Popcorn (1991) — A love letter to horror fandom

“Oh, so Gates came back from the dead… to lock Toby out of the theater.”

Justin’s rating: In shocking shriek-o-vision!

Justin’s review: While 1996’s Scream was the pivotal moment in the horror genre where the whole slasher scene was dissected, teased, and reinvented, you can see foreshocks of this meta revolution in a few previous titles. Movies like April Fool’s Day, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 all upended the cart of tropes in favor of referential humor and new twists.

To this list of postmodern meta romps, we can add Popcorn. California college film students decide to put their department on the map by hosting an all-night horror movie marathon at a local theater. To make it even better, the department spices things up by planning a number of gimmicks — such as seat shockers and nasty odors — to surprise the crowd of experienced horror fans who show up dressed in all sorts of Halloween creature costumes.

Helping them set all this up is the charismatic Dr. Mnesyne (Ray Walston), an expert in theater showmanship and a link to a bygone era (particularly of the William Castle-like experiences). “The point is,” he says, showing off all of his gadgets, “We put the butts in the seats where they belong!” He continues to pontificate on how the modern era of cinema has lost something visceral and immersive — a point that we can feel even today.

Of course, what they didn’t plan on was for an actual killer to infiltrate their midst with a desire to create a live-action finish to an old movie called Possessor. His vendetta is set to collide with film student Maggie (scream queen Jill Schoelen), who’s been having creepy dreams about this very movie. She’s going to have her hands full, because the nobody believes her and the killer has the ability to slap fake faces on top of his own, Mission Impossible-style.

Popcorn is the kind of horror movie ambassador you’d want to show to friends who condescendingly dismiss the entire genre outright. Instead of being gory and ominous, from the outset it’s personable, energetic, and even a touch clever. This isn’t really a movie that’s trying to scare anyone or gross us out, but rather an attempt at writing a love letter to the cheery fandom of spooky flicks, bad film riffers, and midnight movie showings.

Plus, I never got tired of how much this movie delights in beating up Mark, Maggie’s romantic interest. It’s a running gag that gets funnier and funnier the longer they pursue it.

I immediately liked this group of film geeks and identified with their shared love of cheesy old b-movies. And I wasn’t complaining at the fusion of late ’80s and early ’90s spirit that was well and gone by the time Scream came out five years later. And I was deeply impressed that Popcorn contains four mocked-up fake films that greatly mimic the style of different horror eras and genres.

Popcorn had a really rough production and release but gradually redeemed itself with a deserved cult following. It’s a total riot to experience, no matter what your horror affinity.


  • “I’m not getting any sleep, but it’s going to make a great film!”
  • “This is the age of safe sex, and sex with you on any level is not safe.”
  • “Is there an inherited gene for obnoxiousness?”
  • Finally, someone defending Police Academy 5!
  • This film was made in Jamaica, hence the reggae music
  • The set up montage for the theater is so dang peppy (and funny)
  • Hey, it’s the mom from E.T.!
  • Odor pellets: fish smell, locker room, road kill, farts, and dead dog
  • He looks like a snowcone
  • “He’s going to dolly up his nose”
  • A movie cult? Sure, why not.
  • The marquee letters flying off
  • All of the costumes — like the guy with the second head that pukes
  • Don’t sign the fright form!
  • “Will these films be as shocking as Possessor… SARAH?”
  • The “Let’s All Go To The Lobby” song
  • Maggie’s excited to find the killer… because it would make a great movie
  • The slurping noise as the giant mosquito sucks the guy’s brains out
  • “Careful, the female mosquito is the dangerous one!”
  • That’s a lot of spare faces
  • Mark gets beat up SO MUCH in this film
  • The bad guy manipulating the Tina’s body to pretend she’s still alive is genuinely creepy
  • A real electric chair
  • “I’m high voltage these days!”
  • “What, no kiss for daddy?”
  • Face flapping is disturbing, as is a face fashion show
  • “You don’t hit chicks? Promise?”
  • What would you do if your double peed on you in a restroom?
  • Toby finds out that a girl actually likes him is a sad moment
  • Mark accidentally saves the day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s