Popcorn (1991) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

You will be scratching your head over this one. Parts of it are touched with sheer genius, while other parts are the same old, same old of the horror genre. 

Here's the general premise:

A college film department decides to hold a fundraiser to get some facilities that they need. It's an all-night horror festival. Why should anyone come to that? Because they will do something that you can't get from a rental. They will take all the cheesy promotional gimmicks from the 50's, like "odorama" and "emergo" and "percepto", and recreate them in the local theater.

Here's a brief sidebar for those of you who don't know what I mean. Once upon a more innocent time, there was a fellow named William Castle who lured people into unwatchable horror films with gimmicks. If there was a skeleton in the movie, he'd have one fly overhead in the theater. If there was an electric shock in the movie, he'd rig up some seats to get a mild shock at the same time. He'd have people sign releases promising not to sue if they suffered a heart attack or other fear-related condition. He'd have actors pretend to picket his film because it was too scary for children. He'd add three-d, or partial three-d, or subliminal messages, or sell you life insurance policies, or anything else he could think of to jazz up his cheapozoid films.

"Popcorn" doesn't actually use the real movies and the real gimmicks. They come up with ideas that are similar, but not quite the same, and exaggerated enough to make them even sillier. The gimmicks are of their own invention, and the three films actually seen at the festival are hilarious snippets of pseudo-films that never were (similar to the "Mant" film-within-that-delightful-film, "Matinee"). The parodies of the 50's films are spot on, and good for a lot of laughs. 


no T&A of any kind!
Now here's how they make this concept into a horror film. The crazed killer (I'm going to ignore his back story. It's the usual crap, and I'm not sure if it is meant to be genre parody. Probably.) has reprogrammed the gimmicks at the theater to kill people. The giant mosquito, for example, sails down its wire and right into the film professor's heart, and so forth. The horror aspect is pretty much on the level of a Dr Phibes movie, stylized and interesting, but not exceptional. What makes the horror aspect truly macabre is that the crazed killer decides to act out the murder of his last victim on the stage of the theater during the film festival. The audience, thinking it is another gimmick, is cheering him on. She's screaming, "no, Toby, you're crazy, don't kill me. he's going to kill me. Somebody help." The killer responds as an aside to the audience, "well, kids, what should I do, kill her or spare her?". The fun-loving crowd is screaming "kill the bitch", thinking it's a gimmick. Wonderful stuff. Grotesquerie on a truly ethereal plane.

You'd think this would have been a great movie and a box office smash with the 13-25 crowd. It was neither, despite the presence of some recognizable names like Ray Walston and Tony Roberts, and a ton of insider film jokes.

I guess I only told you the good stuff.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • no features except trailers

They had a magnificent concept and some brilliant moments, but they had some weak execution, non-existent character development, a truly ludicrous and boring back-story that I didn't tell you about, and a frigging killer who keeps prattling on and on and on when he finally gets the stage ...

And they had no idea how to end it.

Like "Scream", it is quite entertaining when it is being a genre parody, and quite tedious when it is being a horror film. But in general, it is a much underappreciated film, and I absolutely recommend it for lovers of oddball cinema.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 4.4. That's too low. It is actually an entertaining pic, but the genre is not straight horror, not straight gore, not straight comedy, so no genre's fan will truly appreciate it.
  • With their dollars ... domestic gross only $4 million
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Don't let that 4.4 at IMDb fool you. For some of you, this will be a treasure.

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