Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Synapse Films!
aka SKINNER, THE PHANTOM OF THE CINEMA
Directed by Mark Herrier, Alan Ormsby (uncredited)
Written by Mitchell Smith (story), Alan Ormsby (screenplay) (as Tod Hackett)
Starring Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace, Derek Rydall, Malcolm Danare, Elliott Hurst, Ivette Soler, Freddie Simpson, Kelly Jo Minter, Karen Lorre, Ray Walston, Tony Roberts, Matt Falls, Cindy Breakspeare, Giana Hanly, Barry Jenner, Suzanne Hunt, Robert Dickman, Thom Adcox-Hernandez, Munair Zacca, Lori Creevay, Ken Ryan, Ben Stotes, Ethan Ormsby, Will Knickerbocker, Scott Thompson
POPCORN is a true relic from the eighties and that’s not really a compliment considering it came out in the early nineties…
A perky aspiring screenwriter named Maggie (Jill Schoelen) is plagued with dreams of a cult leader and surreal imagery. When her filmmaking class decide to renovate a local theater and playa festival of classic horror films—all of them with gimmicks that were made to interact with the audience, the man from Maggie’s dreams seems to be haunting the theater during opening night and appears to have his sights set on Maggie. Who is this masked murderer? Will Maggie survive? Why is this film filled with weird Jamaican music? And why does the killer look so odd? Most of these questions will be answered in ways you’ve seen better in other slasher movies?
When it was first released, my main problem with POPCORN was that it tries for the umpteenth time to create an iconic slasher and fails miserably. Trying to combine the psychological dream terror of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET with the mystery killer of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, POPCORN really doesn’t make a lot of sense once the cards are all placed onto the table. There is a sense something supernatural is going on according to Maggie’s almost precognitive dreams she is experiencing. But in the end, the killer has no real supernatural abilities at all. The kills are simply ok with most of them involving one of the gags from the William Castle-like films being played—one guy is electrocuted during a film where seats in the audience are rigged to give a low level shock. Another is killed by a giant mosquito prop that flies over the audience during the finale of the film it coincides with on screen. While there are some decent horror effects, none of them are really interesting.
Adding to the hokeyness is some truly awful music throughout the film. Doing a bit of research shows that the film was actually filmed in Jamaica which explains why there is an inundation of Jamaican music throughout the film. That doesn’t give any excuse for the horrifying montage set to a terrible 80’s pop song as the students put the theater together for the show. The acting isn’t anything to write home about either with quintessential eighties horror token black gal character Kelly Jo Minter (who appeared in everything from SUMMER SCHOOL to THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS) and HEARTBREAK RIDGE’s dumbbell Tom Villard popping up in pretty big roles. Dee Wallace lends some credibility to the cast while I am always a sucker for Jill Schoelen who made a living playing the teenage damsel in distress during 80’s slasher films, though this is far from her best performance.
The truly strange look of the killer, who was badly burned in a freak accident and wears latex faces of students to trick them to their dooms, is another head-scratcher. I understand wanting to veer away from the typical burn makeup made famous with Freddy Krueger (the sequels of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET were still at the top of the charts at this time, though it’s star was fading), but the visage of this killer, with staples and pins pulling back his charred flesh just looks plain goofy and once revealed, lessens the terror factor substantially.
The one thing this film does do well is that it serves as an ode to William Castle, the consummate showman of cinema. While the film doesn’t mention him by name, the gimmicks that go along with the movies harken back to an era when showmanship is what brought people into theaters, not high paid advertising campaigns. POPCORN is a film make by folks who love that era of filmmaking and one can see it from frame one.
Special edition Bluray features includes; an all-new 2K scan of an archival 35mm interpositive, audio commentary with director Mark Herrier, stars Jill Schoelen, Malcolm Danare, & special makeup effects artist Mat Falls, “Midnight Madness: The Making of “Popcorn” featurette interviewing with director Mark Herrier, stars Jill Schoelen, Derek Rydall, Dee Wallace, Malcolm Danare, Ivette Soler, and Elliott Hurst, special makeup effects artist Mat Falls, composer Paul Zaza, & distributor executive Jonathan Wolf, “Electric Memories” – an interview with actor Bruce Glover, original theatrical trailer, television trailer & TV spots, still gallery, & blu-ray reversible cover art by Chris MacGibbon!