• Popcorn (88 Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: 88 Films
    Released on: , 2018.
    Director: Mark Herrier
    Cast: Jill Schoelen, Dee Wallace, Malcolm Danare, Ray Walston, Derek Rydall, Tom Villard, Tony Roberts
    Year: 1991
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    Popcorn – Movie Review:

    The premise for director Mark Herrier’s 1991 film Popcorn is pretty fun – a group of film students and their teacher Mr. Davis (Tony Roberts) decide, before an old theater is to be torn down, that they’ll stage and “All-Night "Horrorthon!" That in and of itself is all well and good but one of the students, Maggie (Jill Schoelen) has been having nightmares that seem to be connected to a short film that the group recently found. This film, The Possessor, was made by an insane filmmaker named Lanyard Gates and it was to end with him killing his family on stage. Those in the audience, including Maggie’s mother (Dee Wallace of The Hills Have Eyes), stopped him but in the ensuing madness a fire broke out. Gates’ body was never found.

    At any rate, the festival at first goes off without a hitch. The theater is packed with costumed audience members plenty enthusiastic to see the three films that are slated to unspool – Mosquito, The Electrified Man and The Stench. With the help of horror movie expert Dr. Mnesyne (Ray Walston) each one will be accompanied by its original William Castle-esque gimmick that was used during its original theatrical run. As the night moves on, Maggie hits it off with Toby (Tom Villard) only for things to get complicated with Mark (Derek Rydall)… and then the first murder occurs.

    Neither the goriest nor the scariest slasher you’re ever likely to see, this one pays homage to B-movies of the past while simultaneously carving out its own quirky little spot in the genre. Definitely made with a sense of humor, Popcorn is nicely paced and just weird enough to work. The effects that are used throughout the movie are pretty solid and we get a few decent kill scenes. The movie borrows a bit from the Dr. Phibes films (and maybe Sam Raimi’s Darkman made a year prior?) but never feels like its ripping things off. The three ‘movies within the movie’ are quite well done – Mosquito feels influenced by The Giant Claw, The Electrified man by a certain Lon Chaney picture and The Stench by old Toho horror pictures. These are amusing in and of themselves and somehow manage to complement the main plot rather than distract from it.

    Performances are pretty solid. Jill Schoelen, who deserves her own spot in horror movie history not just for this film but for her work in The Stepfather, the 1989 Phantom Of The Opera and the mighty The Curse II, is really good as the female lead. She’s cute, she’s likeable and she plays the part with the right amount of enthusiasm. Ray Walston is fun to watch in his role but it’s a small part, while Tony Roberts is also quite good as the teacher. Derek Rydall does just fine as the ‘hunkier’ of the two male leads in the film but it’s the late Tom Villard (who passed away from AIDS related pneumonia at the all too young age of forty) that steals the show. Anyone who watched TV in the eighties and early nineties will recognize him from appearances on shows like The A-Team and The Golden Girls but he also had a role alongside Demi Moore in Parasite, shows up in Ken Russell’s Whore and also appeared in Shakes The Clown. He’s fantastic as Toby, really nailing the part and making it his own.

    Popcorn – Blu-ray Review:

    88 Films presents Popcorn on Blu-ray with an ‘All-New 2K Scan of an Archival 35mm Interpositive’ framed at 1.78.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and it looks excellent – and it appears to mirror the transfer used on the Synapse Blu-ray release from 2017. Although the film is reasonably grainy, there’s very little actual print damage here. Colors are very nicely reproduced throughout and the black and white ‘movies within the movie’ show nice contrast. Black levels are solid and there are no issues with obvious compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction to discuss. Skin tones look nice and natural, there’s good depth and texture and detail is vastly improved over the old DVD release (now long out of print) that came out via Elite Entertainment.

    A quick screen cap comparison with the Synapse Blu-ray screen cap up top and the 88 Films Blu-ray release underneath.

    Audio options are provided in an ‘All-New Blu-ray 7.1 Surround Sound Mix Supervised by Synapse Films’ and in the original 2.0 Stereo option. Purists will appreciate the stereo option here, it sounds nice and clean with good depth and range. The 7.1 track opens up the effects and especially the score in interesting ways, making some of the more active scenes a bit more engaging. Both tracks are very clear, nicely balanced and free of any hiss or distortion. Subtitles are provided for the feature in English only.

    Extras, which again originate with the Synapse release, start off with an audio commentary featuring director Mark Herrier, cast members Jill Schoelen and Malcolm Danare and special makeup effects artist Mat Falls. It’s a pretty busy talk that covers a lot of ground. Moderated by Kristy Jett, there’s some interesting info in here about having to reshoot certain sections, who did what behind and in front of the camera (specifically the involvement of director Alan Ormsby and leading lady Amy O'Neill who would later leave the project), the influences that worked their way into the movie and quite a bit more.

    From there, jump head first into Midnight Madness: The Making Of Popcorn which is an all new fifty-five minute long featurette made up of interviews with Herrier, Schoelen, Danare and Falls as well as, cast members Derek Rydall, Dee Wallace, Ivette Soler, Elliott Hurst, composer Paul Zaza and distributor executive Jonathan Wolf. This is, in a word, comprehensive. Put together by Red Shirt Pictures it covers some of the same ground as the commentary but by having more people involved it is more than just a retread of that talk. Lots of discussion here of what it was like on set, the effects featured in the picture, the locations, the shooting schedule and plenty of other topics related to the film’s history.

    Also on hand is a six minute featurette called Electric Memories which is an interview with actor Bruce Glover who plays the lead in The Electrified Man film that plays in the theater. He talks about what he liked about the part and about his thoughts on the film. It’s eerie sometimes how strong the resemblance is between he and his son.

    Rounding out the extras are a theatrical trailer, a TV trailer, some TV spots, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. The first 500 copies of the disc ordered from 88 Films directly will come with a limited-edition matte finish slipcover

    Popcorn – The Final Word:

    Buy a bag, go home in a box! Popcorn is a lot of fun, a quirky, different kind of slasher that is as much a love letter to vintage horror films as it is a gory stalk and slash picture. 88 Films’ Blu-ray release offers the film in fantastic shape and with some great extra features as well - a fine alternative to UK fans or those who didn’t pick up the Synapse disc.

    Click on the images below for full sized Popcorn Blu-ray screen caps!