Back of the box...
“Maggie (Jill Shoelen) is a film student who’s been dutifully recording her nightmares—hairy hippie with dagger, trussed maiden on altar, terrified child fleeing through flames—only to see them unfold on screen when a ‘60’s cult film, “The Possessor,” is discovered by fellow students preparing a fundraising ‘horrorthon’ at an abandoned art deco theater called Dreamland. It seems that ‘The Possessor’s’ director was a madman who killed his onstage and then burned down the theater after locking the audience inside. Maybe he died in the fire. . . maybe he didn’t. And just maybe. . . he’s back. That the central mystery, one that becomes crucial as Maggie’s fellow film students start fading to black before their time.”
Director: Mark Herrier, Alan Ormsby
Starring: Jill Shoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace
Watch the Trailer
WE MADE IT! We got through a whole year of weekly posts and we’re still not even sure if anyone actually reads them! Week after week we’ve watched, researched, reviewed, rewatched, revised then reviewed again, revolted at, relished in, and resisted the urge to regurgitate on at least one movie for a full year! To celebrate this noteworthy achievement we decided to do something special. We decided to watch a movie and then write some shit about it!
Do you remember the video store scene in Scream when the girl looking for The Howling asks Jamie Kennedy “what’s that werewolf movie with E.T.’s mom in it?” Well, we’ve got a similar question for YOU!
What’s that meta 90’s horror movie predating Scream with E.T.’s mom in it?
It’s the movie we’ve been holding out on doing for a whole year...
...the film from which we stole our name and aesthetic...
...folks, our 73rd review in celebration of our one year anniversary is the 1991 cult classic horror flop...
We know what you’re thinking and, yes, we ARE sure that we haven’t already done this one. To be honest, we may have just forgotten about it, which is weird considering the logo is in our face every time we update the blog. So, without any further delay, let’s dive head first into that oily liquid popcorn butter and take a look at the film that, despite its fond place lodged firmly in our hearts, can never live up to the awesomeness of its own box design.
After being shuffled from one classroom to another, the new film department at UC Oceanview (so not a real place) feels they need to “make a splash” in order to be taken seriously. After very little debate, they devise a plan to win the respect of the administration by putting on an all night horror-thon! While prepping an old theater for the event and digging through some old props, the students find a mystery film canister with a label that reads “Warning. DO NOT OPEN.” Rather than simply asking the guy who it belongs to what it is, they decide to play the almost certain snuff/porn film on the big screen! Luckily for all of us, it’s not an amateur beastiality porn filmed by Coffin Joe! Instead it’s a film called The Possessor made by and starring Lanyard Gates, a character loosely based on Coffin Joe. Maggie, an aspiring screenwriter, has seen the film before, not in the dark bowels of YouTube, but in her nightmares. Her horrible, 90’s avant-garde music video looking nightmares. After learning the dark history of the film and its creator, Maggie is convinced that Gates is somewhere in the theater and has sinister plans to realize the final bloody scene of his film. Well, whether Gates is or isn’t in the theater and whether he goes on a killing spree or just enjoys the show, the film department are sure to make the “splash” they’d hoped for.
Predating 1993’s Matinee, a movie about an independent filmmaker that’s modeled after William Castle, Popcorn pays it’s own homage to The King of Gimmicks. Castle made a name for himself in horror in the 50’s and 60’s with his creative promotion techniques and use of audience participation. His first attempt at augmenting the theater experience came in 1958 with his film Macabre. Castle issued $1000 life insurance policies to the audience in case anyone died from fright during the movie. He also had a hearse and nurses strategically positioned outside the theater, ready to rush moviegoers to the emergency room if need be. The following year he released House on Haunted Hill, the first film to feature “Emergo.” During the scene in which the skeleton rises from the acid, a plastic skeleton with glowing eyes would float over the audience, suspended by wires. After House on Haunted Hill, Castle released The Tingler which featured “Percepto.” Vibrating motors were installed under the theater’s seats to give the audience a well timed jolt. In Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, John Waters recounts his going to the theater early and peeking under the seats to make sure he’d get shocked. Next, Castle introduced “Illusion-O” for his film 13 Ghosts. Blue filters were used to film the actors and sets while red filters were used to film the ghosts. With the use of special glasses, the audience could choose whether they wanted to see the ghosts or not. After 13 Ghosts, Castle’s streak of ingenious gimmicks began to fizzle but his legacy continued. In his 1981 film, Polyester, John Waters gave audiences his updated take on the failed Castle-esque gimmick used in the 1960 film, Scent of Mystery. While the original gimmick was called “Smell-o-Rama” and had scents pumped into the theater, Waters introduced “Odorama” and distributed scratch-n-sniff cards to the audience. Numbers would appear on screen to instruct the audience what to sniff. The scents included: roses, flatulence, model airplane glue, pizza, gasoline, skunk, natural gas, new car smell, dirty shoes, and air freshener.
Now that we’re all on the same page historically, let’s get back to the year 1991. Popcorn features a cast of near-recognizable stars who will have you fighting the urge to break out your phone and check your IMDB app throughout the whole film. The film stars Jill Shoelen as Maggie and fans of obscure 80’s slashers will know her as Brad Pitt’s girlfriend from Cutting Class. As an actor with so few credits to comment on, Shoelen does a great job in this movie and we’re a little surprised we never saw more from her. We don’t wanna say she’s a poor man’s Jennifer Connelly but...maybe upper middle class.? Dee Wallace, or E.T.’s mom, plays Maggie’s mom and the fast talking snack counter attendant, Cheryl, is another character who’ll have you swiping through film credits. We think it’s Summer School that we initially recognized her from but she’s also in The Lost Boys, People Under the Stairs, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.
You might remember that the film within a film in Matinee was Mant! (half MAN, half ANT) and it was shown in “Atomo-Vision” and “Rumble-Rama.” Well, in Popcorn we get FOUR films within the film! In addition to Lanyard Gates’ The Possessor, the students show three films at their all night horror-thon that all make use of different Castle gimmicks. The first film featured is Mosquito, which references Castle’s “Emergo” as a giant radioactive mosquito sails across the theater on wires. The second film is The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man, shown in “Shock-o-Scope!” This gimmick is a reference to Castle’s “Percepto” used in The Tingler. The third film in the horror-thon is The Stench which, you guessed it, references the “Smell-o-Vision” gimmick used in Scent of Mystery. While it failed in theaters in 1960, “Smell-o-Vision” seems to work like a charm in Popcorn.
At one point in the film Maggie says to one of her fellow film buffs, “what a great movie this would make.” Don’t count on it Mags, Popcorn bombed with critics and audiences. It wasn’t until much later, with the help of late night television and video rentals, that the movie became a cult hit. Both the films director and lead actress were replaced weeks after filming had already begun, which never seems to fare well for the finished product. We know what you’re wondering, did they at least get Ron Howard to take over directing? Nope. They got the guy who played Billy in the Porky’s movies.
We’re honestly not sure why this movie was so poorly received. We wouldn’t expect it to do amazingly well but as far as 90’s horror movies go, it’s really not bad. Maybe it was released just close enough to the 80’s that critics couldn’t see the shit-storm of mediocrity on the horizon. Or maybe it’s the reggae music in it. That would be a valid reason. Well, aside from the terrible reggae music, which we assume is a byproduct of filming in Jamaica, the movie is creative and fun. The movies within the movie are also great and whenever we get a glimpse of the antics going on in the theater we can’t help but wish we were at that horror-thon. Popcorn isn’t only a fun horror movie but it reminds us why we fell in love with horror movies in the first place—because being scared with friends is fun! Laughing when someone in the audience impulsively yells “don’t go in there” at the screen before the whole crowd shrieks in unison is fun! Stumbling into the theater lobby after the film, trying to catch your breath as you look to all the smiling faces trying to do the same is fun. It’s these moments that keep us coming back.
We love this movie and, at this point, how can we not? It was instrumental in the creation of The Popcornomicon and over the past year the blog has come to mean so much more to us than just a place to write about movies. It’s something that has brought us closer together while also introducing us to other weirdo movie fans all over the world. Watching Popcorn may not kickstart a new chapter in your life, but we still highly recommend it. It’s just a nice little reminder of why we love horror.
Thanks for reading our blog, it’s been a fun year. We’d love to say we have big things planned for our second year but we’ll probably just watch shitty movies on YouTube and write about ‘em.