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POPCORN (1991)

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This 1991 horror starts out with an interesting story, a film class decides to screen an all-night horrorthon in an abandoned theater to raise money for the class’ film projects that their high school can’t afford. Things will go horribly wrong though, as young film student, Maggie (Jill Schoelen) is being haunted by dreams of a cult filmmaker who died when he set fire to a theater showing his last film. As the show begins a Phantom Of The Opera-like killer starts stalking the horror film festival who may…or may not…be that same filmmaker. Either way, bodies behind the scenes start dropping as the audience enjoys the horror festival, unaware a killer lurks within.

As directed by Mark Herrier, from a script and story from Todd Hackett and Michael Smith, movie starts out alright with a fun premise of a horror movie marathon stalked by a killer, who may be a crazed filmmaker thought to be dead. The film cuts back and forth between the audience eating up the cheesy horror flicks, while our film class students are stalked and killed by the phantom-like maniac. Then, about halfway through, the killer is revealed too early and begins a tediously long pontification on his motives and master plan and it stops the movie dead in it’s tracks. The film gets a bit convoluted at this point and never recovers as it slowly plods to it’s outlandish ending. It’s a shame, as the initial story was working with the whole ‘Phantom Of The Film Festival’ plot-line, as the killer wore the faces of his victims to lure in his next. It’s fun. Then we unveil the killer about halfway through and he begins to try to talk us to death with his endless speech about why he is doing this and some very weak reasoning as to why he holds Maggie and her mother (Dee Wallace) to blame. It takes a fun flick and drags it kicking and screaming into snooze-ville for the rest of the movie. Sure, there are a few more deaths, but he continues talking afterwards and we never buy his reasons for targeting Maggie, or this film festival itself. He talks about wanting revenge for being an outcast, but the character is actually an accepted and liked person, so explain again how you’re an outcast? Herrier doesn’t manage a whole lot of scares or suspense to begin with, but the film collapses and looses it’s sense of fun once all the whining starts. When it picks up a bit for it theatrical finale, it’s too late. We’ve been taken out of the picture at this point and what does happen, doesn’t draw us back in.

The cast are OK, but none of them really stands out except for veteran Dee Wallace and she disappears for a good portion of it. Jill Schoelen is a cute heroine, but is a little bland and fails to really capture our hearts. Veteran actor Tony Roberts is on hand as the film course teacher, but he doesn’t have enough screen time to really make his likable character endearing. Ray Walston is appropriately strange as a benefactor of the film festival, but his role is basically a cameo. Tom Villard is the weird movie geek character and is also a bit bland, too, which hurts when his character becomes more important as the story movies along. Rounding out is Derek Rydall as Maggie’s boyfriend and the hero of the story, but again, he is fine, but not overly endearing. A bit more of an energetic or memorable cast might have helped this be a bit more of a treat instead of a forgettable diversion.

Popcorn is a better idea than it is an actual movie. The basic plot of turning an all-night horror movie festival into a Phantom Of The Opera-like story is a fun idea, but the execution is weak. There are some entertaining elements here, but the villain and his motives are kinda lame once revealed and they are revealed far too early. There is a lot of pontificating in the second half, when there should be more chills and thrills and the over-the-top ending seems a bit rushed as a result. There are some veterans in the cast, but their parts are all too small to make the impact the film needs as our young leads are a bit on the bland side. Flick is worth a look, if you are a movie buff and the idea of a horror film set within a horror film festival intrigues you, just don’t expect too much.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 popcorn kernals.

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