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Monday, February 1, 2021

Buy a Bag, Go Home in a Box: Slasher ‘Popcorn’ Turns 30!

Midnight movie sendup Popcorn bears all the hallmarks of an ’80s horror movie. Fueled by nostalgia, the slasher features haunting vignettes, films within movies, a melodramatic killer, and a jovial tone amplified by its atypical filming location. Released on February 1, 1991, Popcorn brought the ’80s spirit into the ’90s and delivered one of the most entertaining slashers to pay homage to the genre. This insanely fun feature rose above its production woes and became a major cult favorite in the thirty years since release.

Horror stalwart Jill Schoelen stars as Maggie Butler, a film student with ambitions to transform her recurring nightmares into her first feature. She’s not the only one either; her classmates are all trying to raise funds for their respective film projects. Classmate Toby D’Amato (Tom Villard) comes up with the idea of hosting an all-night horror marathon, complete with William Castle-style gimmicks, as a fundraiser. They find an old theater scheduled for demolition. Professor Davis (Tony Roberts) hires movie memorabilia shop owner Dr. Mnesyne (Ray Walston) to aid with the gimmicks. The group gets to work prepping for the event.

What should’ve been a successful fundraiser instead turns into a night of terror, however, when a deranged killer with a penchant for disguises begins to pick them off one by one.

With Popcorn, it’s less about the kills and the killer’s identity than the memorable backdrop of the murders. While the killer does take on the identity of his latest victim, making perfect molds of their face to lure in the next film student, a large part of the film’s charm is the marathon itself. The packed theater full of eager movie fans, many dressed in costumes, getting rowdy for the trio of schlocky movies screened in the marathon creates an infectiously energetic mood. They’re having a ball watching Mosquito with 3D glasses and a giant mosquito that swoops over the auditorium. They get a jolt in their seats during The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man (starring actor Bruce Glover as Vernon). Packaged clothespins help ward off the Odorama fumes pumped in during The Stench. Meanwhile, the killer uses some of those gimmicks to mask or aid in his murders.

The screams get drowned out by the masses.

That the feature turned out so well and cohesive likely owes a lot to uncredited producer Bob Clark (Black ChristmasDeathdream). Clark had no interest in directing another horror movie after Black Christmas, though he was offered the job. Instead, he recommended Deathdream writer Alan Ormsby (Deranged). A few weeks into the Kingston, Jamaica shoot, however, Ormsby was fired. On the Midnight Madness: The Making of Popcorn feature, cast members Derek Rydall (Mark) and Malcolm Danare (Bud) speculate that his firing had to do with how intensely detail-oriented Ormsby was and how much time he dedicated to filming the marathon’s background movies.

Actress Amy O’Neill (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), who’d initially been cast as lead Maggie, received the news of her ousting at the same time. Schoelen became a last-minute replacement, rushed out to begin immediately, while Clark collaborator and Porky’s actor Mark Herrier took over the directorial reigns. Those two fundamental personnel changes marked a dramatic shift in the film’s overall tone, from a serious slasher to a light-hearted midnight horror movie sendup. Clark remained extremely hands-on throughout principal photography, even picking up the camera to handle 2nd unit directing when needed.

The reveal of the killer, a badly disfigured Toby with ties to Maggie’s cult upbringing, tends to be one of the more divisive elements. That’s likely more to do with Toby’s motives- he holds a grudge against Maggie as her family was responsible for his losses- than Villard’s committed performance. Villard blends into the background or chews up scenery depending on the scene and often endured 5-6 hours in the makeup chair once Toby reveals his real face. This is all the more impressive considering Villard was then keeping his AIDS diagnosis under wraps. A few years later, Villard came out openly on television but sadly passed away in 1994 from AIDS-related pneumonia. Popcorn wasn’t his final acting credit, but it is his last significant role in a genre film, and he leaves a lasting impression.

Popcorn was prone to behind-the-scenes issues that could’ve derailed the entire project. Thanks to the cast, who clearly had a ball making the movie, Herrier’s lighter approach, and Clark’s creative input and control, this early ’90s slasher has congealed into a beloved cult favorite all these decades later. 



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3649759/buy-bag-go-home-box-slasher-popcorn-turns-30/

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