15 years ago, Lanyard Gates finished his film The Possessor by murdering his family and setting fire to the theater. Legend says there were no survivors but the body of Lanyard Gates was never found. Now, a group of film students are re-opening the Dreamland for an all-night horrorthon. While the audience is watching cheesy sci-fi flicks, a hideously burned killer is stalking the film students in the dark corners of Dreamland.
Popcorn, despite being made in the 90’s, has a distinct 80’s feel. Characters are the standard cut-outs; blonde slut, lovable nerd, streetwise but funny black girl, guy in wheelchair, air-head blonde who eats too much junk food, and a heroine suffering from nightmares. Bad pop songs bust out while characters clean the theater or sell tickets. For some strange reason, a Reggae band jumps on stage and performs a song that has nothing to do with the film right in the middle of the movie. A couple of giallo clichés are thrown in as well. The killer wears black gloves and uses a dummy to distract victims.
Popcorn had a very troubled production. Alan Ormsby, the writer and original director, had a falling out with old pal Bob Clark. As a result, Clark had to bring in Mark Herrier to direct and Ormsby had his writing credit replaced with “Todd Hackett”. Herrier, best known as an actor in the Porky’s trilogy, does a good job telling the story visually. Ormsby’s script, or what’s left of it, borrows elements from almost every horror genre from the 50’s to the 80’s. The films-within-the-film are pure camp and sometimes disrupt the suspense and atmosphere generated by the slasher storyline.
The best thing about Popcorn is the strong cast. Tom Villard is once again type-cast as the goofy nerd, but he brings a sense of innocence to the role of Toby. Sadly, Villard died just a few years after finishing the film. Kelley Jo (Summer School) Minter is funny as tough talking, hard punching Cheryl. Jill (The Stepfather) Schoelen does a nice job as Sarah, the girl haunted by nightmares and a burned killer. Dee Wallace Stone and Tony Roberts have cameos, but Ray Walston is the real scene stealer in his brief appearance.
Popcorn isn’t a perfect slasher, the humor and sci-fi films weaken the horror elements. One would expect more from the team, Clark and Ormsby, that created so many strong horror films in the 70’s. Like most slashers in the 90’s, Popcorn is mostly dry of blood and the most gruesome death is reserved for the killer. Yet, as a homage to a forgotten era of filmmaking and moviegoing, Popcorn is a fun treat. The lack of gore and sex makes it a slasher one can watch with the whole family. It’s rated R, but I doubt it would earn more than a PG-13 today.