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Popcorn Reviews

It's a mainstay of horror film plots that being too clever can get a person into a lot of trouble. The same can be said of a number of horror films themselves, POPCORN being a case in point. College student Maggie (Jill Schoelen) awakens from a recurring nightmare, in which a creepy bearded man calls out to "Sarah," and jots it down, hoping to work it into a script for her college filmmaking course. The class is suffering from budget cuts, and the teacher, Mr. Davis (Tony Roberts), accepts an idea from student Toby (Tom Villard) to stage a benefit horror-movie marathon, using 1950s films with gimmicks that can't be equalled on television (3-D, smells, electric shock in the seats). The kids agree, and find a beautiful old theater. Toby also brings in Dr. Mnesyne (Ray Walston), a collector of movie memorabilia, who stocks the theater with even more gimmicks. Among his toys is an old reel of film which recreates part of Maggie's dream. Mr. Davis recognizes the film as "Possessor," the last work by Lanyard Gates (Mat Falls), a bad 1960s avant-gardist, who premiered it with a special ending--he murdered his family onstage, then died in a fire inside the theater. When Maggie asks her mother Suzanne (Dee Wallace Stone) about this tragedy, she denies any knowledge. However, that night, Suzanne gets a phone call, apparently from Lanyard, and goes to the theater to find him. The next night, the benefit is a sellout, and guests have arrived in costumes. Maggie notices someone she thinks is Gates. Afraid, she gets Toby to look around for him. Backstage, Mr. Davis sets a giant mechanical mosquito to fly on a wire over the audience, but the bug turns around and impales him with its stinger, radio controlled by an unseen hand. Classmate Tina (Freddie Marie Simpson) goes backstage and finds Mr. Davis, and kisses him, but his prosthetic mask peels off, revealing the burned face of the killer. While Maggie gets fellow student Mark (Derek Rydall) to look around also, Bud (Malcolm Danare) is attacked from behind and electrocuted by his shock-effects machine. Eventually Maggie is confronted by the killer, who informs her that he's Laynard Gates, that she's his daughter, and that Suzanne is really her aunt. Maggie realizes that it's all true, that she's blocked it out for years, and that Laynard now wants to finish killing his family. She gets away, and finds Toby, who is very supportive, but suddenly Maggie realizes that Toby is the killer. It turns out he was a child at the "Possessor" screening years earlier, was burnt in the ensuing fire, and has spent his life in masks and fake voices, waiting for revenge on the surviving Maggie. He forces Maggie and Suzanne onstage, raises the screen and prepares to kill them in front of the cheering spectators. Mark, who's figured it all out, slides down the mosquito wire, and sets off the giant insect, which stabs and electrocutes Toby, to the thrill of the audience. This is a complex plot, and there's much more. Each of the screened movies--"The Possessor," "Mosquito," "Electrified Man" and "The Stench"--satirizes a type of old horror film. The interrelationships among the different characters get more and more elaborate and confusing as the film goes on. While this does make the movie much more entertaining than the usual simplistic slasher flick, it eliminates the suspense and fear that the genre promises. The scariest thing in POPCORN is the opening dream sequence, and the climax is just a rehash of a murder we've already seen. POPCORN seems to be a case of too many ideas; the basic story could probably have made a very effective short. The acting in the film varies greatly, and some mediocre dubbing adds to the amateur feel. The title has nothing to do with the story, although it gave the movie a great selling line: "Buy it in a bag. Go home in a box." Had the filmmakers opted for full-out comedy, a more clever title is given in the film when one of the students exclaims "Welcome to the House of Ushers." (Excessive violence, profanity.)