Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Popcorn (1991)

A group of film students want to put on a horror all-nighter in an old-style movie palace a few weeks before it will be wrecked. The films are all classic gimmick horror in the spirit of William Castle, so the students plan to go all-out with the gimmicks, leaving no seat un-electrified, and no nose not bleeding when watching THE STENCH.

Alas, doom announces itself when our heroes discover a reel of a film of film cult(!) leader Lanyard Gates, who ended his career of taking drugs and making creepy films with an attempt to murder his family live in the movie theatre. Strangely, Maggie (Jill Schoelen), one of the students and our obvious heroine, recognizes Gates in the movie, for she has been dreaming of him for months.

Maggie won't realize that there's a rather natural explanation for this recognition much later than is good for her or her friends, but the audience learns much sooner that Maggie's mother (Dee Wallace) must have been a member of the cult, and that someone or something - perhaps Lanyard Gates himself - is out for revenge. So it's not exactly a surprise when the horror all-nighter becomes the noisy and enthusiastic background to a series of murders committed by a guy in the habit of stealing other people's faces. It's too bad too, for the show would have been a great success without him.

Mark Herrier's Popcorn is a rather great horror comedy whose mood permanently fluctuates between silliness, the sort of hysteria that comedy and horror share, and an enthusiastic "best of" of all kinds of horror. Alan Ormsby's (who also started as director of the film before "being replaced") script shows a clear and obvious love of the genre it is working in, as well as a sure hand when playing with genre conventions without feeling the need to tell its audience what it's doing right now. There's clearly no need for the film to pat itself on the back for its cleverness, nor does it assume its audience doesn't get what it's doing without being told. I do like an assumption of basic intelligence in my movies, I have to say.

Watching Popcorn I found myself particularly happy about the ease with which it unifies its disparate elements, showing no trouble at all going from teen comedy through dream-like killings through the excellent ravings of the murderer and to the particularly lovingly made movies in the movie, which are often very effectively and funnily intercut with the murders.

These mini movies are a pleasure in themselves, really getting the tone needed for lovingly making fun of the kind of film that sold itself through smell-o-vision right, and clearly based on films many of my readers will have no trouble recognizing, I hope. If you've seen and written about as many films of the style as I have in the last three decades (well, the writing hasn't been going on for quite that long), you can't help but see someone involved in the production as a kindred spirit. Particularly when you add all these other shout-outs to various horror traditions: the casting of Dee Wallace, the excellent parodies of 50s and 80s horror movie romances, the echoes of Phantom of the Opera, various slasher movies, José Mojica Marins, and many a thing more obvious (like the film posters), and much less obvious (everybody should find these on their own, I believe). Even better, with all these elements around, Popcorn still feels much less than a patchwork movie than the description would lead one to suspect: the way Herrier and/or Ormsby use them, they all belong in the same movie with naturalness (as far as you can speak of naturalness in a movie that is so lovingly a movie instead of a depiction of "reality") and style.

Which of course makes it quite impossible to say how someone who doesn't share my personal predilections will see or approach Popcorn. To me, this is a delicious, comedic piece of over-the-top clever low budget horror wrapped in peanut butter of movie nerd-dom - a film impossible not to love.

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