(Mark Herrier, Canada/USA, 1991)

BY LAURA KERN | January 19, 2024

When we were in our late teens, my best friend had a random VHS collection consisting of just three titles: Night of the Living Dead, Creepers, and Popcorn. We watched them over and over again, not aware then that two of these were legit classics of horror. I later went on to absorb all the Romeros and Argentos, but was disappointed to discover that Popcorn director Mark Herrier had made only that one feature—and not even the whole thing. Alan Ormsby, who wrote the screenplay credited to “Tod Hackett,” was also originally attached to direct, and had put in three weeks before being replaced by Herrier, an actor whose claim to fame was starring in all three Porky’s movies. Popcorn itself is a bit messy, like its history, but in addition to being a nostalgic favorite, it’s simply loads of fun.

Right off the bat, any young person with imagination could relate to the idea of life being a movie, as it is to Popcorn’s heroine, Maggie Butler (winsome ’80s scream queen Jill Schoelen, who also came on board after week three, taking over for Amy O’Neill), with her recurring nightmares and real-life drama serving mainly as material for her screenplays. And she’s not alone in her movie obsession. When her fledgling college film department decides to throw an all-night movie-marathon fundraiser—advertised as the “Special Horror, Sci-Fi, and Supernatural Film Festival, Plus Surprises,” of which there are many—at a gorgeous, soon-to-be-torn-down movie palace called the Dreamland, the event looks to be a roaring success. Mobs of teens show up in costume, excitedly cheering on the films of the lineup, presenting Mosquito!, Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man, and The Stench (the terrifically executed scenes we are offered from these titles are said to be the work of Ormsby). Another made-up movie factors into the storyline—a cult short called Possessor (hello, Brandon Cronenberg!) that is uncovered during the horror-show prep, and is frighteningly similar to Maggie’s dreams.

Popcorn is a love letter to the act of communal movie-watching, and to campy ’50s sci-fi and the cinema gimmicks devised by the likes of William Castle, but it’s also a slasher flick, so naturally there’s a killer on the loose inside the theater. The plot itself, full of red herrings and creative deaths mirroring those seen on-screen, is soap-opera absurd and not worth recapping further. Some of the supporting cast deserves mention, though, including Dee Wallace Stone as Maggie’s mother, Ray Walston as a movie-memorabilia shop owner, and Tony Roberts as the sleazy film professor. There’s something undeniably irresistible about theater-set movies, and Popcorn is no exception. 🩸


is a writer, editor, and horror programmer based in New York. She is the editor of Bloodvine and her writing has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Film Comment, and Rolling Stone.

X: @killerkern

How to see Popcorn

The film can also be found on various DVD and Blu-ray editions.
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