The Void has given me almost free reign to decide my movies to wax poetically about. When I told her about my pick for this installment and sent her the trailer, her response was, “Well that looks fun.” I want to remind you, fearless readers, that this is an essay on a particular horror movie. I will be sharing my thoughts as I view the picture, so there will be spoilers. If you want to watch the film first, or watch along as you read, the title is POPPING on the screen below.
The film for this view is “Popcorn” from 1991. This is director Mark Herrier’s only time to sit in the director’s chair. Harrier has mainly spent his time in front of the screen, in bit part in TV shows like Bosch, The Practice and MASH. He also appeared in the very popular 80’s Porky’s franchise. The film stars horror staples Dee Wallace (The Howling, The Hills Have Eyes), Jill Schoelen (The Stepfather, Cutting Class), as well as veteran actors Tony Roberts (Serpico, Annie Hall) and Ray Walston (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Sting).
With its feet still firmly planted in the 80s, this is a fun film. While it is not well known, some notable horror films have found some inspiration in this little film, and I will reference them as we go.
In the BEGINNING
The film starts with the sound of dripping water and slowly focuses on a number of different latex masks floating in water. The very stylized title glistens across the screen. The camera now scans the room of Maggie (Schoelen) who is having a nightmare in her very bright bedroom. Personally, I can’t sleep in a room that bright. However, she is a college student, and apparently, they can sleep through anything. Her dream involves explosions, a young girl who looks like her, a creepy, hippie man, and a flaming sword.
The hippie man is actually just a head on a table that has now decayed, and the little girl is running away. The coloring in this scene is very vivid, giving it a quality of Dario Argento’s films. Maggie stirs in her bed as flames appear around the young girl and suddenly a bound woman is shown, calling the name “Sarah”, over and over on a loop. The little girl moves her hand and Maggie mimics the movement. Seriously, between the light and movement, this girl either ran a marathon the day before, or I want to know what medication she is on for when I suffer from insomnia.
In the dream, the little girl’s hand is grasped by a man’s hand. She turns to look at the man, but all we can see is the child, and the outline of a man, and the once flaming sword in front of her. Hippie Man, whose head is now firmly attached to his body, raises the sword over his head, as he slowly says “Sarah”. We hear Maggie’s alarm clock and this is what wakes her up, gasping.
Hello Maggie and Suzanne
Maggie instantly grabs a tape recorder next to her bed, she talks about this “same” dream she is having, expanding on the details. We now cut to Suzanne (Wallace), Maggie’s mom, as she is getting breakfast ready. Man, do I feel like a crappy mom. This woman is dressed, hair and makeup perfect. She has cooked breakfast, but the counters are completely clean. I mean the goddamn burner covers are on the stove. The rest of the house appears immaculate. I’m calling it right now. This woman is a psychopath!
Anyway…. Suzanne answers a phone call. At first there is no one on the other end. The person on the other end finally asks for a person, and Suzanne says, “Sorry, wrong number.” The voice then says, “Remember who the ninth circle of Hell is reserved for.” and then hangs up. This just makes Suzanne look and the phone, make an amused sound and hang up.
Maggie enters the kitchen and says she doesn’t have time for breakfast. Don’t piss off your mother. Maggie is recording details of her dream into her tape recorder and when she mentions the name Sarah, Suzanne’s face slightly tightens. She asks her daughter why she named her character Sarah. Maggie says she doesn’t know and then makes a standard Citizen Kane reference, used when a filmmaker wants everyone to believe that they know a lot about cinema.
We now see Maggie driving up to her college, the University of California at Oceanview. This looks like a very high class institute of higher learning. She is rushing to class, still dictating to her recorder, when an earring-wearing mullet man attaches himself to her face. Without even a hello, he is telling her how much he wants her and to come back to his place. Maggie is a serious filmmaker, we know this because of the Citizen Kane reference, and she tells Mark, despite his begging, that the only energy she has right now is to work on her film. He tells her that he is not going to wait forever.
We are now in a classroom? I say this in a questioning way because the seating is just concrete risers. They explain that the film students have been bounced around from room to room, and now they are stuck in a music room. The risers make even less sense now. The students in this class consist of three girls, three boys, the teacher and his assistant. No wonder they keep getting moved. This film department is not bringing in much money in tuition. One of the students, Bud, is in a wheelchair. I immediately thought of Franklin from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and knew this kid was in trouble.
The professor calls Toby to the front of the class to explain his idea for a fundraiser for the department. Toby suggests that they put on an all night horrorthon. The other students make fun, and it is here that I saw familiar. This scene is very reminiscent of the movie discussion in the film class in “Scream 2”. There are others as the film goes on, but maybe it is just me…
The appeal of this horrorthon is that the film will be shown with the original gimmicks that they were released with; smell-o-vision, shock-o-vision, etc. There just so happens to be an abandoned theater, named Dreamland. It is three weeks from being torn down, and the horrorthon will be the last event that will be held there. There is concern that they will be able to get everything ready in time, when out of nowhere, Dr. M (Walston) appears. He says he is there to help, and all his gear is outside. Toby explains that Dr. M owns a movie memorabilia shop, and it is all they will need.
Dr. M passionately explains how the classic movie theaters were run. He tells them that he is there to help them turn this into a memorable evening. Then…wait…. what is this I hear….it can’t be?! Oh yes, it is. A music montage of them all working together, to an upbeat song, with almost a ska rhythm, singing the joys of “Saturday night at the movies.” Everyone is happily cleaning and mugging for the camera, and they are making masks, getting costumes ready and testing the special effects.
It is the night before the big show. As they finish up, they find a film canister. They decide to run it and we see the close up of an eye. The face on the screen says, “I am the possessor.” There are scenes of gore, and then it is HIPPIE MAN. Scenes from Maggie’s dream play out on the screen. She is reacting and passes out. The classmates have carried her out into the lobby, and she asks what the movie was. The teacher explains it is a film called “The Possessor” made by a 60’s cult leader named Lanyard Gates. They used to make art films. He supposedly murdered his whole family at a showing of the film. The class decides to not show the film at the festival.
We now see Suzanne, looking a little spooked, as she is closing up her door to the balcony. Maggie makes matters worse when she walks into the room, making her visibly jump. She asks her mom if she has ever heard of Lanyard Gates, which makes Suzanne even more nervous, but she denies knowing who that is. Maggie explains about the film they found, and how this movie is what she has been dreaming about. Suzanne tells Maggie she wants to skip the festival, but Maggie refuses. She says she has to see this through. They have a sweet mother daughter moment and the phone rings.
The same voice is on the phone as earlier, referencing the ninth circle of hell again and when Suzanne asks who it is, it repeats, “I am the possessed.” Suzanne is visibly upset and the voice on the phone says, “I want her.”
Suzanne screams “NO”, and the voice on the phone suggests that they talk. He tells her to come to Dreamland and to bring her gun. Well, first of all, Suzanne is obviously hiding something. Secondly, this is not the way you ask a woman out on a movie date. I mean it has been a while since I have been asked out, but I am pretty sure this would not be a very successful method. And lastly, you are telling an obviously nervous woman, with at least a few mental disorders, to bring a gun on said date. I see a Dateline special in their future.
The Date from Hell
Of course, Suzanne goes to the theater. Dressed all in black she exits her car, gun in hand. As she approaches, the marquee lights up, then suddenly the letters start flying off the sign at her, and the title Possessor appears on the marquee. A single ticket is issued from the empty box office. Suzanne retrieves her ticket, and the door opens.
Suzanne hears the voice on the phone and follows it into the theater. She talks to the screen, confirming that she does know who Lanyard is. Now mostly in the dark, a figure appears in the balcony. She hears special effect noises and runs to the back of the theater. She sees a figure approaching her and fires her gun. The figure falls to the floor as she cries. This prompts a big hug. Maybe this will be a successful date after all. You go Suzanne!
Maggie wakes the next morning and finds breakfast and a note waiting for her from her mom. With the events of the previous evening, it is obvious that Suzanne was not home to make this loving gesture.
We cut to the night of the big and once again…it is a musical number! Imagine how much better Halloween would have been if Laurie had broke out singing a chorus of “Somebody’s Watching Me.” Carpenter really missed the boat on that one! All the costumes are on point and they are playing their part. Maggie is manning the ticket booth, when handsie Mark with the ultimates from earlier shows up with a very blonde date. Maggie plays it cool, while Mark is visibly regretting his decision. I hope for his sake the goodie bags with your 3D glasses and nose plugs comes with condoms.
A scarred hand drops some crumpled money onto the ticket booth counter and asks Maggie if the films they are showing are as shocking as “Possessor”, but he refers to her as Sarah in the question. He quickly walks away, and Maggie rushes out to follow him, but secures her replacement before leaving. She should be dressed as a girl scout!
Maggie and MArk aren’t meant to be
The first movie begins and the audience is lively. Maggie spots her target in a different balcony and he leaves, exiting the lobby before Maggie can catch him.
Mark is no longer very enthusiastic about his date and tells her he will be right back. Hello…. Way to keep breaking the rules asshole. Pressuring a girl to have sex, showing up with a nonvirgin who is an obvious target, and now, “I’ll be right back.” Please kill this man of principle alone! He heads out towards the lobby.
Maggie has made her way up to the projection booth, where Toby is keeping an eye through the tiny window. Maggie tells him that she thinks Lanyard Gates is in the theater. He is of course skeptical, but Maggie tells him she is sure it was him. Toby says since nobody identified the body, there is a possibility that he could still be alive. Maggie’s reaction is that of excitement, with her thoughts being about her movie. Toby tries to convince her to call the police, but Maggie tells him there is no way the police would believe them. He leaves to take a look, leaving Maggie in the projection booth.
Toby makes his way downstairs. He steps outside a suspiciously cracked door to see if there is anything or anyone there, and the door shuts behind him, leaving him locked out. Meanwhile in the theater, Mark’s date makes a new friend, who sits beside her without protest.
We now see someone approach Maggie from behind. A voice says “BOO” and Maggie punches boytoy Mark right in the face, knocking him on his ass.
Here comes the carnage
Behind the movie screen the teacher is getting the big mosquito ready to make its debut. He has all the switches flipped and is ready to send the critter flying. The crowd goes wild, and he is like a kid on Christmas morning. From above, another set of hands with a different remote takes control of the big bug, suddenly sending it the teacher’s way, impaling him, and leaving him dead on the floor. Maggie’s new man of interest comes and drags the teacher off stage.
We now see more of the masks in the water that we saw at the beginning of the film. The newest addition is a mold of a teacher’s face.
Maggie is explaining all the backstory to Mark, when Toby returns, telling of his adventure of walking around the building. Mark proceeds to piss off Maggie, who sends him back to his blonde.
Everyone returns to their posts, and when Mark tries to get his seat back, he finds his replacement not very cultured, but really good with his hands. For the second time tonight, Mark’s ass is on the ground.
Bud is getting ready to shock the shit out of the audience and tells Tina to go get their teacher because he needs help. Tina, who is the teacher’s pet, was already looking for him. Maggie is out in the booth, listening to her tape recorder, smiling at the sound of her own voice, when Suzanne’s new boyfriend’s voice comes on, once again calling her Sarah. She tried to rush out of the ticket booth, only to find the door blocked. She pushes hard, hears a thud, and Mark is down for the third time.
Utter Chaos: The meat of the movie
I know he wanted to lay flat on his back, but this is not the way to go about it my man. Maggie runs to comfort him, because after all the crap he’s put her through, that is exactly what we women do. I would have laughed and stepped over him…but that’s just me. Maggie tells Mark she has proof that Gates was there. When she goes to show him the tape, it’s broken. They go to find Tina to see if she saw anyone mess with her recorder.
Tina makes her way backstage to find her favorite teacher. She sees him securing the mosquito and he motions for her to come to him. Bud sends Maggie and Mark backstage as well, giving them a flashlight, because that is always welcome in a movie theater.
Bud now gets to have his fun, zapping the audience with electrical shocks. He make quips and takes great joy in torturing the audence.
Tina meets up with the “teacher”, but his newly made mask is still wet. As she goes to kiss him, it sticks to her face, and she pulls away in disgust. The mask rips off and reveals a burnt and mutilated face underneath. The crowd mutes Tina’s screams. Maggie and Mark come across a newly deceased Tina, who is now being puppeted by her killer. He mimics her voice, and sends them on a wild goose chase. Mark, of course, pulls a Toby, and locks them out of the building.
“Tina” comes into the box where Bud is having his fun. Tied up and wired up, Bud is the target for the big shock. The killer has a recorded message for him, explaining how it will all go down. Bud tries desperately to reach the switches, but the lights the killer referenced in the recording start going off.
Maggie and Mark end up back in the lobby, after scaling a fence to get back inside. Mark is limping and has ripped the ass of his pants. Maggie, of course, is unscathed. They once again go off looking for the teacher.
Bud is still struggling, and almost makes it to one of the wires, but he is too late. The electricity going through him knocks out the power and knocks him out of his wheelchair. With the power out, Leon and Joannie decide the only logical thing to do is to of course have another musical break, so the run to have the band get on stage. How they will play without power, I am sure they will figure out something!
SOme more Musical moments
Maggie and Mark are now joined by Cheryl, who is helping keep Mark upright. Not very well, because he manages to fall down the stairs. See boys….this is why you don’t pressure girls into doing things they aren’t ready for! Karma is real! While Cheryl helps Mark, Maggie goes to talk to Bud.
The band takes the stage, playing the chart topper “Pocomania Day”. The crowd is jamming and grooving. Maggie, on the other hand, has the very pleasant task of finding what remains of Bud…or is it. Suddenly the man of her dreams, who is also her mom’s new boyfriend, is sitting in Bud’s wheelchair. He calls her Sarah again and says, “What, no kiss for daddy?” GROSS! And I would tread lightly dude. We have seen how this girl handles Stepfathers! Maggie denies being this man’s daughter. She runs away, as memories come flooding back.
Maggie runs into Toby and tells him everything. That she remembers everything, that she is Gate’s daughter, and Suzanne is not her mother. Just then Mark’s blonde comes stumbling out of the dark. Toby takes Maggie away before words or blows begin to fly. They go and sit behind the stage, and she continues to tell Toby the whole story.
Toby comforts her and tells her he is there for her. They head downstairs to get to the circuit breakers and fix the lights. Toby falls down the stairs, Maggie retrieves his flashlight, as she shines it around the room, it is not Toby she sees, but her teacher. She sees Tina, but not really. She hears noises surround her, and Gates appears behind her.
Puzzle pieces fall into place
The lights turn back on, and the third movie begins…Although I don’t know who starts it.
While she’s tied to a chair, the killer reveals to Maggie his snazzy Toby mask. He shows her the different masks he wears. This is actually a pretty good bit. He settles on Toby to continue his story. Maggie asks him if he is not her father, why is he doing all this. Toby reveals that he was in the theater the night of the fire. He was burned over most of his body and blames her for everything that happened to him. He gives her a demonstration of how he puts his face on. Toby tells Maggie he is going to recreate the end of Possessor as it should have been.
Mark’s Blonde makes her way out to the lobby where he is being bandaged up by Cheryl and Joannie. Blondie, I know this is not her name, but I already have too many names to keep track of, tells Mark that she saw Maggie and Toby getting friendly with each other, and they left together. Blonde’s new man comes out and it is Cheryl who takes care of business. Joannie tells Mark where Toby lives and he heads out to see what is going on.
Pee and pinatas? The Final Act
Meanwhile, in the basement, Toby wheels out a Suzanne pinata. It must have been a really tight hug, because she is in a full body cast. Toby shows his full crazy, leaving mother and daughter to catch up.
Joannie and Leon are getting the smell tabs ready, when Leon says he has to run to the bathroom. Standing at the urinal, his twin confronts him. Toby pee on Leon’s leg and locks him in the stall. Then he drops an exploding gas tablet in the toilet. When Toby returns to take care of Joannie, she proclaims her love for him, thinking she is talking to Leon. This saves her life. Toby returns to the basement ranting that he doesn’t have time to talk about love.
Now Toby, and Suzanne are behind the screen, getting ready for the live action ending of the Possessor.
Mark is at Toby’s and talks to his landlord. The landlord talks about what a horrible tenant he was. Mark finds all the articles about the theater burning down, pictures of Maggie, and he puts together who the bad guy is. It only took a few blows to the head to turn Mark into a good guy!
Toby starts to play the Possessor and begins to walk down the aisle. Cheryl and Joannie try to stop the projector as Mark tries to find a way into the theater. Toby is setting the final stage. Instead of just breaking a window, Mark scales the building.
Toby begins to act out the movie that is playing behind him. Mark is doing his best Peter Parker impersonation on the outside of the building. Here are some more similarities to Scream 2 in my opinion. The opening and the ending of the film. The audience is into it. They don’t realize this is not part of the show. Mark saves the day by ziplining with his belt, but the real hero is Mr Mosquito, who skewers Toby and lets him fly like Peter Pan around the stage.
Well we have come to the end of the Popcorn bucket. This little film was a box office flop. It has since become a cult classic among horror fans due to the homage to the films of William Castle. The music choices make more sense when you know the movie was actually filmed in Jamaica. And I promise, those songs will be stuck in your head for a while.
I hope you enjoyed my take, the film or ideally both. Until next time….and who knows where the Void will lead me. Check out my last post here.
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