POPCORN (1991) Blu-ray
Director: Mark Herrier
Synapse Films

An early 1990s slasher movie that thinks outside the conventional box by simultaneously paying homage to old monster flicks and schlocky ballyhoo, POPCORN gets a standard Blu-ray release (after a special steelbook edition) from Synapse Films.

Trying to raise some bucks, a group of very annoying college film students fix up an old movie theater for an all-night horror movie festival. On the suggestion of nerdy Toby (37-year-old Tom Villard, ONE CRAZY SUMMER), the festival will include three flicks from the 1950s and 1960s using showy gimmicks of the William Castle tradition (3-D, a giant insect on a wire, electrically buzzed seats, and "aroma-rama"). In the meantime, in a box of old props, the "kids" discover a disturbing reel of film featuring a Manson look-alike (or rather, a Rasputin look-alike) chanting the word "possessor." This is the same character that one of the students, Maggie (Jill Schoelen, THE STEPFATHER), has recurring nightmares about. It seems that the star/director was a lunatic who performed the last part of the film onstage — killing his wife and setting fire to the theater in the process. Of course, this is all so that there can be a phantom/killer roaming around 15 years later during the horror festival. And so the show rolls on, and the students muster up an extravaganza that would cost thousands of dollars in the real world.

The real star of POPCORN — albeit too brief — is the "film-within-a-film" segments that pay clever homage to horror and sci-fi films of yesteryear. "Mosquito" is a 1950s era giant bug movie, complete with a handsome general (Barry Jenner, LOOKER), his goofy adolescent sidekick, and an attractive female scientist/love interest. Watch as a giant mosquito latches to the roof of a car and sucks the life out of a hick farmer! "The Incredible Electrifying Man" is a direct spoof of the Lon Chaney 1950s favorite, THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN, and it's a riot. Bruce Glover (FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) plays a convict who survives the electric chair with the help of some innovative scientists. Now Glover walks around as an electrified zombie with a Don King hairdo and a deadly touch (the scene where he confronts a gang of leather-bound, knife-wielding J.D.s is priceless). The last (and only color) of these segments is "The Stench," a late 1960s era Japanese Toho spoof (complete with bad dubbing and beehive hairdos). "The Stench" is the briefest segment, because at this point in the film, the killer is at the peak of his activity and the climax is about to occur.

Alan Ormsby (CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS) was responsible for these great "film-within-a-film" pieces. Ormsby was the uncredited co-director, replaced by PORKY’S trilogy actor Mark Herrier a few weeks into filming. The rest of the film is pretty ordinary, but a notch above the average slasher film from the period. The late Villard is the crazed murderer, seeking retribution for his totally burnt and mutilated body. He's also a prosthetic whiz who can re-create other people’s mugs as disguises. Villard could be a bit over the top and very Jim Carrey-like, but ultimately he's suitable for the part of guy that's totally cracked in the head. Veteran guest stars include Dee Wallace (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) as Maggie's mom, Tony Roberts (ANNIE HALL) as the film school instructor, and a bit by Ray Walston (FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH) as an old-time showman who supplies the props for the film festival (he protests the "Postage Stamp" proportions of modern multiplex screens). Most of the younger players (including PHANTOM OF THE MALL’s Derek Rydall as Maggie’s clumsy, two-timing boyfriend and THE CURSE’s Malcolm Danare as a wheelchair-bound loudmouth) are obnoxious and get slaughtered immediately after displaying an ounce of personality, and your head will be spinning when a ten-piece reggae band takes the stage after a power outage! But the overall novelty of POPCORN will definitely have appeal to horror fans from the old school.

Previously released on DVD by Elite Entertainment back in 2002, Synapse first issued POPCORN on Blu-ray/DVD combo earlier in 2017 as a collector’s edition steelbook edition (limited to 3000) and now as a standard single Blu-ray edition. Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD, the transfer has been made from a brand-new 2K scan of a 35mm interpositive vault element, and we can’t imagine it looking any better than it does here. The transfer impresses with well-saturated colors (which pop out at the screen at times) and distinct flesh tones. Detail and textures are also quite good, and there’s a healthy amount of filmic grain on display, making the movie a pleasure to watch in HD. The English audio is presented in DTS-HD 7.1 surround sound (as well as a 2.0 stereo), with the music and the effects working well in the mix, and audio always being clear. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

As the Elite DVD was a barebones affair, it’s great to see that Synapse went all-out to make this Blu-ray a true “special edition” with an array of extras. First up is an audio commentary with director Mark Herrier, stars Jill Schoelen and Malcolm Danare, and special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls (who also plays cult director Lanyard Gates in the film). Moderated by Kristy Jett (a big fan of the film) of HorrorHound Magazine, the track has Herrier telling that he came onto the film three weeks in (it was shot in Kingston, Jamaica with some interiors done in Toronto, Canada) and mentions being brought onto the project by uncredited producer Bob Clark (who was the one who fired Ormsby); Schoelen recalls how she came on to replace another actress (Amy O'Neill). Herrier especially remembers a lot about the production, while the other participants share anecdotes and feed recollections off each other; it’s a very lively and funny track, even if there are a few moments of silence every once in awhile.

MIDNIGHT MADNESS: THE MAKING OF "POPCORN" (57:11) features interviews with Mark Herrier, Mat Falls, composer Paul Zaza, “distributor executive” Jonathan Wolf (president of Studio Three Film Corporation) and cast members Jill Schoelen, Derek Rydall, Dee Wallace, Malcolm Danare, Ivette Soler and Elliott Hurst. Produced by Red Shirt Pictures, the documentary has some terrific interviews as the participants recall how the enticing trip to Jamaica quickly became a troubled production and they describe the initial shooting days with original director Ormsby and original lead actress Amy O’Neill. Herrier and Schoelen recall getting the calls to come into the project and the first scenes that they shot, and once they came on the set, it seems things started to fall into place and everyone bonded. They say the nicest things about co-star Villard (who passed away in 1994 due to AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 40), and it’s noted that Bob Clark had a big hand in the production, more than what’s generally known to the public (though Herrier denies that Clark directed any of it). Wolf says that when Studio Three picked up the film, they were hoping to market it to a younger audience with a PG-13 rating, but that the R presented a real marketing challenge, and likely hindered it at the box office. “Electric Memories – An Interview with Actor Bruce Glover” (6:38) has Glover saying that he loved doing the film, as he describes his character (and that he modeled him after Lon Chaney Jr.) and that he thought that all three “film-within-a-film” segments where the best part of it. Glover was disappointed when he saw the film in the theater only to discover his scenes had been trimmed. Rounding out the extras are a lengthy still gallery (7:01), an original theatrical trailer, a longer television trailer and seven shorter TV spots (one of which humorously ties in with the NFL). The Blu-ray’s cover art is reversible. (George R. Reis)