Popcorn (1991) Blu-ray Review: Hot Buttered Death

Synapse Films turns up the heat on one of early '90s most underrated horror movies.
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Crafted during that curious cusp separating the '80s and '90s, Popcorn initially failed to "pop" with audiences when it first hit theaters in early 1991. In the years that have followed, however, the film has gone on to become a highly-acclaimed cult classic amongst horror film fans. And that is a particularly great feat, considering the production was plagued with many difficulties, including ‒ most notably ‒ the replacement of its director and lead star.

Originally intended to be another collaboration between Porky's creator Bob Clark and Cat People (1982) writer Alan Ormsby (who had created several creepy horror classics in the '70s, including a personal favorite of mine, 1972's Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things), Popcorn undoubtedly inspired many movies to come, including Joe Dante's Matinee (1993) and Wes Craven's 1996 hit Scream. Again, that's quite the accomplishment, especially when you stop to consider the fact no one reportedly saw Popcorn the first time 'round!

Story-wise, Popcornfinds a group of college film students hosting an all-night horror movie marathon at a grandiose (yet defunct) moviehouse. Instead of choosing better-known classic movies to show, the group decides to gather together a bunch of terrible box office turkeys from the '50s, complete with the original William Castle-esque gimmicks. But what they don't know is that there is a deranged madman (who is also a master of disguises, naturally!) roaming through the dark corridors of the spacious moviehouse.

Taking the lead here is Jill Schoelen as Maggie, the tormented heroine who has been experiencing recurring nightmares of a Manson-like cult leader. Could the two things be connected? You bet your bucket they are! And as Maggie's friends and classmates meet bizarre and untimely demises ‒ usually timed to coincide with the feature on-screen presentation ‒ Popcorn's audience is treated to a delightful treat of horror and humor, interlaced with beautiful black-and-white homages to sci-fi stinkers of yesteryear.

Cast amid a wave of fresh young faces are Dee Wallace-Stone as Schoelen's mum, former Playboy Playmate Karen Lorre, and regular Woody Allen co-star Tony Roberts. Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian) receives a glorified cameo appearance as a classic horror movie collector, who gets to say one of my favorite lines in the picture, a remark about the size of cineplex screens. Extra special props go out to the great Bruce Glover, who stars as a character in one of the film's movie within a movie (which represents the bulk of Ormbsy's footage).

But the true star in Mark Herrier's Popcorn is, by and far, the late Tom Villard. Cast as Toby, the sensitive movie geek in the class, Villard's performance is truly something to behold. Tragically, the actor would succumb to an AIDS-related illness three years later, after being one of a small handful of performers to divulge his homosexuality and that he was living with AIDS. While Mr. Villard may no longer be with us, his memory lives on in his magnificent role here, and he steals every frame of footage he appears in.

Previously issued by Synapse Films as a special order Collector's Edition Steelbook title, Popcorn is now available as a Special Edition release, which sports all of the exact same specs as its earlier counterpart. Boasting a beautiful new 2K scan of the film in a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC codec, the marvelous picture is accompanied by a DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround Sound Mix supervised by Synapse Films, along with the original 2.0 Stereo mix for those of you who want to keep things as old-school as possible. English (SDH) subtitles are also included.

The special features for this Special Edition release are also identical to the Collector's Edition. And, while the German-language trailer I submitted didn't make the cut [sad panda], it's a great assortment nevertheless.

First off is an audio commentary with director Mark Herrier and cast/crew members Jill Schoelen, Malcolm Danare, and Matt Falls. Next up is Midnight Madness, an amazing feature-length documentary about the making-of Popcorn and the sordid history the production encountered. It's required viewing, as is a short interview with Bruce Glover. Lastly in the mix is an assortment of stills, the original theatrical trailer, and a collection of television spots.

Highly Recommended.

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