B-Movie Madness (Popcorn, 1991)

popcorn_posterPopcorn is one of those horror films that fell into obscurity.  Starring a cast of genre vets, it features a fun premise and inventive sequences.

Maggie (Jill Schoelen, the Stepfather) lives with her aunt Suzanne (Dee Wallace Stone, the Howling).  Maggie is an aspiring filmmaker haunted by strange dreams of a young girl being chased by a maniacal man with a blade.

She and her film club plan to do a fundraiser by showing old B-Movies in the vein of William Castle.  They include gimmicks like props and shocking the audience.

But once the movies start, people begin to die.  We discover there is someone running around the theater wearing masks of his victims.  Not like Leatherface, but latex.

This is all tied to a film they had opted to not show…it was made by a man who killed his family on stage at the end of the movie.  There was a fire and all but one person and a child survived…well, and possibly the filmmaker.  The film has a good twist and avoid totally telegraphing it.

The cast is terrific, and the scenarios they find themselves in are entertaining.  The late Tom Villard (Who kind of looks like a slightly goofier Tom Hanks) is especially likeable. The film appears to have been made on a budget, but the practical effects are pretty good.  The villain’s makeup looks great most of the time, until a bit towards the end when it seems like the prosthetics were coming undone as the actor is speaking. Sadly, the film is hard to find.  There has yet to be a Blu-Ray release, and the DVD release years ago was sub-par.  Apparently Synapse had plans to release a Blu-Ray, but I cannot locate a story confirming it was ever released, and all the stories announcing it are from 2014.  If you can track it down, Popcorn is one of the more enjoyable slasher films from the early 90’s.

Who Am I here? (The Stepfather, 1987)

stepfather_posterA lot of People discovered Terry O’Quinn on lost.  But horror movie fans discovered him back in 1987 when he played Jerry Blake, the titular Stepfather.

The film opens with a heavily bearded O’Quinn looking into a mirror.  As he shaves and styles his hair, nothing seems terribly off, until he walks down the stairs, passing a scene of brutal carnage.  A mother and her children lie in the living room as he calmly walks out of the front door.

Picking up a year later, we meet Stephanie, a sixteen year old high school student (played by Jill Schoelen), who is not all that crazy about her new Stepfather.  She intensely misses her own father and is creeped out by her stepfather, Jerry Blake.  She also struggles in school, getting into fights and trouble with teachers.  Because of her grief, she sees a therapist.  While people do not believe her that charming Jerry is a scary guy, Doctor Bondurant is the only one to treat her concerns seriously. As things seem to fracture, Jerry begins to transition towards his new life, meaning Stephanie and her mother are in big trouble.

The Stepfather is a strong psychological thriller.  Director Joseph Ruben is mostly of the leave it to your imagination here, having very little gore.  It focuses more on the psychological end of things.  The film has a low body count, which puts it outside the slasher territory.  Blake does not kill for a love of the kill, rather to protect his attempts at a perfect traditional family.  But when things get hard with his families, something clicks and he starts to seek a new life and a new perfect family.

O’Quinn gives a bravura performance.  As a viewer, we know he is a dangerous killer, and yet, when he is being a gentle husband and father he is ridiculously charming.  But when he turns, he is disturbing and frightening.

Both Schoelen and Shelley Hack (as Stephanie’s mother) are very sympathetic.  And what really stands out is that nothing really makes the characters look stupid for not realizing he is a killer.  When people do not believe Stephanie about how creepy Jerry is, it is entirely reasonable that they question it.  Even she questions if she is being paranoid.

This is a great thriller, and worth checking out this Halloween if you have never seen it before.

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