This past Saturday I attended Splatterflix, hosted by the Carolina Theater in Durham, NC. Each October, classic horror films from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s are shown on the big screen in a weekend long celebration of horror. It’s been on my list of things to do for a few years now and in 2018 I finally made it to a showing: 1991’s Popcorn.
This movie has always had a special place in my heart because it was the first horror film I remember seeing. I recall seeing the amazing poster in the video store late 1991/1992, and shortly thereafter I managed to sit down and watch the film. Being so young and watching a forbidden horror movie was exciting and that experience has always stuck with me. I think its part of what drives me to continue watching horror films to this day.
Last year, I realized that I hadn’t seen Popcorn since that initial viewing. I wanted to see it again, but the blu-ray was selling for $40 on Amazon, so I put it on my Wishlist and decided to wait for a price drop that never came. Popcorn got shuffled back in the pack of films I wanted to watch and review, but when I saw Popcorn pop up in some advertising for Splatterflix, it was a no brainer, I was going to see it. Seeing Popcorn on the big screen was something I couldn’t pass up, and even better, Jill Schoelen who stars as Maggie was going to be in attendance as well!
But before I talk about the film and the experience at Splatterflix, I want to talk a little about a shop I visited a few blocks away from the Carolina Theater called The Little Shop of Horror.
This small store is packed full of horror goodies. There is a giant wall of VHS, DVDs, blu-rays, and horror soundtracks. On the backside of that are all sorts of figures, shirts, leggies, and other various goodies. The back wall has stickers, glasses, candles, cups, and more figures. Plus there are some great homemade stuff like soap and drink coasters. Needless to say I was blown away to find a full fledge horror shop open year round in North Carolina, and even more amazed to see how the prices were reasonable and the service was awesome.
After checking out The Little Shop of Horror I made the way back to The Carolina Theater to get ready for the show. There were vendors set up inside the lobby and there was even a girl dressed up as the nurse from Popcorn handling out cool little cards that said the theater was not responsible for anyone dying of shock. It was an awesome nod to William Castle, and I wish I realized it was from Popcorn because I would have totally got a picture with the girl! (That’s what I get for waiting over twenty-five years to revisit the film.)
The Carolina Theater opened in 1926 and is one of those lovely old theaters. Popcorn was shown in Fletcher Hall, which looks a lot like the theater used in the movie.
Before the film began, one of the Carolina Theater staff members introduced Jill Schoelen and she came out and said a few words. It was during this introduction that they did an audience poll to see how many people had seen Popcorn before. I’d say 90% of the audience had not seen the film yet. That shocked me, but I think it goes to show how underrated and underappreciated Popcorn truly is. Then again, you can say that about most 90’s horror, but if you are reading this blog then you probably already know that.
My first impression (and final impression) of Jill Schoelen was that she is an amazing, friendly, down-to-Earth actress. She takes her craft very serious, but doesn’t have the ego or attitude you get from so many celebrities. Having gone to so many cons over the years, you can tell when celebrities truly want to be somewhere and when they don’t. Jill seemed like she was enjoying the attention and interacting with the fans which was awesome.
Prior to the movie starting, the theater had an awesome promo reel that discussed the opening weekend of the film and listed off some trivia. It really set the audience up to be taken back in time to that opening weekend on February 1, 1991 and then only solidified those feelings by airing a vintage trailer of Body Parts.
Right before the film began I was a little nervous. I mean, this movie has been put on a pedestal in my head for years now. I knew most of the audience hadn’t seen it before and I could just see the audience turning on the film for being cheesy and making this a terrible experience for me. That may sound a little selfish, but I really wanted to have a good time and try and appreciate this film that began this obsession so many years ago.
Luckily, my worries were unfounded. The crowd seemed to enjoy the film and so did I. It was cheesy in spots, but overall the film was good. It was funny, gory, and just a lot of fun. I didn’t see the twist coming which was great and I walked out of Popcorn a bigger fan than I walked in.
Following the film, Jill did a twenty minute Q & A and discussed all sorts of aspects of the film. Some of the talking points were: the movie was filmed in Jamaica, working with Dee Wallace Stone, what it was like coming into the film halfway through filming, how editing a movie when coming into a movie late works, and how it was working with Robert Englund on The Phantom of the Opera.
Again, I have nothing but great things to say about Jill. She seemed so excited to be there and it was awesome. I regret not hopping in line and getting an autograph after the show.
Overall my experience at Splatterflix was awesome. The crowd was good, the theater was nice, and the movie was fantastic. Next year, I’m going to try and make a day of it and attend several movies in one day or at least a few over the entire weekend.
Now onto the review of Popcorn
My History With the Film:
I think most horror fans that are my age discovered horror through the brilliant VHS boxes in video stores in the 80’s and 90’s. There were so many iconic posters and artwork used to entice people to rent these movies, and Popcorn is one that always stood out to me. I was eight years old in 1991, and I knew I wanted to see that movie, I just wasn’t sure when or how I’d pull that off.
I don’t know if Popcorn was on HBO or if someone rented it and I ran across the tape, but sometime in 1991 or 1992 I finally watched Popcorn. I remember thinking the movie didn’t remind me of the poster (although looking back on it now, it was fitting) but the movie gave me the chills. I realized that day tht I really liked horror movies, and not just because I shouldn’t be watching them. It took me a few more years before I started renting horror films on a regular basis, but it was Popcorn that really put me on track to this fandom.
What The Film Is About (Non-Spoiler):
A college film class decides to host a marathon of 1950’s horror/science fiction films complete with gimmicks ala William Castle. It’s all fun and games until people start dying for real.
What I Liked About It:
-The twist was great. I didn’t see it coming at all.
-I loved how they played homage to the William Castle gimmicks. I’m a fan of movie theater history and all of the crazy tricks and gimmicks he played in the 1950’s were amazing. Everything from parking ambulances outside of theaters to having ghosts fly through the audience sounds like a lot of fun. And with Popcorn’s plot being a film class is going to re-create those experiences really worked for me. Plus I love old theaters, so the setting was everything I wanted it to be.
-The acting overall was good with Jill Schoelen and Tom Villad really standing out the most. The majority of the characters were clichés, but it all worked within the story and I wasn’t expecting any ground breaking character development out of a movie titled Popcorn.
-The prosthetics, especially in the final scenes, were awesome. They were even impressive by 2018 standards.
-Popcorn is at its heart a slasher film. It’s hard to tell that from the poster or the first thirty minutes of the film, but it’s actually a slasher film and I love slashers!
What I Didn’t Like About It:
-There is one supernatural scene that doesn’t quite fit the film. ::SPOILERS:: There is a moment when Suzanne (Dee Wallace-Stone) is pelted with the lettering from the marquee and the word Possessor appears and this is out of place since it turns out the killer is not a supernatural character. To be honest, I forgot about that scene until I did some research for this review, but it really does stick out now that I think about it. I guess you could write off as being a figment of Suzanne’s imagination since she was terrified that the person who killed her sister was back from the dead. That’s at least what I’m going to do in my head canon. ::END SPOILERS::
-The film is set in Los Angeles but was actually shot in Kingston, Jamaica. The “Dreamland Theater” is actually The Ward theater.
-Three weeks into shooting, the main actress was replaced by Jill Schoelen. Most of the cast had already shot their scenes, so quick re-shoots were done with Jill to complete the film.
-The original director Alan Ormsby was replaced three weeks by Mark Herrier who is mostly known for playing Billy in Porky’s.
-The original script had an element that dealt with Popcorn, thus the title of the film. However, after this element was cut, the producers and distributor liked the title so much that they kept it.
-The movie was a huge box office failure grossing just $2.5 million dollars on its opening weekend and finishing with $4.2 million dollars total domestic. Some theaters skipped the straight into second run theaters.
-During the opening scene when Maggie wakes up, she was actually woken up by the director who was pulling on her toe off screen. She was awarded the part of Maggie one day after finishing another project and then boarded a plane to Jamaica the following day. When she arrived late that night, she spent the early morning hours in wardrobe and began shooting her scenes the following morning. She had fallen asleep during the scene.
-The gimmicks in the movie theater (the flying mosquito, the electrified seats, and scent-o-rama) were inspired by the gimmicks that William Castle made so popular in the 1950’s.
-Jill Schoelen (Maggie) also starred in other notable horror/thriller films: The Stepfather, Cutting Class, and When a Stranger Calls Back.
-Kelly Jo Minter (Cheryl) had parts in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, The People Under the Stairs, and The Lost Boys.
-The film crew in Jamaica were inexperienced and none of the sound was useable. Following production, looping was done in Canada.
Popcorn exceeded my expectations. Horror films released between 1988-1992 tend to be hit and miss and with Popcorn falling right in-between those years I was prepared for it to be a terrible film. I was delightfully surprised to find a coherent, fun movie that didn’t take itself too serious, but also didn’t play itself up too much either. The film definitely has some comedy in it, and some cheesy moments, but the horror is real and you really get to see that in the final act.
I liked Popcorn a lot and I’m so glad I got to revisit it on the big screen. In all honesty, it’s a flawed, cheesy 90’s horror film that is not for everybody. But for me, between the nostalgia, the movie theater setting, and my fondness of films from this decade, it really worked.
I’d rate Popcorn a two and a half out of five and say it’s a rental.