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John’s Horror Corner: Popcorn (1991), a surprisingly original and enjoyable wacky slasher despite its very strong Nightmare on Elm Street influences.

October 30, 2022

MY CALL: Despite all the obvious Elm Streety influences, this is a largely original and a very fun watch. More of the budget went into the masks and related gags than the death scenes, this movie’s strength seems to be the movie marathon setting itself, the silly scenes of movies within the movie, and this unique slasher’s story. Strongly recommended to fans of all walks of horror. MORE MOVIE LIKE Popcorn: If you like Elm Street sequel-esque horror, I’d definitely direct you to Prom Night II: Hello Mary Lou (1987), Prison (1987) and The Horror Show (1989).

A group of film students—including Maggie (Jill Schoelen; The Phantom of the OperaCurse II, The Stepfather) and Cheryl (Kelly Jo Minter; A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, The Lost Boys, The People Under the Stairs)—arrange an all-night horror movie marathon to raise money for their program. Local horror memorabilia store owner Dr. Mnesyne (Ray Walston; Galaxy of Terror) volunteers his collection of props to spruce up the atmosphere. But as soon as they start decorating an old abandoned theater for the event, they discover a disturbing film allegedly made by the murderer Lanyard Gates.

Likely enjoying the Elm Street sequel mania (1985-1990), this movie features a long-forgotten killer who haunts a high schooler’s (i.e., Maggie) dreams, is all too familiar to her mother (Dee Wallace; The HowlingThe Lords of SalemCritters, Critters Attack!, The Hills Have Eyes) who of course denies any knowledge of Lanyard Gates, and a few dream-like surreal sequences that glimmer of Freddy Krueger’s feisty influence. There’s even a little musical signature that plays when Maggie senses the killer, quite similar to that of NOES 1-5.

Again, like Freddy, our horribly burnt-faced killer was the victim of a fire fifteen years ago and now wishes to take vengeance on those who caused it, and pretty much every else around, too. This killer’s thing is making masks, really good masks. Once someone has fallen prey to him, he may appear as them nearly perfectly.

Beyond the mask scenes, the most memorable scenes for me include draining the juices from a man’s head which likely inspired the movie Mosquito (1994), maybe even Starship Troopers (1997); a gross kissing gag reminded me of Society (1989); an electrocution gag that smacks hard of Shocker (1989); and a “more fun than impressive” prop impalement.

Despite all the Elm Streety Freddy-ness of this movie, this is far beyond some cheap copy. For all its obvious influences, this story is very much its own entity and seems more to homage the NOES sequel-stylings with quality execution. Much to my surprise (and a little disappointment), this movie does not thrive on death scenes and murderous gore. There are some cool gory scenes, sure. But overall, this movie’s strength seems to be its movie marathon setting (with great scenes of movies within the movie, which included special effects and death scenes), and the interesting killer, his story and his macabre masks. A lot of budget clearly went to those components, and it certainly gave Popcorn a very different vibe than most slasher movies. Very unique indeed. And more fun for it!

I’m not sure if he found his passion elsewhere or just never got another break. But I find it criminal that this is director Mark Herrier’s only feature film ever.

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