Monday, February 1, 2016

Newsploitation: Poppin' up that POPCORN (1991)

It is weird to me to be writing up a 25th anniversary of a film that feels like it just came out a few years back. When I was a kid, Fangoria did a 20th anniversary celebration of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and twenty years to my young mind seems like ages ago. Now I hear a film like POPCORN is 25 years old and it freaks me out. Yes, kids, getting old is weird. Anyway, February 1, 2016 marks the two-and-a-half decades anniversary of the U.S. theatrical release of POPCORN.

That the film got a nationwide theatrical release at all is pretty amazing given the behind-the-scenes chaos of the film’s production. POPCORN certainly had fans salivating when news broke of its impending production as it was a reunion of filmmakers Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby. The duo met in school in Florida and created a unique partnership in the early ‘70s with a trio of horror flicks - CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), DERANGED (1974) and DEATHDREAM (1974). Creating three films now considered horror classics in a few years? Not too bad. Their careers went in different directions after these films; Clark went on to bigger success with BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), MURDER BY DECREE (1979), PORKY’S (1981), and A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983), while Ormsby had an incredibly eclectic screenwriting career including MY BODYGUARD (1980) and the CAT PEOPLE (1982) remake. They did reunite in a non-horror capacity with PORKY’S II: THE NEXT DAY (1983) which had Clark as director and Ormsby as co-writer (yes, Clark released a PORKY’S sequel and A CHRISTMAS STORY in the same calendar year, incredible!).

According to what Clark told Fangoria at the time of POPCORN’s release, the horror reunion came about when DEAD THINGS co-producer Gary Goch came to him with a screenplay for what would eventually become POPCORN. He liked the idea and passed it along to Ormsby to rewrite and thought it would make a nice directing vehicle for his friend (Ormsby had previously directed the lost-but-recently-discovered MURDER ON THE EMERALD SEAS [1974] and co-directed DERANGED). The eventual “phantom of the movie theater” scenario shaped up nicely and the filming began in Kingston, Jamaica in October 1989. Unfortunately, Ormsby’s version was much darker than what the financiers were expecting and Orsmby ended up leaving the production after a few weeks of filming (apparently the only remaining footage in the film of his are the retro films within the film). Another casualty was lead actress April O’Neill (HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS [1989]), who was replaced by budding scream queen Jill Schoelen (THE STEPFATHER [1987]). Clark mentioned to Fangoria that they approached three veteran horror directors who passed on the project and that he even shot a few days before PORKY’S actor Mark Herrier stepped in as director. Despite all this work to salvage the film, Clark also eventually had his name removed from the final film while Ormbsy is credited for his screenplay as “Tod Hackett.”

Rare Variety production listing with 
Orsmby credited as both co-director and writer:

Originally aiming for a fall 1990 theatrical release, POPCORN was eventually put out a few months later in February 1991 by new indie distributor Studio Three Film Corporation. The company surprisingly got the film into over 1,000 theaters and the good news was it ended up being the highest debuting new release that weekend. The bad news is it still only came in 8th place at the box office with a haul of $2,563,365. Hey, at least it did better that Buena Vista’s RUN (1991) with Patrick Dempsey. POPCORN quickly disappeared from theaters with a small haul of just $4,205,00. Studio Three had only one other theatrical release before folding, the drama-romance RICH GIRL (1991) in May 1991 starring Jill Schoelen. Damn, did her dad own this company? Anyway, POPCORN eventually found its audience on video and developed a true cult following. It holds a special place in my heart as it was the second R-rated feature I drove myself to alone to see in the theater (for my eventual biography you will write, the first one was WARLOCK [1991]). The film’s cult has only grown over the years; so much so that a special edition DVD/Bluray of the film is coming from Synapse Films sometime in the near future.

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