Feb 9, 2009

The Plot: Maggie is a student who loves cinema, so much that she intends to make it her life. However, she and her fellow classmates will have to focus on something other than cinema as their film-class has to come up with a rather large sum of money in just a short amount of time. They come up with a plan however: horror movies! No other form of cinema is as easily marketable and all they need to do is show a few older b-movies, present them with gimick presentations such as “smell-o-rama” and the money will come pouring in. Things are going swell as they restore an old theater for their presentation, but as they’re digging through the antiques donated to them by Dr. Mnesyne they find a small film cannister. Curious what it might be, they play the film on the projector and discover something powerful and slightly disturbing. It’s a short film made by a man named Lanyard Gates from many years back, and it starts with a closeup of his eyes, then his mouth all the time while he utters the words “Possessor! Possessor!”. It’s a very experimental little number and the story goes that the final act was performed live as Gates killed his entire family onstage. Now, as the show begins to start and the b-movies start to roll, a stranger starts to make trouble in the theater – and bodies start piling up. Could the film have been supernatural? Who will put an end to Lanyard Gate’s curse?

The Review: Maybe it’s my patriotic spirit, maybe it’s the fact that one gets tired of reading subtitles every now and then – but for the past month or so I’ve been going back and visiting older American slashers from my youth and from their glory days, films that I simply never was able to get my hands upon. Including the previously reviewed Night of the Demons series and Popcorn is just another step towards discovering all the greats I have bypassed. I love Japanese gore flicks, I love Italian giallos – but sometimes the braindead fun of a cheesy slasher is just what a growing man needs. Popcorn is a horror I had never even heard of until only in the past few years. There are those that stand by it, those that consider it another campy waste of time – but either way you swing it, people are still talking about it years after it’s initial release and for that to happen it has to at least be worth checking out. It’s a horror film seemingly made by horror fans, in a time when the genre was simply being pulverized with noxious flicks made simply to churn out a dollar. Focusing the film on the horror genre and the showmanship of the fifties, it actually takes on a self-aware turn many years before Wes Craven’s Scream would popularize the cheeky “hey look, we’re trapped in a horror movie!” take on horror cinema that has become so prominent.

That isn’t to say Popcorn is simply a film so far ahead of its time that others couldn’t recognize it’s amazing features. It’s certainly a better than average slasher flick, but you know what you’re getting into with this one. Just like any other flick made in the subgenre, there’s someone hunting down some teenagers, there are a few brutal deaths and there’s a twist that comes out of nowhere. Still, you have to admire the changes in formula and Popcorn actually ends up working very well. Truthfully, other than being a bit on the cheesy side (but that’s kind of expected, isn’t it?), I find it hard to think of much I didn’t like about the film. It features a great cast of great actors and memorable faces, from Ray Walston as the elder gent who loans out the drama class all the equipment for the theater and Dee Wallace Stone (from Cujo and The Frightners amongst many, many other projects) as well as Kelly Jo Minter from A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child and Tony Roberts who has been in many fantastic projects (Serpico, The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3) as well as other genre related films (Amytyville 3D). The cast usually do a good job with what they’re provided and actually generate at least some interest in their characters. Tom Villard as Toby turns out to be the standout, and Ivette Soler who plays Joanie is the most enthusiastic of the female leads and helps provide some late character development as it is revealed that she has an earnest crush on Toby, a fact that he would never know and something that plays out in the final act of the film. Heck, even the cinematography is done well and in a stylish way – something flicks such as these almost always ignore.

However, what people are most interested in slashers for, the thing that packs them into the seats – is not the cinematography. It’s the mayhem. The carnage. The blood and guts. It’s all about the gore. Unfortunately Popcorn doesn’t pack much of a whallop in terms of onscreen violence, which is a shame since the makeup effects that are demonstrated in the film are absolutely amazing. The latex masks in the final act are worth the price of admission alone and are still as impressive today as they likely were when the film was originally released. It’s just a shame that there weren’t more opportunities for those FX to be used towards a few imaginitve deaths. Still, the shot above of one characters face being peeled back should be enough to make you realize just how cool some of the latex FX are. Although you may come in expecting gore, or perhaps a good knockoff of the original Demons (which this film shares no likeness with other than the fact that it takes place in a theater), I think the real horror fans will stick with it for what is genuinely a well paced atmosphere and what appears to be a real love for the horror genre of old. It reminds me of the John Carpenter short for the Masters of Horror series called Cigarette Burns, although not sharing a whole lot in common you could tell in that film that Ron McWeeny, the writer, was a massive genre fan. With this film you’re given the same impression, and I liked that. Although I may kick myself in the shin some other time, I’m giving it a four out of five. It may not be a perfect film or even a film that you simply have to have to complete your collection – but it was a lot of fun and I certainly don’t regret giving it my time.

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