If you consider its plot at a rudimentary level, there’s nothing remarkable about the 1991s. Pop corn. It’s a slasher movie that sticks 100% to the classic structure: a tragedy in the past unleashes a vengeful killer in the present, who then proceeds to eliminate his victims one by one. But thanks to its clever setting and its own cult horror movie, Pop corn is so much more than that.
We’re first introduced to Maggie (minor scream queen Jill Schoelen, who also starred in Step-father and When a stranger calls back), a film student who lives with her mother (horror legend Dee Wallace, star of The hills Have Eyes, The howling, Cujo, creaturesand AND the extra-terrestrial) and is convinced that her eerily vivid dreams will help her write an incredible screenplay. Next, we meet Maggie’s classmates – a cornucopia of movie geeks. To raise money for their college’s film department, they decide to hold a horror marathon at a nearby theater with long shutters, featuring a trio of cheesy movies that were originally released with promotional gimmicks (a big hats off to William Castle) which they will recreate.
Dr. Mnesyne (Ray Walston, star of my favorite martian, Fast times at Ridgemont High, and about a million other things), who runs a gift shop and is able to provide kids with all the rubber monsters and wacky costumes and accessories they’ll ever need. But on the big night, a killer lurks among the crowd, creatively murdering members of the group, then assuming their identities using alarmingly realistic masks to conceal their crimes.
The cleverest aspect of Pop corn – directed by Mark Herrier and written by Alan Ormsby – is that the production actually went the distance and filmed significant parts of the movies in the movie that form the backdrop for much of its action. Sometimes the main movie gives up the whole screen to those cornball images, all of which would have been fair game for Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffage if they were actually real. There is a creature feature Mosquito, presented in 3D with the added bonus of a giant insect rigged to fly over the theater at a key moment; monster tale Attack of the Incredible Electrified Man, some of whose seats are rigged to “shock” spectators; and The stenchstylistically inspired by a Godzilla movie (the voice acting!), but also featuring John Waters-esque use of “Odorama” to envelop the audience in all the disgusting smells depicted on screen.
The attention to detail is admirable. And there is a fourth film within the film which also plays a crucial role: Possessor, which the middle schoolers find a copy of while cleaning the theater. Fifteen years ago, its director – “chief guru of this cult 60s film” – lost his mind after audiences mocked his earnest avant-garde cinematic explorations. His solution to silence the haters? Film his entire script for Possessor save the last scene, which he performed live on stage instead, adding the gruesome final “trick” of murdering his family, then setting the theater on fire, killing several audience members in the process. He died with them…or did he? And another thing: why does Maggie’s recurring dream seem exactly to like Possessor?
The mystery part of Pop corn is absolutely not difficult to understand. Like most slashers of the era, you’ll have no trouble discerning who the killer is, and even if you have the slightest bit of confusion as to their motivation (you won’t), they get a big scene at the end where they explain everything. The fun here is the general air of goofballery that envelops the entire film. The characters are all one-note – the only person who gets anything resembling an arc is Maggie’s boyfriend, played by Derek Rydall (another slasher star from the same era who I also really like, very recommend: The Mall Ghost: Eric’s Revenge) — but they are friendly all the same, with Tom Villard (Grease 2) and Kelly Jo Minter (A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child) among them.
And what’s more, you can’t help but love the rowdy audience that sets in for the horror marathon wearing all sorts of Halloween costume adornments. They eat all the movies and gimmicks with mad excitement, they dance excitedly when the theater loses power, and they even stay until the end to see the killer get their just desserts. Pop cornIt’s by no means a masterpiece – not even among its slasher relatives – but it’s absolutely a serious love letter to midnight movie madness.
Pop corn is coming to Shudder today, May 9th.
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Editor’s note: The release dates in this article are based in the US, but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.