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Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: ‘Popcorn’

Go bananas and watch Popcorn!

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century is a look back at the weirdest, most memorable, and most off center movies of the 20th century. From head turning horror to oddball science fiction this column examines the films that will leave a lasting impression for centuries to come.

I miss the cool air conditioning of the movie theater, the smell of cherry ICEEs mixed with butter scents and the anticipation of waiting for the trailers to start. I miss these things and I miss the people in the theater. I do not miss their cell phone lights or the seat kicking, but there is something about sharing laughs, frights, and other emotions with strangers.  I have been hesitant to return to the theater after the pandemic shutdown, but a recent viewing of 1991’s Popcorn has convinced me the time has come. 

Directed by Mark Herrier and written by Alan Ormsby, Popcorn, in a similar vein to Scream,  is a slasher film about films and the people who love them. Popcorn centers around Maggie (Jill Schoelen), a film student whose latest inspiration stems from a recurring nightmare about getting caught in a fire. Maggie is caught up in her screenwriting, but gets swept up in her classmate’s idea to host a movie marathon to raise money. Toby, the idea guy and fellow film student, plans to reopen a closed theater for this one night only event. 

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: 'Popcorn'

Toby (Tom Villard) enlists the help of Maggie and the rest of the class to put this plan into motion. Popcorn, for whatever reason, was filmed in Jamaica. This adds some extra fun to this already campy slasher film. A bouncy reggae song about going to the movies plays as the film students prepare the theater. There is a festive performance on the streets and inside the theater.

There are also some big names in this film: Dee Wallace, Ray Walston, and Tony Roberts, to name a few, but the true stars of this film are the film’s audience. (Not us, the ones attending the marathon) The crowd is decked out in all sorts of monster costumes and outlandish attire. The audience brings props and is thrilled to be part of this interactive movie experience. 

The students were able to procure some William Castle style gimmicks, including electric shocks for the seats and smell-o-vision for the film The Stench. Every part of this experience is not wasted on the audience. To say they are into the film, is an understatement. There are some great kills in this film. A giant prop mosquito is used to stab, not one, but two characters with its stinger, there is face melting, and face wearing. There’s a lot to love about this slasher movie, but it’s the audience that  leaves a lasting impression. 

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: 'Popcorn'

Popcorn has the style of the early 90’s, while paying tribute to the slasher films of the 80’s and sci-fi films of the 50’s. The film students along with the insane movie crowd are so thrilled to be a part of the movie marathon that one almost forgets there’s a killer stalking the characters. This movie has movies inside the movie and the plot invites the audience in the film to become a part of it. Popcorn does that to its own audience as well.

Popcorn is a film about enjoying movies. So watch this week’s strange and fantastic tale with a friend or two. Throw on some masks and take turns electrocuting each other. It’s fun!

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