Popcorn

Wicked Wednesday: Popcorn (1991)

Sometimes, what a horror movie really needs is a unique setting. Step aside, summer camps. Go away, sleepy small towns! Horror movie marathons is where we should be. And thanks to the comedy slasher Popcorn, our horror-nerd dreams get to come true.

Young university student Maggie has a reoccurring dream about a girl named Sarah, who is attacked by a mad man. She records her memories on her tape recorder in hopes of later using it for a movie. Her dream worries her mother, who has shepherded her from place to place since she was a girl.

Maggie’s film department is rather pushed around. No space and no money. But her fellow classmate Toby comes up with the idea to host an horror film festival. But not just any all-night: one with all the bells and whistles of the gimmick-movie heyday (including aroma-rama and shock-o-vision). A local memorabilia shop owner allows them to use his things to decorate the cinema and get it ready for the night.

But just as the students wrap up their work, they discover a canister containing old film. They decide to run the film. They soon realise that it’s a strange movie called The Possessor, and follows Maggie’s dream almost identically. Maggie faints during the film, and when she’s awake, their professor tells them about the movie.

The professor explains that it was made by a man named Lanyard Gate, a man who ran a sort of film-related cult. Gates killed his family live on stage before setting fire to the movie theatre, which killed the entire audience that was locked inside.

Considering the similarities between her dream and the film, Maggie asks her mom about it. She claims not to know anything, but soon gets a phone call. Maggie’s mom goes to the movie theatre where she is attacked by someone and grabbed.

The following day is the movie marathon, the film department gear up for the long night ahead. A strange, unseen man approached Maggie in the ticket booth and calls her Sarah. She tries to find him, but he’s lost in the sea of costumed customers.

During the first film, the professor is killed by being impaled by a giant robotic mosquito. He’s dragged away where someone made a cast of his face, then a rubber mask.

One of the students goes backstage, looking for the professor. She sees a man with the professor’s face and begins to make out with him, but she soon realises that it’s a mask. The man peels off the mask revealing a badly-burnt face. She’s killed before she can even attempt to get away.

The burned man then kills another student, Bud, by electrocuting him in his wheelchair. The surge in power casues the entire cinema to lose power.

The remaining students (unaware that their classmates all dropping like flies) all attempt to regain power before the audience really loses their shit. Maggie goes to look for Bud, but instead finds the burned man, who claims to be Gates. He tells her that she is his daughter, and that her real name is Sarah. Oh and her mom is not her real mom because her real mother was stabbed to death!

Maggie finds Toby and the two of them attempt to look for the circuit breakers. She tells him about her childhood memories, which had been unlocked with her conversation with Gates. While searching, they both fall into a hole and into the lair of the killer.

But in a twist-reveal, Gates admits that he is not actually Lanyard Gates, but TOBY. Stupid, stuttering Toby. He begins to show off his masks to Maggie, explaining that his mother had been killed in the fire when he and her were front stage watching the film. His face became disfigured, requiring him to use a life-like mask to make himself appear real.

Obviously he blames Sarah/Maggie for everything because as she was only a child, she’s solely guilty for everything! But then he wheels out ‘mom’, who is actually Maggie’s aunt, who saved her during the ordeal.

Toby’s chess pieces are in order when the final film of the marathon cuts out and The Possessor begins to play. Maggie and her mom and placed on stage where Toby begins to perfectly re-enact the scenes from the film.

Just before he’s able to kill Maggie, she’s saved by her boyfriend, who zip-lines onto stage. The giant, robotic mosquito kills Toby, and ultimately saves the day (yay).

Popcorn was written by my now go-to Canadian writer, Alan Ormsby (DerrangedDead of Night). This was very similar to what he was going for in his film Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. A group of high-brow artists (in this case, filmmakers in Children it’s stage actors) who stumble upon darker circumstances than they bargained for.

I personally love the idea of the movie marathon as the setting. But it also is a nice look at why horror fans are ultimately so sadistic. We cheer for deaths and destruction, but does that confusion bleed into reality?

The movie was a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to re-watch it again with a better picture. Popcorn will be re-released on Blu-Ray in the UK through 88 Films this October.

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