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October 03, 2017


popcorn german poster.jpg

Mark Herrier - 1991
Synapse Film BD Regions ABC

'Tis the season . . . and my first review of the month is one of two blu-ray releases featuring Dee Wallace! Popcorn is a frustrating film to write about because of the gap between what's on the screen and what the filmmakers hoped to achieve. This is a horror comedy that's not scary, and only sporadically amusing. The small group of cinematically illiterate film students decide to raise money for their department by hosting a night of three gimmick filled older horror films in a delict theater. While setting things up, they find an old reel of film depicting a sacrificial killing by a bearded man in a robe with his female victim. The footage resembles the nightmares of one of the students, Maggie. On movie night, a mysterious killer is on the loose, with several of the students as his victims.

If these were the film students I've known, no one would rate a Police Academy movie over the collected works of Ingmar Bergman, even for a cheap laugh. And there would probably be earnest discussions about Jack Arnold's 3D fantasies, or why we love the silly gimmicks of William Castle, while the "horror horn" and "fear flasher" from Hy Averback's Chamber of Horrors were poor imitations. As it stands, it is three of the films within the film that are the most interesting. I'm not sure if this is purely coincidental, but I reviewed Synapse release, Mosquito about two years ago. Did this spoof of those monster insect movies inspire some Michigan based filmmakers a few years later? The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man has a bravura performance by Bruce Glover, trying to channel Lon Chaney, Jr. The expressionistic cinematography recalls the work of talented filmmakers working on the fringes like E. A. Dupont and Edgar G. Ulmer. The nightmare horror movie with the human sacrifice looks like the work of Charles Manson trying his darnedest to be Kenneth Anger. The films within the film were the work of the original director of Popcorn, Alan Ormsby. What is discussed in the commentary track is that Ormsby put in so much time and care with his homages that it meant less time and money for the main narrative. Ormsby was fired, replaced by Mark Harrier, an experienced actor taking on his first, and only, feature.

Uncredited producer Bob Clark is acknowledged as the invisible hand in directing some of Popcorn, leaving Harrier on his own for the conclusion of the shoot as well as editing. The mystery about the killer is not very compelling, and the set-up very much owing to Phantom of the Opera. One of the best moments is a short turn by Ray Walston as the collector of movie memorabilia, with his entertaining soliloquy devoted to movie ballyhoo. The other moment is when the villain, unmasked, but not startlingly out of place among the many disguised horror film buffs in the audience, taunts the audience in deciding whether he should kill Maggie on stage, to the delight of the extremely animated crowd.

The blu-ray comes with a documentary of the troubled production history of Popcorn featuring director Herrier, star Jill Schoelen, as well as others in the cast and crew. Schoelen and Harrier are also among those who participate in the commentary track. Bruce Glover has his own little supplement, discussing his role, and satisfaction in the critical reaction from his performance. For a film that's in part about disguises, the best might be with the filmmakers making Kingston, Jamaica look like southern California.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 3, 2017 07:23 AM