Monday, August 19, 2013

"Popcorn" (1991) d/ Mark Herrier

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Here's a curious little oddity that should have been the next horror opus from the collaborative team who brought us Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972) and Deathdream (1974)(only two of my favorite genre releases of a decade rich with cult classics), but apparently, producer Benjamin "Bob" Clark and writer/director Alan Ormsby had creative differences early on, which forced Clark to replace Ormsby in the director's chair with Mark Harrier, the young actor who played "Billy" in his earlier hit comedy, Porky's (1982). In the end, even Ormsby's screenwriting credit is under the pseudonym "Tod Hackett", and only the faux footage he shot for the retro-horror movies shown in the theater remains in the final cut. Clark even replaced the original female lead, Amy O'Neill, with Jill Schoelen, who had appeared in genre work like The Stepfather (1987), Cutting Class (1989), and Phantom of the Opera (1989) to that point.

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If I was to hang movie-related values on the multiple movies-within-a-movie movie...
A gaggle of mostly repellent collegiate film students (with all the personality of that A/V uber-dork with a hunchback full of patch cables, back in high school) decides to hold an old fashioned all-night horror movie marathon to raise funds for their study program, with the help of Mr. Davis (Robbins), who looks like he won his seventies jew-fro in a potato sack race at the Brady place, and kindly old ham, Dr. Mnesyne (Walston), who lugs several trunks full of vintage theater props from the historic first run of the B-movies they've got lined up. Cue: overly long theater house restoration montage with obligatory fun pranks and wisecracks that the college set is renowned for, a la "we wished that summer would go on  forever, man!" or something. Oh, it's just that, one of the trunks contains a reel from an unfinished  horror movie called "Possessor", made by a mad visionary/film guru named Lanyard Gates who killed his family on stage and tried to burn the theater down fifteen years earlier. Maggie (Schoelen) faints upon screening the avant-garde footage, recognizing the director on the screen as the same man from her recurring nightmares. Her mother (Dee Wallace) suspiciously dismisses the connection between the two, but after a crank call, she pays a late night visit to the theater with gun in hand, and is attacked by the marquee letters(!), which rearrange to spell out "Possessor" and gets grabbed up in the dark while snooping around inside.

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...then Jill, you're the nectarous white cheddar seasoning on the profuse vat of wop-corn in my lap...
This all leads up to a murderous crescendo at the theater, packed with rabid genre nut weirdos of all sizes, shapes, and costumes, when somebody starts creatively offing the college goers in the wings. The wheelchair-ridden invalid gets electrocuted off the prop control board during "The Electrified Man"(which stars Crispin Glover's father, Bruce), while Mr. Davis gets shishkebabbed on a giant prop mosquito's proboscis. It's up to Maggie and her ever-horny/clumsy boyfriend to determine whether Gates survived that theater fire all those years ago, or another entirely different maniac with a similarly homicidal agenda. The power goes out, and a full Jamaican band inexplicably takes the stage and sedates the horror-hungry crowd with some generic reggae(luckily, the only musical style that doesn't require electricity for it's electric instruments), before the wild latex switch-o-face on stage square-off in the finale that'll leave you satisfied, I'd merit a guess...

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...and Tony's the greasy two hundred and seventy pound mouth breather who's obstructing my view of the screen and about to get baptized in fountain soda...
Though the pacing is uneven at points, some of the supporting cast fail to lend any real character to the script, and the sun-drenched Jamaican locale isn't redolent of other, more sinister Clark/Orsmby work, there are some memorable deliveries by Villard and Walston, Ormsby's retro-faux movies are a whimsical tribute to the bygone era of Castle-styled theatrical showmanship (and I don't know about you, but I could imagine a few lines of dialogue early on coming straight outta the man himself, still in those horrible striped bellbottoms of yesteryear), and though Schoelen looks mostly uninspired throughout her scenes, she's never very difficult to gaze upon. Flaws notwithstanding, Popcorn still manages to be a pretty entertaining experience, and for that it wrangles a pair of Wops on the scale. Give it a look.

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...while Tom's strictly seventies retro snack bar cartoons here, and nobody likes to miss those.
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