There’s good and there’s bad and then somewhere in between there’s Popcorn. Released long after the golden era of the slasher boom, Porky’s star Mark Herrier’s tongue-in-cheek directorial debut mixes ’50’s schlock with ’80’s splatter with mixed results. Made on an almost non-existent budget with the help of Black Christmas director Bob Clark, who acted as producer alongside long time collaborator Alan Ormsby, Popcorn would feature such recognisable genre faces as Dee Wallace-Stone (The Howling) and Kelly Jo Minter (A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child). Based on an idea by Mitchell Smith and written by Ormsby, who would walk from the director’s chair after only a few weeks, the story centred around a group of film students who host an all night horrorthon of ’50’s B-movies whilst a psycho stalks the theatre in typical slasher fashion.
The movie opens with an awful dream sequence which features the usual clichés and slow motion effects, which immediately screams ‘TV movie’ at you. Much of the music is somewhat dubious as well, which makes Popcorn seem like it was made in the early ’80’s (and that is not means as a compliment). And despite all its Ingmar Bergman and Orson Welles references, this is as dumb as horror gets, although its urge to homage old gimmicks in the style of William Castle does add a playful touch. It is difficult to tell whether the filmmakers were aiming for something a little more intelligent but its difficult production caused problems or if it was their intention all along to deliver possibly the most amateur slasher since The Dorm That Dripped Blood.
Had Ormsby directed the movie, instead of being replaced by the inexperienced Herrier, then things may have worked out differently. After all, Ormsby had already balanced horror and slapstick humour with the zombie classic Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (co-directed by Clark), which proved far more effective. He is a bizarre individual who could have been more than capable of rising this effort above its mediocre result. What is perhaps most frustrating is that somewhere amongst the mess there is a decent concept here, that has been simply reduced to a run-of-the-mill straight-to-video effort.
But some of Ormsby’s magic touch did remain in the finished movie, as the clips of the old films that are shown at the horror festival were a result of his few weeks on set. In fact, this film-within-a-film technique conjures up another movie of the era, Joe Dante’s Matinee, which was far superior in every way. Still, this aspect adds a little style to what could have been a total disaster. This isn’t to say that Popcorn is unwatchable – it certainly ranks in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category – but what stings the most is how this could have been so much more. Instead, it’s a curious piece that slasher completists should track down and everyone else keep their distance from.