A group of film students stages a schlock monster movie marathon, only to fall victim to an unknown assailant capable of posing as anyone. Minor spoilers follow.
Popcorn begins with film-student Maggie having disturbing dreams. While setting up the aforementioned marathon, she and the other students uncover a mysterious film and watch it. Maggie recognizes the images from her dreams and passes out. Upon waking, she learns the film was the work of Lanyard Gates a demented filmmaker who murdered his entire family. It would seem viewing the film unleashed Gates’s spirit, ala Demons, but this proves a red herring.
Or does it? There’s a scene where Maggie’s aunt, played by Dee Wallace, approaches the theater and the marquee tumbles and the word “Possessor” fades into view. Subsequent scenes neither resolve nor acknowledge this supernatural angle.
Instead, the script flips to Gialloesque slasher and reveals the real antagonist as a burn victim with a gift for gab—ala Freddy Krueger. There’s a scene where he’s talking to Maggie with his face half-attached that rivals any scare-piece in the Elm Street franchise.
And yet, while the practical effects shine here, a few scenes earlier, a student dies via animated electrocution that mirrors the schlock movie-within-the-movie playing on-screen.
The script proves as uneven. Maggie intuits details about the killer from thin air, such as when she says, “He must be able to disguise himself as anyone!” despite no such evidence or clues. Her would-be suitor endures a running gag that sees him knocked on his ass. Like the supernatural bits with Dee Wallace, these slapstick sequences feel out of place. As though both characters exist in different movies.
These inconsistencies reflect the production’s behind-the-scenes chaos. Producer Bob Clark replaced both the director—his longtime friend and collaborator Alan Ormsby—and lead actress three weeks into shooting. Clark, director of Black Christmas and Deathdream (also written by Ormsby), knows how to direct a competent horror, but fails as a producer. In paying homage to schlock movies, he’s created one.
And yet, like those 50s monster movies, there’s something charming about Popcorn. The movies-within-the-movie capture the stilted acting and campy effects. The tonal whiplash delivers unintended laughs and the practical effects offer gruesome thrills. I’m not sure a less flawed film would entertain half as much.
- Synapse, 2017↩