Popcorn (1991 film)

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Popcorn FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Mark Herrier
Alan Ormsby (uncredited)
Produced by Ashok Amritraj
Howard Hurst
Torben Johnke
Sophie Hurst
Bob Clark (uncredited)
Written by Mitchell Smith (story)
Tod Hackett (screenplay)
Starring Jill Schoelen
Tom Villard
Dee Wallace
Tony Roberts
Ray Walston
Derek Rydall
Music by Paul Zaza
Cinematography Ronnie Taylor
Edited by Stan Cole
Distributed by Studio Three Film Corporation Europa Home Vídeo e Penthouse Films (VHS/Brasil)
Release dates
  • February 1, 1991 (1991-02-01)[1]
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4,205,000 (USA)[2]

Popcorn is a 1991 American horror film directed by Mark Herrier and written by Alan Ormsby.


The fledgling film department of the University of California, Berkeley has problems in gaining recognition, and film professor Mr. Davis has an idea how to overcome them. He and his students organize an all-night horror film festival to be held at Dreamland, an abandoned movie theater. Dr. Mnesyne, owner of film memorabilia, provides them with appropriate gimmicks for the films chosen for the festival. There are three main films within a film.[3] Mosquito is a 3D film, The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man which was released with an accompanying "Shock-o-Scope" gimmick (electrical "buzzers" in seats), and The Stench is a Japanese film released in Odorama.[3]

Meanwhile aspiring film writer Maggie (Jill Schoelen) becomes obsessed with a fourth film, Possessor. Its creator, Lanyard Gates, went on to kill his own family on the stage of a movie theater in the 1970s. She finds herself constantly dreaming of this man, and starts believing that he has returned for her.[3] Unbeknownst to the group, a homicidal maniac is stalking the theater where the festival is being held. He might be Gates returned, and Maggie may or may not be his missing daughter.



Popcorn was filmed entirely in Kingston, Jamaica. Alan Ormsby was originally the film's director.[4] Ormsby was replaced by Porky's actor Mark Herrier a few weeks into filming.[5] The original lead Amy O'Neill was replaced by Jill Schoelen at this time as well.[citation needed]

Ormsby is credited with directing all three of the main films within a film, while Herrier is credited with filming the present-day portions of the film.[3]


According to John Kenneth Muir, the title reflects a trend in the horror films of the 1990s. There were few colorful titles, none as flamboyant as examples of previous decades such as The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Instead most film titles were generic and simple. Besides Popcorn, he cites titles such as The Guardian (1990), The Crush (1993), The Temp (1993), Hideaway (1995), and Scream (1996).[6] He believes this trend was a result of the studio desire for generic, wide-appeal films.[6]

Muir believes the film itself was part of another trend of the time. Horror films which were both postmodernist films and self-reflective. Popcorn took inspiration from the history of the horror films, from the 1950s onwards. While Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) and In the Mouth of Madness (1995) used metafiction as one of their themes.[6]

Muir found the films-within-a-film to be more interesting than the frame story. He found them to be a realistic homage to the low-budget horror film of the 1950s and to the gimmicks of William Castle.[3] Mosquito has similarities to the films of Jack Arnold. Nuclear weapons testing has caused desert mosquitoes to grow into giant monsters, in a plot resembling Them! (1954) and The Deadly Mantis (1957). The film includes stock characters and situations, such a dedicated lady scientist and the military insisting on using a nuclear weapon to annihilate the monster.[3] The gimmick accompanying Mosquito is a life-sized version of the giant mosquito which slides down a rope above the heads of the film audience. This is a tribute to Emergo, the Castle-devised gimmick accompanying House on Haunted Hill (1959). The original gimmick featured a glowing skeleton sliding down a rope.[3] The title of The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man seems to be a homage to The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), while the visual style of this film is similar to ther works of William Cameron Menzies. It includes influences from German Expressionism, with "exaggerated shadows and menacing low-angles".[3] The accompanying gimmick, "Shock-o-Scope", seems to be a rename of Percepto, the electric gimmick which accompanied The Tingler (1959).[3] The Stench is fashioned after Japanese film, imported and dubbed for the American market. Its accompanying gimmick is an obvious variation of Smell-O-Vision, the gimmick used in Scent of Mystery (1960).[3] Stranger than them is the Possessor. It features extreme close-ups, and functions as a mix between a snuff film and a product of Psychedelia. Its protagonist Lanyard Gates has similarities to cult leader Charles Manson.[3]

The frame story is instead a rather typical slasher film. The killer impersonates his victims through use of masks, and his goal is the performance of a snuff-show in front of a live audience. His motivation lies in a crime of the past which scarred him for life. Maggie serves at the final girl of the film, accompanied by a heroic boyfriend. As to the identity of the killer, the film employs a suitable red herring for misdirection.[3] Muir observes, however, that the film does not use slasher film themselves as part of its self-reflecting depiction of the horror genre. The characters don't seem aware of the relevant tropes, nor do they seem aware of their presence in a slasher film-like situation. Unlike their counterparts in Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997).[3]

The film includes a scene hinting at supernatural horror, which seems out-of-place in this film and is never properly explained. Suzanne, Maggie's mother, arrives at Dreamland to confront Lanyard Gates, gun in hand. As in response, the letters of the movie threater's marquee fall on the ground and in their place appears a new sign: Possessor. Actually no character in this film, including the killer has the ability to do something like this.[3]


Box Office[edit]

The film was not a box office success.[7]

Home video[edit]

Popcorn was initially released on home video in June 1991.[8] Variety reported in 1993 that home video sales equaled $2,043,179.[9]

Elite Entertainment released a DVD edition of Popcorn in 2001. Special features include theatrical trailers, TV spots and promotional footage. The DVD was discontinued as of January 4, 2010.[citation needed]

A domestic Blu-ray release is planned for October 2014 through Synapse Films.


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 29% of 17 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 5.4/10.[10] John Kenneth Muir identified two distinct films in Popcorn: one is a smart, postmodern film that "self-reflexively gazes back at genre conventions and gimmickry", and the other a rather derivative revival of 1980s slashers that lacks the self-awareness and intelligence of the more postmodern half.[5] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "the best spoof of its kind since Alligator."[11] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it an "ingenious and spoofy little shocker".[12] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly rated it B and wrote, "Though it isn't even trying to scare you, this is a very nifty black-comic horror movie, one of the rare entries in the genre with some genuine wit and affection."[13] Richard Harrington of The Washington Post wrote that it "has several good ideas that, unfortunately, go unrealized."[14] Stephen Hunter of The Baltimore Sun wrote, "Popcorn isn't too clever by half, but only by seven-sixteenths. It's so busy being droll and ironic it forgets to be any good."[15] Chris Hicks of the Deseret News wrote, "On the whole, "Popcorn" is so amateurish in its development, with pseudo-hip dialogue that drops movie references every few lines, it winds up being neither scary nor funny."[16] Gary Thompson of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote that the film spoofs were inspired, but the rest of the film is much worse.[17] Reviewing the 2001 DVD release, Adam Tyner of DVD Talk called it "a wildly entertaining movie",[18] and Patrick Naugle of DVD Verdict called it "a fun little flick."[19]



  1. ^ "Entrepreneurs Find New Film Inroads". Variety. 1991-01-27. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  2. ^ "Popcorn". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Muir (2011), p. 170-172
  4. ^ Pecchia, David (1989-10-22). "Films going into production". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  5. ^ a b Muir, John Kenneth (2011). Horror Films of the 1990s. McFarland Publishing. pp. 170–172. ISBN 9780786440122. 
  6. ^ a b c Muir (2011), p. 10-11
  7. ^ "WEEKEND BOX OFFICE : 'Home Alone' Holds Its Own". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-03. 
  8. ^ "RCA/Col Pops 'Popcorn'". Variety. 1991-02-10. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  9. ^ "In winner’s circle". Variety. 1993-08-17. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  10. ^ "Popcorn (1990)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  11. ^ Canby, Vincent (1991-02-01). "Popcorn (1990)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  12. ^ Thomas, Kevin (1991-02-01). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Popcorn': A Nifty Tribute to Its Genre". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  13. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (1991-02-15). "Popcorn (1991)". Entertainment Weekly (53). Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  14. ^ Harrington, Richard (1991-02-02). "'Popcorn' (R)". Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  15. ^ Hunter, Stephen (1991-02-05). "Bag 'Popcorn' if you want artful cinema". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  16. ^ Hicks, Chris (1991-02-08). "Film review: Popcorn". Deseret News. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  17. ^ Thompson, Gary (1991-02-01). "Only Kernel Of Diversion In 'Popcorn' It's Not Staple Fare As A Horror Show". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  18. ^ Tyner, Adam (2001-09-04). "Popcorn". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  19. ^ Naugle, Patrick (2001-10-25). "Popcorn". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2014-01-16. 

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