The twenty-first film in the 31 Days of Slashers series is Mark Herrier’s Popcorn (1991). Maggie (Jill Schoelen) is a film student at a university whose film department is struggling financially. Maggie and her classmates decide to host a horror film festival to raise money for the department. The closed theatre that they select to host the event was once the site of a fire that resulted in the death of an entire family. When preparing for the event, the students discover a short film called Possessor made by Lanyard Gates, who it turns out killed his family in the theatre after finishing the film. Will their event be successful? Or could Lanyard Gates still be alive and looking for more people to murder?
As a film student myself, Popcorn is naturally a slasher film that I love greatly. It features so many fun references to classic horror films of the 1950s through the films the students decide to screen at their event. There are nods to many of the legendary producer William Castle’s theatrical gimmicks that the students use to bring in bigger audiences, such as retro 3D, smell-o-vision, and a large prop mosquito that flies over the festival attendees. It’s interesting to see a film that really navigates the horror genre within its narrative prior to Wes Craven’s Scream. Popcorn never got much attention for its meta narrative, and that is something that definitely should be acknowledged now. While Popcorn was obviously not as financially successful as the Scream franchise, it had a lot to say about horror five years prior to Craven’s iconic slasher.
The performances of Popcorn are also quite good, as the film features Jill Schoelen as protagonist Maggie, Dee Wallace (of E.T. and The Howling fame) as her mother, and an enjoyably over-the-top performance from Tom Villard as Toby. Herrier features some rather disgusting practical make-up effects that are quite effective. The death sequences featured in Popcorn are also particularly entertaining as they often connect with what is occurring onscreen in the films shown at the festival. Herrier does an excellent job of creating a nostalgic aesthetic and vibe that really gives Popcorn an appealing edge against the other slasher films of the early 1990s. This was the point in time where the slasher sub-genre was considered to be on its last legs, with the later entries in the Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises delivering less and less box office revenue with each new release.
The theatre location in the film is such a perfect set, as well. It provides so many dark corners and creepy hidden hallways for the killer to maneuver through, while also maintaining such a strong sense of nostalgia for local cinemas that are just too few and far between these days. The Dream Land theatre in the film is such a charming location that Herrier utilizes so perfectly for a great chunk of the narrative.
Through its incredibly enjoyable references to classic horror, its fun film department plot, the great use of the theatre as the main setting, and solid performances, Popcorn proves to be a very entertaining little slasher film that is definitely worthy of a watch this Halloween season!
Unfortunately, Popcorn isn’t currently on any streaming platforms. But the Synapse Films blu-ray, which features a fantastic restoration and special features, can be checked out from your local library and purchased HERE.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series!