Orgy of the Dead

Color, 1991, 90 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by Mike Herrier
Starring Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace, Derek Rydall, Malcolm Danare, Kelly Jo Minter, Ray Walston, Tony Roberts
Synapse Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Elite Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), '84 Entertainment (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), CMV Laservision (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Made Popcornwell after the Popcorndemise of the original slasher craze, this Jamaica-shot ode to gimmicky William Castle films with a modern stalk-and-slash twist was designed from the outset to be a cult favorite among horror fans. Unfortunately fate had other plans, ranging from the replacement after weeks of shooting of both director Alan Ormsby and star Amy O'Neill to the aborted wide theatrical release that instead found the film shuffled off to a handful of second-run theaters instead. Nevertheless, the film did find its fan following on home video, with its VHS and laserdisc releases proving hot items in the '90s. On top of that it features the best of the later period scream queens, Jill Schoelen, whose charisma and sweet demeanor have elevated all of her genre outings like The Stepfather and The Phantom of the Opera.

Inspired by her disturbing nightmares about a young woman being pursued by a maniac during a blazing fire, film student Maggie (Schoelen) finds her plans to create a script about the visions intersecting with plans by fellow student Toby (Villard) to raise funds for film editing equipment (and some leftover funds for an experimental film) via an all-night horror movie festival at the soon-to-be-demolished Dreamland Theater. Three gimmicky films are chosen with the help of horror Popcornparaphernalia expert Dr. Mnesyne (Walston), as Jill's personal life is complicated by a potential romance with Mark (Rydall) and the strange phone calls plaguing her mother (Wallace). PopcornJust before the start of the fest, the students uncover a mysterious suppressed horror film, Possessor, whose horrific real-life history involving a maniacal filmmaker named Lanyard Gates seems tied very closely to Maggie's dreams. Once the lights go down and the movies begin unspooling, someone begins killing off attendees with movie-inspired methods indicating Maggie's nightmares may be more based in reality than she realized.

Stuck in a chronological limbo before horror went postmodern with Scream (and even before Joe Dante mined similar territory with 1993's Matinee), Popcorn quickly betrays its trouble, patchwork origins from the outset but has such a lively, passionate attitude about horror films that it's easy to see how it made an impression with fans back in the VHS days. It's grisly enough to please its audience but holds back enough on the gore to make it okay for newcomers as well, and the cast is weird enough to make it stand out including a glorified cameo by Tony Roberts as a film professor and one of the era's more interesting Popcornsecond-string horror actresses, Kelly Jo Minter (The Lost Boys, The People Under the Stairs). The finished film still has its share of odd speed bumps Popcorn(most notably a strange, tacky gag at a urinal that feels like it wandered in from a Troma film), but on the whole it has aged quite well and still works as an affectionate ode to horror's heyday.

After its initial run on VHS and laserdisc from RCA/Columbia, Popcorn had a rocky history on home video with long stretches of unavailability. Elite Entertainment issued a pretty solid DVD back in 2001, but after that edition went out of circulation after a couple of years, rumors abounded about it being picked up by one label after another. Eventually it found a home at Synapse Films, who first issued it as a limited edition steelbook via its own website in early 2017 and then a general release edition (with reversible cover art including new work by Chris MacGibbon) later the same year. The new transfer from the 35mm interpositive looks quite impressive and organic in the usual top-notch Synapse fashion, with the original grain structure wisely left intact. Audio options include a new DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix and the original 2.0 stereo mix (LPCM); both sound perfectly fine for what amounts to a Popcornpretty basic early '90s sound design that mostly comes to life during the energetic final 20 minutes or so. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included, and a new audio Popcorncommentary can be heard with director Mark Herrier, Schoelen, Malcolm Danare, and special makeup effects artist Mat Falls, moderated by Kristy Jett. They're all in very good spirits and have a lot of affection for the film, noting the ambitious nature of the practical effects (including the Phibes-style mask angle that turns up in the second half), the quandary of shooting new close-ups of Schoelen to place in scenes that had been shot with her predecessor, and the portions shot by Ormsby that had been done by Herrier's arrival with the fake movie clips faring much better than the main narrative that had to be largely redone. "Midnight Madness: The Making of Popcorn” (57m11s) take an equally in-depth look at the film and its bumpy road to completion with Herrier, Schoelen, Rydall, Wallace, Malcolm Danare, Ivette Soler, and Elliott Hurst, Falls, composer Paul Zaza, and distributor executive Jonathan Wolf chatting about the film's "family project" nature with plenty of roles for young filmmakers, the connection to producer Bob Clark (who had ditched horror films by this point), and fears that the film might never actually finish shooting. Actor Bruce Glover turns up solo for "Electric Memories" (6m38s) about his own limited role in a film within a film (the B&W electrified man one), with other extras including a still gallery, the trailer, and a 5m31s "television campaign" reel including a TV trailer and TV spots.

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Reviewed on September 30, 2017.