Saturday, September 30, 2017

POPCORN (1991) (Synapse Films Special Edition Blu-ray)

POPCORN (1991) 

Label: Synapse Films 
Release Date: October 3rd, 2017
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: R
Duration: 91 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround, Original DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles  Mix Included)
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Mark Herrier
Cast: Jill Schoelen, Dee Wallace, Ray Walston, Malcolm Danare, Tom Villard

In Popcorn (1991) we have a group of college students who belong to a film club, it is decided that they need to have an event to raise awareness about the club on campus, while brainstorming ideas student Toby D'Amato (Tom Villard, One Crazy Summer) pitches an all-nite horror movie marathon at the abandoned Dreamland movie theater. The pitch goes over well and the students and their teacher,  Professor Davis (Tony Roberts, Amityville 3-D), give the dilapidated cinema a quick makeover with the help of Dr. M (Ray Walston, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), the eccentric owner of a local film memorabilia shop. Turns out theater has a tragic history, it was once the site of a screening of the movie 'The Possessor' by avant-garde director Lanyard Gates, the leader of some sort of acid-freak film cult, during the screening he performed the last act of the film live on stage, killing his family in front of a live audience before sending the theater up in flames, apparently dying in the ensuing inferno.

The plan is to screen three film, all of which are in the William Castle gimmick-driven schlock vein, we have 50's era atom-age monster movie 'The Mosquito' in Project-O-Vision, Tohoe-esque Asian import 'The Stench' in odoriffic Aroma-Rama, and the sci-fi thriller 'The Amazing Electrified Man' in Shock-O-Scope! The gags include a giant prop mosquito which will buzz the audience from above, pumping green stinky fog into the cinema and attaching electrical buzzers to he bottom of certain theater seats - thee are all plays on real-life William Castle gimmicks, the shock-seats are straight out of The Tingler (1959), which is awesome. 

While prepping the theater they find a short film reel containing Gate's film 'The Posessor', while watching it student Maggie Butler (Jill Schoelen, The Phantom of the Opera) realizes that the scenes from the film are straight out of her nightmares, becoming obsessed with finding out why she's dreaming about this murderer's movie. The night of the horror-thon the audience shows up in force in the best sort of midnight movie way, the moviegoers are rowdy and in full costume, but during the screening the film students are being killed off one by one by a mysterious face-changing stranger.

There's a fun cast college teens, who for the most part are very likable and fun; we have horny stud Mark (Derek Rydall, Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge), wheelchair bound Bud (Malcolm Danare, "Moochie" from John Carpenter's Christine), Cheryl (Kelly Jo Minter, The Lost Boys), the very cute Tina (Freddie Marie Simpson, A League of Their Own), goofball Leon (Elliott Hurst) and the sassy Joannie(Ivette Soler).

We are lead to believe that Lanyard Gates has returned, possibly from beyond the grave, and somehow Maggie and her mother Suzanne (Dee Wallace, The Howling) figure into proceedings. This is such a weird role for Wallace, a rather tiny and innocuous character, the poor woman has one of the worst short-cropped haircuts I've seen her in, it's made in the late 80s so their plenty of bad fashions on display but her hair is the worst offender - I hope she didn't cut it just for this role. The killer is a chameleon of sorts with an arsenal of prosthetic faces he uses to impersonate the teens he has killed, his identity is a nice twist I did not see coming, but when I watch a movie I rarely try to guess who it is, I just go along for the ride, and in this case it caught me off guard, and I liked it.  

SPOILERS AHEAD! Turns out that Villard's character Toby is the culprit, and I won't go into all the motivations, but I will say that Villard is wonderful in the role, he's goofy and not at all scary, but he plays the role with such good camp, it's sort of a Freddy Kruger  wisecracking role, I love his delivery, it plays like Phantom of the Opera in a way, but over-the-top, his manic personality swinging wildly. I love it when while disguised as another character he goes to kill Joannie, but when she confesses her love for his his alter-ego he just cannot do it, he see he's conflicted about it, and he spares her, it's a fun little moment, it is out of the ordinary. END SPOILERS! 

The movie seems to be channeling some other earlier slasher films, two in particular were brought to mind, we have touches of the The Initiation (1984), with some remembered dream-sequences and a fire, and the face-switching culprit reminded me a bit of Happy Birthday To Me (1981), it doesn't steal anything but there are some similarities there if you're looking. Something the movie lacks though is bloodshed, as with most late-80's/early-90's slashers the gore it toned way down, but there are some nice set-ups and death sequences, but with no real gore-payoff, which is certainly a detraction. Making up for that is some good atmosphere and a cast of character you can actually like, plus the whole 50's schlock and 80's slasher mash-up is just good fun.  

The best take away for me were the three movies-within-a-movie segments directed by Alan Ormsby, spot-on homages to the schlock of yesteryear, a scene of a giant mosquito sucking the brain out of a man's head is a particular highlight with his face caving in as the insect empties his skull with its over sized proboscis. If you loved "Mant" from Joe Dante's Matinee (1993) you should have a retro-blast with these. 

Aside from the lack of slasher gore there are a few other problematic areas, the movie has a bit of an identity crisis happening, while this is a straight-up slasher horror-comedy, but there are scenes with Dee Wallace that imply clear supernatural overtones, which then go absolutely nowhere. Then there's a confusing body on an altar during the final scene that confounded me, and a death in the bathroom stall where apparently the kid is killed by one of the "stench" bombs, seemingly killed by the gas emitted, but also blown up by it!?! I'm assuming these are relics of having two directors on the film, as the film was begun by Bob Clark collaborator Alan Ormsby (Deranged), who directed all of the movie-within-a-movie stuff, but he was replaced a few weeks into it by Porky's actor Mark Herrier, so maybe piecing it together something was lost in that assembly, but regardless I find the finished film to be a fun watch. 

Audio/Video: Synapse Films, god bless 'em, spent years restoring 90's slasher Popcorn, and the wait and has been worth it. What we have a brand new 2K of an archival interpositive, painstakingly restored by Don May Jr. and the Synapse team, the early 90's film stock wasn't the best but they've worked some restoration magic for this release, the images looks quite nice. There's a nice layer of grain,  the movie is splashed with color and garish horror visuals, both awful and awesome late-80's fashions, and it look great in HD. The colors are vibrant, and the image has some modest depth and clarity, details look good, skin tones look accurate, I'm very happy with the presentation. Audio on the Blu-ray includes both English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo and a newly created 7.1 surround mix done by Synapse Films, with optional English Subtitles. 

Onto the extra we begin with a new audio commentary with Director Mark Herrier, Stars Jill Schoelen, Malcolm Danare, and Special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls, moderated by Kristy Jett from Fangoria. A fun group commentary, everyone is having a blast recalling working with the cast and crew, their tie in Jamaica, pointing out specific scenes and how certain things were achieved onscreen. They also speak of the situation that ended with original director Alan Ormby being replaced by Mark Herrier, but apparently Clark was a very hand on producer, sort of like Stephen Spielberg and Tobe Hooper on Poltergeist, it's an interesting story, and the commentary, though a bit hectic at moments, is a good listen. 

We also get nearly hour-long making of retrospective from Red Shirt Pictures with interviews from Director Mark Herrier, Stars Jill Schoelen, Derek Rydall, Dee Wallace, Malcolm Danare, Ivette Soler, and Elliott Hurst, Special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls, Composer Paul Zaza, and Distributor Executive Jonathan Wolf. Of special note to me was how they go into more detail about Ormsby being taken off the project, how he shot the very cool movie-within-a-movie segments, what a hands-on producer Bob Clark was, and what it was like to be an actor on a film that lost it's director and lead actress three weeks into the shoot. Also discussed is  Tom Villard's admission to director Herrier that he was HIV positive at the time, dying just four years later from AIDS related pneumonia

Additionally there's a six-minute interview with actor Bruce Glover (Chinatown) who appears in the "The Amazing Electrified Man" movie-within-a-movie segment. Apparently he was not a fan of Ormsby and his experience making it, but still enjoys his work on it. 

We also get a selection of trailers, TV spots, and a still gallery of images from the film. Synapse Films also has a 2-disc limited edition steelbook version of this release, that as of writing this review is still available from the Synapse website, and features exclusive artwork by Justin Osbourn/Slasher Design, and a collectible booklet with Liner Notes from Michael Gingold. This standard edition Blu-ray release does not include the booklet, but it comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, the a-side is the original skeleton/mask artwork, the b-side featuring an alternate artwork option by Chris MacGibbon. Notably elements from Justin Osbourn's Steelbook artwork can be found on the Blu-ray disc and the back cover of the Blu-ray sleeve. This release is also available as a DVD version. 

What I love about Synapse film, aside from their excellent audio/video presentations and commitment to the highest quality film preservation, is that they do these attractive Steelbooks version, but then come out with a more affordable standard Blu-ray editions for fans who might not be into collectible (and expensive) limited releases. I myself have had this damned film on a hand-written list of movies I keep in my wallet for over ten years, a list of films I haven't seen to want to own, but I've refused to buy the long out-of-print (expensive) Elite DVD version. When Synapse Films announced a few years back that they has acquired the right to it I was beyond excited. That said, I wasn't about to fork over fifty-dollars for the Steelbook version, not because it wasn't worth it the dough, but because I am sort of cheap, I'm not a Steelbook collector, and I have three kids and a mortgage have to have priorities. Though I will say I did pre-order their forthcoming Steelbook version of Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) immediately, because, well, you need to have priorities... sorry kids, no allowance this week.

Special Features: 
- All-New 2K Scan of an Archival 35mm Interpositive
- All-New Blu-ray 7.1 Surround Sound Mix Supervised by Synapse Films (Original 2.0 Stereo Mix Included)
- Audio Commentary with Director Mark Herrier, Stars Jill Schoelen, Malcolm Danare, and Special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls moderated by Kristy Jett from Horrorhound, FearNEt and Fangoria. 
- Midnight Madness: The Making of “Popcorn” featuring interviews with Director Mark Herrier, Stars Jill Schoelen, Derek Rydall, Dee Wallace, Malcolm Danare, Ivette Soler, and Elliott Hurst, Special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls, Composer Paul Zaza, and Distributor Executive Jonathan Wolf (57 min) HD 
- Electric Memories – An Interview with Actor Bruce Glover (7 min) HD 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1 min) HD
- Television Trailer and TV Spots (6 min) 
- Still Gallery (7 min) HD 
- Blu-ray Reversible Cover Art by Chris MacGibbon

Synapse Films' Blu-ray of Popcorn (1990) looks and sounds wonderful, this 90's slasher certainly has more of an 80's vibe than it's release date would indicate, and while it has some issues I found it a fun homage to the schlock of yesteryear framed in a fun slasher story. It's well-directed, all things considered, and has a fun cast of characters, I love it a bunch. It's great to see this get such a terrific Blu-ray release, it went beyond my expectations, both as a comedic slasher film and as a special edition release.