For about seven years Jill Schoelen had a good run in horror movies. In 1987, she broke into the genre with THE STEPFATHER as the maladjusted stepdaughter Stephanie. Mike Cucinotta and I watched it last night, and it’s a great horror thriller. After its release, she became a go-to girl in horror and thrillers for a while. Toward the end of that run, in 1991 she appeared in POPCORN, a goofy flick from a script by one of my favorites, Alan Ormsby, and starring my fave horror actress Dee Wallace. Despite those, POPCORN is too loopy a trip for me.
Schoelen plays Maggie, a film student who suffers from impressionistic dreams the likes of Luis Buñuel’s UN CHIEN ANDALOU. She records them in words as soon as she wakes, and plans to turn them into a script. When her class decides to throw a horror film festival to raise funds for the program, they come across THE POSSESSOR, director Lanyard Gates’ Dali-like film that he completed by killing his family in front of a live audience. Once they start the festival, Lanyard’s influence comes over things as people start to die. The rest plays as part whodunnit, part love of William Castle style exploitation films, part gore fest.
Look, I know this film has its fans, but I just don’t get it. This is an In Its Own Universe flick if ever there was one. I just can’t understand a film with a scene in which the letters off a movie marquee attack Dee Wallace. Ormsby’s writing takes the flick way out into left field, and I’m sure it doesn’t help that he was fired from the director’s chair three weeks in, from what I’ve read. A more conventional script and a steady hand at direction, and POPCORN may have succeeded. As it stands, I’m not quite sure what I’ve watched. And don’t even start me on the killer’s reveal. Because I couldn’t explain it if I tried, folks.
And speaking of Dee Wallace, she plays a mom again, but hey, at least she’s a brunette this time out. She does a more than adequate job, but she’s only in the film for a few minutes. For a film daring to be unconventional, it would have been great for her to play the film professor, or even the eccentric that provides the festival with its films. Dee’s a real talent, and this film squanders her.
Schoelen herself is a little uneven, but she’s adequate. The film capitalizes on her run in horror films, but doesn’t provide her with enough to do. She proved in THE STEPFATHER that she could play vulnerable, and that she could play a lead. If only POPCORN made more of that. Of course it doesn’t help that she replaced another actress a few weeks into production.
Schoelen’s run as the hot hand in horror and thrillers would end not long after POPCORN. She starred in some interesting films, none more so than this one. That doesn’t make it worth watching, but hey, not every flick attacks a minor character with letters from a marquee.
Maybe Jill Schoelen can explain this better than I can…