One of the stars of “Popcorn” (citywide) calls it “ ‘Phantom of the Opera’ meets ‘Ten Little Indians’ in a horror movie festival.” That’s as apt and succinct a description as you could wish for this ingenious and spoofy little shocker that with knowing affection pays tribute to irresistibly schlocky vintage exploitation pix while borrowing a key motif from Georges Franju’s haunting “Eyes Without a Face” and lifting lots of gimmicks from the late William Castle, horror impresario supreme, who would have loved this movie.
To raise money for a university film department, a group of cinema students decides to stage, with the help of their professor (Tony Roberts), a “Horror-A-Thon,” an all-night, horror-movie festival at the Dreamland, a glorious old movie palace facing the wrecker’s ball. Directed with plenty of wit and zest by Mark Herrier in his feature debut, “Popcorn” was adapted by Tod Hackett from Mitchell Smith’s story.
“Popcorn’s” set pieces are several flawlessly parodied movies-within-the-movie. Among them: “Mosquito,” one of those ‘50s movies in which atomic experimentation inevitably produced the mutant in the title; “The Amazing Electrified Man,” in which a Death Row inmate (a hilarious Bruce Glover) receives an injection permitting him to thrive in the electric chair, and “The Stench,” an atrociously dubbed Japanese adventure. The last two are presented in “Shock-O-Scope” and “Aromarama,” respectively. Meanwhile, as these films unspool on the Dreamland screen, an elusive maniac emulates them as he commences a killing spree.
It’s possible that the filmmakers didn’t mean their lurid framing story to be quite as cheesy as what they’re making fun of, but that scarcely matters. Jill Schoelen, who appropriately was Christine in the recent Robert Englund “Phantom of the Opera,” is the heroine, a film student so consumed with movie-making she doesn’t unduly complain about the mysterious nightmares she’s experiencing because “they’re good story material.” Tom Villard plays the nerdiest, most rabid film nut among the students. In addition to Roberts and Glover, other familiar actors shown to advantage are Dee Wallace Stone as Schoelen’s mother and Ray Walston as a veteran promoter of exploitation pictures.
Essentially a Canadian venture, “Popcorn” (rated R for standard horror flick gore and some four-letter words) seems vaguely set in Los Angeles but was filmed in Jamaica, primarily at Kingston’s carefully preserved 19th-Century Ward Theater. “Popcorn” is such fun for lovers of schlock (intended or otherwise) that it hardly matters where it is set.
Jill Schoelen: Maggie
Tom Villard: Toby
Dee Wallace: Stone Suzanne
Tony Roberts: Mr. Davis
Ray Walston: Dr. Mnesyne A Studio Three Film Corp. presentation of a Movies Partners and Century Films production. Director Mark Herrier. Producer Torben Johnke, Gary Goch, Ashok Amritaj. Executive producers Howard Hurst, Karl Hendrickson, Howard Baldwin. Screenplay by Tod Hackett, from a story by Mitchell Smith. Cinematographer Ronnie Taylor. Editor Stan Cole. Costumes Heidi Cole. Music Paul J. Zaza. Production design Peter Murton. Art director John Myhre. Set decorator Hugh Scaife. Sound Oscar Lawson.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
MPAA-rated R (for strong violence and for some language).