Director: Mark Herrier
Screenplay: TodHackett
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace-Stone
Year: 1991
Duration: 91 min
Country: USA
BBFC Certification: 15

After the success of 1978’s Halloween and Friday the 13th in 1980, slasher films became the de rigeur horror film style for the rest of the decade. By the early 90s, the genre had become stale and audiences were looking for the next scare. Released in 1991, Popcorn was the first slasher film to be self-aware and obviously an influence on Wes Craven when he went on to make New Nightmare and Scream.

Directed by Porky’s trilogy star Mark Herrier and an uncredited Alan Ormsby (Deranged, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things), Popcorn follows a group of film students who decide to put on a horror movie marathon in an abandoned cinema to raise money for their film program and hopefully fund some of their student projects as well. The three films they show are old B-movies (created especially for Popcorn), each with in-house gimmicks in the style of real-life schlock master, William Castle.

First up is Mosquito, a 3D creature feature complete with a giant model bug that is swung down from the rafters of the cinema to fly across the audience. Following this is Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man about a death row inmate who develops the power to control electricity after a botched execution in the electric chair. Buzzers under the cinema seats cause the audience to literally jump out of their seats in shock. And the final attraction is Japanese film The Stench filmed in Odorama, where the students pump foul smelling gases into the cinema.

As the raucous audience enjoy the films, a shadowy killer is stalking the students putting in place a devious plan. It turns out that 15 years earlier a cult film maker, Lanyard Gates, filmed an experimental film which was shown at the cinema with a live action finale. On stage Gates attempted to murder his wife and young daughter, but he was stopped and seemingly perished in a fire that was accidentally started. Now the mysterious killer is hellbent on finishing the Gates film during the marathon, complete with an uninterrupted recreation of the murderous live final act.

Popcorn is a fun slice of horror with plenty of gore and scares as well as knowing humour. A great cast is assembled including scream queen Jill Schoelen, The Howling star, Dee Wallace-Stone as her mum and former Playboy Playmate Karen Lorre. The true star of Popcorn is the late Tom Villard as Toby, the class geek whose idea the movie marathon is, giving a wonderfully nuanced performance not often seen in a film of this type.

The film has developed a bit of a cult following over the years and has been long overdue for a Blu-ray release. 88 Films have treated viewers to an exceptionally sharp and clear transfer of the film, which is presented with a stereo or 7.1 soundtrack. As is often the case with these releases, there are plenty of extras available. First up is a commentary with director Mark Herrier, stars Jill Schoelen, Malcolm Danare and special effects artist Mat Falls which sheds a lot of light on the troubled production which saw both its original director and leading lady replaced early on.

The highlight is Midnight Madness: The Making of Popcorn, an hour long retrospective on the making of the film. Featuring interviews with Mark Herrier, Mat Falls, composer Paul Zaza, Jonathan Wolf (president of Studio Three Film Corporation) and cast members Jill Schoelen, Derek Rydall, Dee Wallace, Malcolm Danare, Ivette Soler and Elliott Hurst. The documentary includes terrific interviews as the participants recall how it quickly became a troubled production and they describe the initial shooting days with original director Alan Ormsby and original lead actress Amy O’Neill. Many of the interviewees also confirm that producer Bob Clark directed much of the film, something which Herrier understandably denies. The cast and crew also look back fondly on working with Tom Villard who contracted AIDS and died a few years later.

Rounding off the extras is an interview with actor Bruce Glover who plays the Electrified Man in the film within the film, a still gallery and trailers and TV spots.

Popcorn is a film I highly recommend to fans of slasher films and is an innovative transitional film ushering in the era of post-modern horror, for which it sadly doesn’t receive the credit it deserves. Worth settling in with this Halloween.

Popcorn is released by 88 Films

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About The Author

Neil is a practicing Buddhist with far too unhealthy an appetite for violent films and video games. His young son also objects to his love of grindcore music, claiming it "makes his ears bleed". Kids, eh?

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