POPCORN (1990) Blu-ray
Director: Mark Herrier
88 Films

"Buy a bag, go home in a box," with 88 Films' Blu-ray of the nineties slasher POPCORN.

Suffering from nightmares in which a little girl named Sarah is chased a bearded man with a ceremonial knife, college student Maggie (Jill Schoelen, THE STEPFATHER) is not so much troubled as inspired to turn the disturbing images into an experimental film for her film class. Unfortunately, the UC Oceanview film department is having trouble with funding so film nerd Toby (Tom Villard, PARASITE) comes up with the idea of throwing a gimmicky all-night horrorthon at the soon-to-be-demolished Dreamland Theater. Movie memorabilia and ex-showman Dr. Mnesyne (MY FAVORITE MARTIAN's Ray Walston) provides them with the technical gadgetry required to give the audiences the William Castle-esque charge of MOSQUITO's Project-O-Vision, THE AMAZING ELECTRIFIED MAN's Shock-O-Scope, and THE STENCH's Aroma-rama. While the class – including obnoxious Bud (Malcolm Danare, THE CURSE), prankster Leon (Elliot Hurst), teacher's pet Tina (Freddie Simpson), spunky Cheryl (Kelly Jo Minter, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS), and starry-eyed Joannie (Ivette Soler, THE GRIFTERS) – renovating the theatre, the class discovers an unlabeled reel of film which turns out to be an avant-garde film titled in which Maggie recognizes the images from her nightmares. Teacher Mr. Davis (Tony Roberts, AMITYVILLE 3-D) recognizes it as "Possessor" a film by film cult guru Lanyard Gates (effects artist Matt Falls) who was driven by critical ridicule to make the film and stage the final scene live in a theater, killing his family before the audience and setting fire to the theater fifteen years ago. Although her mother Suzanne (Dee Wallace, THE HOWLING) tells Maggie she knows nothing of Gates, she vanishes shortly after receiving a threatening phone call requesting a meeting at Dreamland the night before the horrorthon. As the night falls and the show starts, Maggie encounters a burned hobo who calls her Sarah but loses him in the crowd and is further distracted when her jock boyfriend Tom (Derek Rydall, previously the burned antihero of PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC'S REVENGE) turns up with slutty Joy (Karen Witter, THE VINEYARD) on his arm. Unaware that someone is turning the show's gimmicks to deadly ends and murdering her friends, Maggie suspects that Gates survived the fire and is planning on finishing "Possessor" with her taking the place of his daughter.

Coming late in the slasher era before the genre got a shot in the arm with Wes Craven's SCREAM, the Canadian-produced POPCORN is not particularly gory or salacious, but it is quite entertaining and clever. Acknowledging the "let's put on a show" aspect of the setup, the film (the basic scenario of which was also utilized for the lower budget direct-to-video Canadian slasher MATINEE) also expresses an affection for the ballyhoo of cinema past as well as the mocking tone of rowdy modern audiences to such material with the motive of the students to "put butts in seats." The body count aspect of the film actually seems like an excuse to show the three film homages rather than the other way around, with MOSQUITO as a parody of the fifties big bug films, THE AMAZING ELECTRIFIED MAN pretty much a remake of THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN (a bottom-bill programmer that no one would have bothered cooking up gimmicks for), and THE STENCH a parody of badly dubbed Japanese monster movies (the former two get the most screentime and one wonders if more of the third was left on the cutting room floor). Schoelen is a personable heroine as usual, and she is well supported by a mostly unknowns along with dependable turns from Wallace and Roberts and a great single scene guest appearance from Walston. Supporting Canadian horror film regulars editor Stan Cole (BLACK CHRISTMAS) and composer Paul Zaza (CURTAINS) is British cinematographer Ronnie Taylor (OPERA) who gives the film a slick veneer but does not try any more than the rest of the production to make the Kingston, Jamaica – the location of the striking old movie house exterior The Ward Theatre – locations actually convince as Southern California. The film's troubled production may be part of the reason that the film's suspense aspects feel almost incidental until the climax. The film was begun with Alan Ormsby (DERANGED) in the director's chair with Bob Clark (A CHRISTMAS STORY) an uncredited producer – CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS' Gary Goch is credited as one of the producers along with adult filmmaker Shaun Costello (HOT DREAMS) and Hyde Park Entertainment's Ashok Amritraj (at the time behind many a direct-to-video erotic thriller like the NIGHT EYES films) – but Ormsby would be replaced three weeks in by Mark Herrier who had appeared as an actor in PORKY'S and had not directed a feature before. Schoelen also replaced original lead Amy O'Neill (HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KID). A different Bob Clark supervised the film's make-up effects while Ormsby's son Ethan appeared as a moviegoer while his other son Adam takes credit for the theme song lyrics.

Released theatrically by short-lived Studio Three Entertainment, POPCORN found most of its audience on RCA/Columbia VHS, which was well-promoted in video stores with posters and standees with the memorable promotional artwork. The film received an anamorphic no-frills presentation in 2001 courtesy of Elite Entertainment but little did we know that it had a rabid cult following until HorrorHound's Kristy Jett announced the production of a documentary on the film in collaboration with Red Shirt Pictures and a Blu-ray release through Synapse Films which sparked off a brief battle over ownership with Code Red Releasing who had licensed the film from a different party. Synapse did a 2K scan of the original interpositive but discovered that the audio elements were a foreign dub track and incomplete magnetic stereo elements. After a year of red tape, they were able to get materials from Sony that included the stereo printmaster as well as six-track mix that was used to create a new 7.1 track for the Blu-ray and a 5.1 track for the DVD. The resulting limited steelbook and standard Blu-rays included a new commentary track, the aforementioned documentary, and other extras which have been ported over to 88 Films' virtually identical Slasher Classics line all-region Blu-ray.

88 Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is derived from the same master and they appear to have left it alone. The colors are slightly richer than the Elite DVD while the image is appropriately darker (some detail was lost in the more saturated gel lighting on the DVD transfer). Synapse's 7.1 mix is included here in DTS-HD Master Audio while the Dolby Stereo mix is also in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (rather than 88's usual encoding of stereo and mono as LPCM). Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

Extras start off with the audio commentary with director Herrier, effects artist Falls, actress Schoelen and actor Danare moderated by Kristy Jett. Schoelen discusses replacing the original actress with little notice and points out wide shots in which O'Neill still appears while Herrier recalls wondering why he was replacing Ormsby as he admired the film-within-a-film scenes until he saw the dailies which he thought were lifeless (in contrast, Schoelen is diplomatic about the nature of her replacing another actress and Danare speaks kindly of Ormsby). Jett discusses the film's fandom, and Herrier's comments on the film support her comments with the notion that the fact that it is not too scary or gory may be the reason why it has a female following. He also notes that the exposed film had to be sent to Miami to be developed and dailies could not be viewed until a day later while location shooting required a lot of post-production looping once in Canada.

A more comprehensive discussion of the film is available in "Midnight Madness: The Making of POPCORN" (57:11) featuring Herrier, Schoelen, and Danare along with Wallace, Rydall, Soler, Hurst, effects artist Falls, composer Zaza, and distributor Jonathan Wolf. Herrier and Schoelen discuss replacing Ormsby and O'Neill three weeks in – Soler adds that she was friends with O'Neill and sent with her to Miami to soften the blow and then returned on the same flight with Schoelen. Wallace recalls coming to Jamaica to shoot the film with a newborn baby while Rydall and Danare chime in about how industrial Kingston was not what they had in mind when they heard they would be going to Jamaica, and Hurst recalls having to audition for the film even though it was produced by his parents Howard and Sophie Hurst (THE CEMETERY CLUB). Herrier notes that the lifelessness of the dailies was as much an issue of performance as direction and had the unenviable task of introducing himself while trying to whip the cast into shape. The discussion also covers working with professional Roberts, Walston's appearance (which was shot early on requiring the reaction shots with Schoelen replacing O'Neill to be shot to match the earlier ones), the early death of Villard, the film's effects, as well as its reception upon release and subsequent following. "Electric Memories" (6:38) is an with actor Glover who confirms that he based his character of the electrified man on Lon Chaney Jr.'s THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN and recalls shooting in Jamaica. The disc also includes Studio Three's theatrical trailer (1:27), TV trailer and TV spots (5:31), as well as a stills gallery (7:01). The cover is reversible cover with the inside dropping the Slasher Classics banner, and the first 500 copies ordered from 88 Films include a slipcover. (Eric Cotenas)