Sunday, 17 April 2011

Before Wes Craven SCREAMed: Popcorn (1991)

Kevin Williamson’s Wikipedia1 entry states Scream 1996 was inspired by the Gainesville Ripper2. Thrill Fiction asserts that Williamson stole the concept and format of Scream from Popcorn 1991.

A curriculum vitae can be a fascinating testament. In 1972 Leslie Nielson was a respected dramatic actor starring in the ensemble blockbuster The Poseidon Adventure; in 1980 he starred in the ensemble blockbuster Airplane! William Peter Blatty co-wrote A Shot in the Dark 1964 – the sequel to The Pink Panther 1963; he would later write The Exorcist 1973 screenplay based on his 1971 novel. Mark Herrier starred in Porky’s 1982; he directed Popcorn 1991.

There is consensus that the 80s horror boom began with Friday 13th 1980 and ended with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare 1991. It ended with Popcorn. Where Freddy’s Dead is merely a bad film to end a tired franchise Popcorn is an indictment of the entire genre. It is an exclamation point.

The 80s horror gold rush disintegrated into prospectors selling sand instead of gold. Popcorn accuses both the filmmakers who exploit and an audience that demands more gore. Its satire is attached to a plot: Maggie is being stalked in her dreams. She’s part of a film school crew that stage a horror movie festival. The killer stalks her in the movies.
The plundering of Popcorn by Kevin Williamson has been detailed in the Scream and Scream 2 1997 critiques. There is more:

One of the trademarks of Scream is the telephone call. It is the catalyst that sets up its most famous set-piece – the Drew Barrymore sequence – and is used throughout the franchise. The nuisance phone call precipitates the plot of Popcorn. It doesn’t feature as heavily as it does in Scream but it is significant.

Of more significance is the voice on the phone. Ghostface has an electronically altered voice. In Scream 3 2000 he used electronics to mimic other character’s voices. The Popcorn bad guy uses these ploys – but he did it first. Furthermore he mimics other voices to a greater dramatic effect.

In the Scream films it is emphasized any one of the cast could be the killer – even the high school principal. In Popcorn as the cast dwindles by death in disguise the hidden identity of the killer engenders more importance.

The pilfering is not exclusive to concept, theme and plot. Not many films start without a credit roll. Scream opens with a curtain raiser and then a single title card: the name of the movie. So does Popcorn.
darling of the 80s: Jill Schoelen
Popcorn is not a great movie – it’s a very good one. It has its faults. Like a lot of horror films the story is ludicrous although this is camouflaged by excellent plotting. There is a montage in act 1 – a jaded device used in a slothful manner. It’s the equivalent of a bridge in a computer generated pop song.

The heroes in Popcorn are a film school crew. There is familiarity but no camaraderie. Young people get on with each other. They form a bond quicker than adults yet this is not depicted within this cast. It is depicted in films such as The Breakfast Club 1985, Stand By Me 1986 and Scream.

Popcorn is well acted but the plot takes precedence over its cast and theme. That is until the third act when the bad guy reveals himself and struts down the aisle towards metafilm climax. At this point plot and theme coalesce into art. Some films have their moments. Aliens 1986 had Ripley confronting the queen. Popcorn has the final act of Possessor.

Kevin Williamson plundered Popcorn but never reached the high point of art. Perhaps that wasn’t his intention. He did reach the high point of entertainment. He recognised that Popcorn’s selling point was its satire, pop culture references and genre deconstruction. Where Popcorn kept its theme in the background Williamson pushed them to the fore of Scream.

He also applied more comedy. Popcorn is intermittently funny – there is a running joke of Mark getting clobbered – but Scream is constantly funny to the point of horror-comedy. Production company Dimension Films applied more money. Their $15million3 ($21m today) budget is evident onscreen.

The horror genre has a history of using no name actors and young folk; it has a low budget default. Dimension subverted tradition when it hired the biggest director in horror and a bona fide star in Drew Barrymore. They gathered the best ensemble of unknowns in a horror film: Skeet Ulrich, Neve Campbell, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy and Matthew Lillard. Furthermore they peppered the cast with recognisable faces: Courtney Cox and Henry Winkler. Dimension was not going to let Scream go the way of Popcorn.

Despite Jill Schoelen as final girl Popcorn failed at the box office4 5. The marketing didn’t help. Even by 1991 standards6 the trailer7 was awful.

Scream is the most successful slasher ever made8. To date the bodies involved – Williamson, Wes Craven and Dimension Films – have not publicly acknowledged their inspiration.  

Scream is not a great movie but it is a great remake of Popcorn

Read more Thrill Fiction: Re/Made: The Last Houseon the Left
2 The Gainesville Ripper TruTV
3 Scream The Numbers
4 Popcorn IMDb
6 The Silence of the Lambs trailer
7 Popcorn trailer
Technorati Tags:, , , ,
Generated By Technorati Tag Generator
blog comments powered by Disqus