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Elite // R // September 4, 2001
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 12, 2001 | E-mail the Author
The 1991 film Popcorn was probably the last of the microbudget indie slashers to somehow sneak its way into a fairly wide theatrical release, with every other subsequent effort swooping directly onto video store shelves. I remember pestering my parents at the tender age of twelve to let me give Popcorn a peek theatrically, but I failed miserably, and it took me a little over eight years to get around to renting it on VHS the summer before I dipped my feet into the soothing waters of DVD. It took a couple of years for Elite Entertainment to add Popcorn to its roster of oft-overlooked slashers such as The House on Sorority Row and Horror Hospital. Popcorn fanatics were greatly irritated when the title suffered four excruciatingly painful delays, but at long last, I have this long-awaited shiny 5" disc in my grubby little hands.

A university's newly-established film department isn't getting the respect it deserves, so to make a splash, a professor and his embarassingly small number of students organize a late night movie marathon. The three gimmick-riddled turkeys -- the swooping giant insect of Mosquito, the Tingler-like electric shocks of The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man, and the putridity of the Japanese import The Stench -- are sure to bring in oodles of cineschlockers at ten bucks a pop. While preparing a soon-to-be-demolished theater, the group stumbles across the avante garde short The Possessor, the work of film cult leader Lanyard Gates. Its imagery is eerily similar to the nightmares that have plagued budding screenwriter Maggie. She fears that Gates, who led a theater full of his followers to a fiery demise fifteen years ago, may have returned to put the finishing touches on his masterpiece...

Popcorn frequently tosses common sense out the window, with inconsistencies and plot holes abound, but who cares? It's a wildly entertaining movie, among one of the most thoroughly fun slashers of the past twenty years. The pacing is brisk, and the kill scenes, bloodless though they may be, are suspenseful and occasionally fairly inventive. Sure, the acting's poor, the dialogue is painful, and the warmed over synth-pop soundtrack is laughably bad, but it's all part of the merriment. Popcorn transcends the usual so-bad-it's-good tripe, never dragging for a moment and unintentional laughs are infrequent. The ending is somewhat of a disappointment, but the ride there is so much darn fun that its flaws are very easily overlooked.

Video: The video quality of Popcorn is, to use as bad a pun as humanly possible, a mixed bag. Popcorn is presented at 1.85:1 and, as has been the case with all of Elite's recent releases, is enhanced for widescreen televisions. Those with standard sets will want to double-check that their DVD players are configured to output for '4x3 Letterbox' and not '4x3 Normal', though the exact wording may vary from unit to unit. I've seen several discussions on various message boards where users complain that Popcorn appears to have been panned-and-scanned, with cropping particularly noticeable when Kelly Jo Minter's name fails to appear in its entirety in the credits, wit. This strange bit of mastering aside, the quality is decent, though not quite up to Elite's usual standards. The source material is probably to blame for much of this. A handful of portions of the film struck me as seeming excessively grainy, but one of these scenes exhibits a similar level of grain on the vintage promotional materials, which were clearly sourced from an old video tape. If that sort of grain appears on a video that was taped more than a decade ago, it was almost certainly present from the get-go. Softness is noticeable periodically,though rarely distracting. The color palette seems muted, and some portions of the film are a bit on the dark side. Print flaws and assorted flecks are so rare that they don't even warrant a mention. Several years have passed since I last saw Popcorn, predating my introduction to DVD, so I don't have a solid point of reference. Though the video quality isn't quite up to the level I was anticipating, particularly after the extended delays surrounding this title, I feel a bit guilty rambling off these relatively minor quibbles. It's unlikely that Popcorn will ever look much better than this, and although the presentation isn't without its flaws, I'm ecstatic enough that an old favorite is on my format of choice that these problems are easily overlooked.

Audio: Popcorn sports a plain-jane stereo track. Though the soundscape isn't wide or expansive, there's a considerable amount of bass for a film of its age. If any hiss or distortion were present, it was to a small enough extent that I couldn't notice 'em. The audio quality is decent enough, not really inspiring me to write more than a couple of sentences, apparently.

Supplements: The eye-catching trailer that grabbed my interest shortly before Popcorn hit theaters is included, as are an astonishing seven TV spots.

Conclusion: Popcorn is an absolute must-buy for anyone with the faintest interest in '80s-flavored horror or the ballyhoo of William Castle. This would make an excellent double feature with Columbia/Tri-Star's 13 Ghosts, which hits stores this week. Its DVD presentation isn't quite what I was hoping considering that it went through no less than five different release dates, but Popcorn looks and sounds about as good as it likely ever will. Highly recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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