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Popcorn (1991)

Synapse Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/4/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/11/2017

During my adolescence, I was obsessed with horror movies. (And not much has changed.) In those early years, I wasn't a very discerning viewer, and most every R-rated horror movie became in instant classic in my teenaged eyes. However, when I watched those movies years later, I found that most of them were garbage. They were boring, pointless enterprises which offered a smattering of gore to break up the tedium. I saw Popcorn when I was in college and I clearly remember that I did not like it. I now have the chance to see it again. Will the tables be turned? Will I enjoy a movie which I disliked before?

Popcorn introduces us to a group of film students who have decided to put on an all-night horror movie marathon in order to raise money. With this help of their teacher, Mr. Davis (Tony Roberts) and a mysterious benefactor (Ray Walston), the group arranges to show a trio of old movies, which come complete with gimmicks to add an extra shock to the audience. Maggie (Jill Schoelen) is very excited about the show, as she's an aspiring filmmaker herself, but she's also anxious, given the odd nightmares which she's been having. While setting up for the show, the group finds a weird old short film which was made by a madman named Lanyard Gates. As the night of fun gets underway, Maggie becomes convinced that Gates is in the theater and that everyone is in danger. As the bodies begin to pile up, it appears that Maggie may be right.

OK, now I remember why I didn't like Popcorn. But, before we get to that, let's talk about some of the film's positives. The movie is a love-letter to the films of William Castle, who was the master of utilizing gimmicks to accentuate his horror films. The wacky antics shown in Popcorn are direct references to Castle's films The Tingler and The House on Haunted Hill. These nods will probably ring hollow to most viewers today, just as they did in 1991, as only true horror aficionados would recognize these homages. The movie by Lanyard Gates and his story is a nice sort of Manson-esque tale, but tied to a crazed filmmaker. Given these attributes, Popcorn should play like a great horror movie for horror fans.

But, there is one word which comes to mind about Popcorn which ruins everything -- silly. The serious tone of the Gates short film and the mild intensity of some of the murders is completely dampened by an overall goofy nature permeating the movie. It begins with a reggae-tinged montage which shows the group cleaning up the movie theater. This reeks of something from an 80s comedy, such as Revenge of the Nerds, and feels very out of place here. Things get even worse when the film festival begins. It begins with the shenanigans going on the lobby. Yes, I realize that these antics are meant to reproduce things which actually happened in theaters in the 50s, but itís still cringe-worthy here. And then we have the audience in the theater. They are dressed in costumes and whooping and hollering throughout. This isnít Comiccon, would people really dress up? And have you ever been in a theater where the audience just went nuts? We see them in movie-after-movie and Iíve never seen anything even close to it in real life.

The result is a movie which lands on the negative side of mediocre. The idea of a film festival comprised of gimmick-laden films is an interesting one, but you know that a movie is failing when youíd rather be watching the movies which inspired it. Popcornís heart is in the right place, as it is clearly mean to reflect ad admiration of horror films, but itís simply too weak on every front. The goofy parts suck the power out of the horror scenes, and while the revelation of the killer is somewhat interesting, it comes too early and the movie really struggles after that. By 1991, the slasher cycle was all but over and itís admirable that Popcorn tries to inject new life into it. But, a horror film about horror films which isnít scary or creepy is a disappointment.

Popcorn should have been packaged with some sort of movie tie-in gimmick on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Synapse Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only touches of grain at times and no notable defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably greens and reds, and the image is never overly dark or bright. And, the movie doesn't have that "washed out" look which can plague older movies. The depth is OK, and only a few shots show any touches of softness on the image. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The bulk of the effects come from the crowd in the theater, as their cheers flow from the front and rear channels. The music also fills the speakers, and we can pick out individual sounds at times. I didn't notice any strong subwoofer effects.

The Popcorn Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Mark Herrier, and actors Jill Schoelen, Malcolm Danare, & Matt Falls. "Midnight Madness: The Making of Popcorn" (57 minutes) is a very detailed documentary which examines the film's production. While there is no on-set footage here, we do see some production stills. The bulk of the piece comes from interviews with Herrier and several cast members, who share their memories of the movie and give some real dirt on how the main actress was replaced. "Electric Memories" (7 minutes) offers an interview with actor Bruce Glover who was in one of the movies within the movie. The extras are rounded out by a STILL GALLERY, the THEATRICAL TRAILER, a TV TRAILER (?!), and seven TV SPOTS.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long