August 15, 2010 at 11:12 pm (9 Heads, Popcorn) (, , , )

Popcorn – 1991 – United States

Name dropping Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman within 5 minutes of the title card, Popcorn has flick freaks in mind. Film students host a horror marathon of 3 faux 50s and 60s movies with William Castle gimmicks (note the nurse peddling life insurance in the lobby). Witness: Mosquito (giant atomic 3D bugs), Electrified Man (with voltage-wired theater seats), and The Stench (dubbed Japanese sci-fi in Aroma Rama). Meanwhile, a psychopath stalks about the theater, murdering, and cackling his needlessly complex backstory. Between the fake vintage hokum and the crazed monster movie buffs, Popcorn is miraculous fun.

A cute film nerd girl (particularly in sexy usher costume, seen later) is haunted by psychedelic nightmares of slo-mo flames and bloody ritual murders. Revealed presently, these visions are from a hypnotic film called “Possessor” by an acid-cult leader who performed human sacrifice at a screening. Possessor (glimpsed bits at a time) is great, with close-up twitching eyes and blood-spitting mouths under a soundtrack of deep chanting “I am the Possessor.”

In a separate plotline (eventually merging), film students host a horror fest at the nostalgic Dreamland Theater where outrageously costumed cinephiles and fabricated moldy-oldie movies steal the show. Highlights include a teenager with a barfing fake head on his shoulder and Mosquito’s explosive climax cobbled together from war and A-bomb newsreels. Less interesting is Popcorn’s villain, a burn-disfigured killer donning latex masks and murdering the film students in a revenge scheme apparently related to Possessor’s bloody history. It’s convoluted and I’m avoiding spoilers, but take my word—it’s an entertaining mess.

Popcorn is muddled and scatter-brained with nonstop in-jokes and disparate plot elements crammed together with hilarity. One amusing bit: a student stands at a urinal beside the killer disguised as the student’s mirror image. Shocked, the student looks over as the killer turns, leers, and pisses on him.  But Popcorn’s greatness is the mixture of humor and genuine horror. While parodying horror tropes, it still manages to be horrific. The inventive lighting, abundant effects, and well-utilized location add atmosphere, and there are plenty of chilling and suspenseful moments. I particularly enjoyed a scene where the killer acts out a murder from Possessor, simultaneously projected behind him as he mimics it. And then there’s the climax in which the killer murders on stage as the ignorant audience cheers him on.

Popcorn is packed with such touches. There’s homages, gags, shocks, and twists on a minute-to-minute basis. It’s (literally) 4 movies of gasps/laughs in 1. In the post-Scream world, self-awareness in horror flicks is common (see Brainscan) if not passé, but rarely is it so unrestrained.

Rating: 9/10 Shrunken Heads. Yes! Watch it! Be sure to dig the monster rap credit song—“Scary, scary movies on the silver screen. Aliens and maniacs, tarantulas and brainiacs.”

Fun Fact: Interestingly, Popcorn was shot in Jamaica (near my Haitian homeland) dressed up as California. This goes far to explain the reggae music on the soundtrack, including a bubbly version of “Saturday Night at the Movies”.

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