkable given what a deeply troubled production this was, swapping out its director and lead actress mid-stream.
You’ll learn all about that if you haven’t picked up Popcorn on Blu-ray already. Synapse Films’ marvelous Special Edition includes an hour-long retrospective that delves into the seemingly endless barrage of hurdles that had to be overcome, along with an audio commentary and an interview with instantly recognizable Oh Yeah, That Guy actor Bruce Glover. As far as I can tell, that Blu-ray release is the only option on the table right now if you’re aching to watch Popcorn in high-def. I don’t see it on any of the streaming services or even on VOD, but Synapse Films’ disc is in-print and available at finer retailers everywhere.
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