CAM tells the story of a woman divided against other women, divided against herself.
THE DEN touches a nerve because of how much time we spend in our daily lives attached to screens.
Abel Ferrar's MS. 45 is a brutal exploitation flick about a mute woman who suffers violent misogyny, then decides to make the city night safe for women again on her own.
Simon Rumley's FASHIONISTA is an allegorical tale of the effects consumerism has on the individual.
The prequel to Tobe Hooper's classic, by French duo Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury, turns up new themes in the iconic killer.
Popcorn. 1991. Directed by Mark Herrier. Screenplay by Alan Ormsby, from a story by Mitchell Smith.
Starring Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace, Derek Rydall, Malcolm Danare, Elliott Hurst, Ivette Soler, Freddie Simpson, Kelly Jo Minter, Karen Lorre, Ray Walston, & Tony Roberts.
Movie Partners/Trans-Atlantic Pictures
Rated R. 91 minutes.
There are many critics who’ll say the 1990s were a bad era for the horror genre. This isn’t true, whatsoever. Only if you’re a snob. There were plenty of good to awesome horrors throughout the ’90s, not simply Scream knockoffs and lame attempts at carrying on the ’80s aesthetic.
Popcorn, the only feature film directed by Mark Herrier whom many will know as Billy from Porky’s, is a unique bit of horror, and not only because of the decade during which it arrived. There’s definitely still a leftover 80s style, though it isn’t forced, it’s entirely natural. Above all, the film’s metafiction and sense of intertextuality with other horror movies, the genre itself, really sells the entire deal thematically.
But it isn’t only writing, because beneath it is a slasher film. A young woman named Maggie (Jill Schoelen) begins discovering there’s more to her family than mom (Dee Wallace) has told her, involving a mysterious film and its director, a cult figure in the ’70s film community named Lanyard Gates. And throughout Maggie’s quest to discover the truth she faces all types of blood, ripped off faces, a homicidal all-night horrorthon, among other insanity.
“Come into my head“
From mentions of Ingmar Bergman to the merits of Police Academy – precursor to those excellent bits of dialogue in a film class during Scream 2 years later – it’s obvious the theme of this film is cinema itself. Of course that’s made even clearer with the all-night horror show the students at the high school intend on putting off. Plus, the discovery of Possessor, a (fake) long lost film reel leads us to the dark, eerie history of an avant-garde director with ties to the town, as well as Dee Wallace’s character and her daughter Maggie. Film, film, at every turn.
We’re also given the pleasure of watching films within the film, during the horrorthon the students throw. This is great metafiction, playing as intertextuality with other cinema; made all the better because they’re not actual films. Instead they’re extra short films directed by Alan Ormsby before he was fired, replaced by Herrier. Layers upon layers for what, on the exterior, appears as just another slasher.
The main focus of Popcorn is obsession, specifically centred on film. And in this sense, film is a view into the mind. Concepts that come involve faces, as in identity, and film characters versus real people. Lanyard Gates and his deadly obsession, the killer’s own obsession, blurs the line between fiction and reality. The film’s slasher aspect plays into these thematic ideas, as the new killer operates through use of masks. He goes from one face to the next, making masks out of his victims; this plays back to Leatherface and Tobe Hooper, also in a sense creating film characters out of the victims within their little universe inside the film.
Even the killer calls to mind these themes, reminding us that the past – knowledge of it, as in our knowledge of other movies in the genre – is necessary to us for the future.
“Without memory there can be no retribution“
On the other end of the spectrum, Popcorn is a delightfully nasty slasher at times without any symbolism or deep themes. It’s a revenge film, at its core. A man whose life was irreparably changed, shape by film using the cover of an all-night film showing for his various acts of revenge; a William Castle-type screening gone terribly wrong.
We get perhaps the genre’s most gruesome kiss, as a skin mask tears off the killer revealing his deformed face underneath. Truly, an all-time great horror moment, and certainly top of the ’90s! You’d have expected this to have been used in a Texas Chainsaw movie with Leatherface. A gnarly image, of the best kind.
There’s a sort of surreal mood at times, particularly earlier on. Actually, a scene with Dee Wallace doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me, yet it plays into the idea of fiction and reality blurring, so regardless it works. This helps to thrust us into the killer’s perspective, where horror crossed over from the screen into his life, scarring it and him forever. Aided by the killer speaking of his “soul” and “sustenance” as being his audience.
This leads us into the finale, an ironic sequence. A rear murder on stage, in place of a theatre screen, a precursor to the modern obsession with morbid videos, with the killer creating murderous reality in front of the audience rather than fiction while people cheer him on, not understanding it’s real. We get to a place where reality and fiction are indecipherable from one another; the theatre’s audience is the modern audience. It’s all one big surreal mix.
Popcorn finishes with dark irony. The killer is killed with a movie prop, a fake, flying insect which causes literal death, a smart end for the maniac. All the metafiction, the genre intertextuality rolls into one fitting death scene. Although the awful end credits rap is a bummer, just outright wretched garbage, this doesn’t take anything away from what followed.
It’s wild that this isn’t a more well known film. Lots of genre lovers have seen it, but it ought to be bigger. There’s a few missteps, a couple performances not up to par. Overall? A fun horror with equal amounts to think about and effects to enjoy. The bit of Dee Wallace we get, and Jill Schoelen, is fantastic, as usual.
This warrants a spot on any Halloween list or horror movie marathon. And what a title! Can’t be a coincidence. No matter what, you’ll find something to dig, whether it’s the killer’s face masks, the films within the film, the metafiction, the revenge; there’s plenty good stuff. Snatch up a copy this season.
There is no band.
It is an illusion.
This disturbing indie is an aesthetically driven character study, concerning identity, the self, and co-dependency.
Sisters. 1973. Directed by Brian De Palma. Screenplay by De Palma & Louisa Rose.
Starring Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, William Finley, Lisle Wilson, Barnard Hughes, Mary Davenport, & Dolph Sweet. Pressman-Williams/American International Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Brian De Palma is a quality filmmaker. That quality hasn’t been kicking around much as of late. Doesn’t discount all the great work he’s done in a lifetime of film. He’s spent much of his filmography emulating Alfred Hitchcock, though not in a way that copies or borrows too liberally. No, De Palma has forged his own way through a wonderful career by using that Hitchcockian influence to dust the edges. There are some much lesser efforts out of De Palma than the masterpieces he’s known for – Sisters is not one of them.
This film has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. I bought it up as soon as I could because I’d heard of it for years, always wanting to see it. Then once I had the thing, for some unknown reason, the copy sat lonely, unwatched. When I did view Sisters, I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been. Honestly, this is an unheralded classic of psychological horror. Early on in his career De Palma already cemented himself as a natural heir to the Hitchcock throne. The directing, the editing, the Bernard Herrmann score (when he was semi-retired no less), the central performance of Margot Kidder with all its mania and depth; every last piece is like the perfect one for the puzzle. There’s lots of influence here, De Palma clearly emulating his idol in heaps. Rather than feel at all a copy off the Master of Suspense, Sisters was a fresh drop of horror in 1973, tinted with the suspenseful, tension-filled qualities you might have felt from Rear Window or Vertigo. Either way, this is awesome cinema that shouldn’t be overlooked.
So many great shots. Simple to complex. For instance, there’s a nice shot of shadows on the wall as a door closes that is obviously telling while also chillingly subtle that, along with a bit of score, takes us right into the pure psychological terror De Palma aims for through telling this story. This is just the start.
In a film such as this I have to mention the editing, in combination with the excellent writing. Not long after the shot of the shadows there’s this eerie little moment where the cake is having the names put on it, the icing squeezing out in the names Danielle and Dominique, cut against Danielle having this fit. Just those two names and the way she’s beginning to implode already, these shots perfectly set that up.
Furthermore you’ve got a nice use of split-screen. Certain film fans may not dig that. Others may love it. Personally, I find De Palma uses it appropriately. Because ultimately this is a film that has to do with psychology, fractured identity and perspective, so on. So the split-screen helps give the look a psychological angle all of its own. There’s an overall sense of strangeness that develops, between the various techniques used to tell the story and the story itself, filled with interesting characters and events. I love when the atmosphere of a film matches up so closely with the storytelling, it makes for exciting cinema. Sometimes when a horror, particularly when leaning into the psychological, goes for the grim atmosphere it doesn’t always connect directly to the plot, so much as it’s grim for grim’s sake. Whereas De Palma uses the different techniques to induce a very personal, psychologically driven perspective. In that vein, the story and the filmmaking line up to create an effective cohesiveness. That’s why I find the movie so successful, even as such an early effort by the great director. He showed the film world quickly that his sensibilities as director were well honed already, itching to expand.
A huge part of what makes the suspenseful moments and the tension work is that juicy, creepy score by none other than Bernard Herrmann; again adding to the Hitchcock influence, the composer having worked on some of his best films. There are absolutely bizarre moments, such as the brutal death of Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson) where xylophones and the Moog synthesizer take you to some other plane of existence. Rightfully so. The greatest aspect of Herrmann’s work, as usual, is that it adds a totally whole other character to the film. It is another character. It shapes the atmosphere. These bizarre pieces of music allow De Palma to put us in the headspace of the main character, as she all but literally falls down the rabbit hole of psychological dread.
There’s also a couple genuinely shocking moments. When Philip is stabbed I actually couldn’t believe it. I knew something was coming, and something bad. But this was a really good scene. I’ve seen worse, there’s just something shocking about the moment that strikes so well. Later, the more quiet shock comes in the black-and-white flashback to a time when the Siamese twins are conjoined – or more so it’s a dream on the part of Grace (Jennifer Salt) imagining herself as the twin joined to Danielle (Margot Kidder). A very terrifying moment that doesn’t need to be outright horror to scare. It’s pitch perfect leading into the finale.
I have to say, Sisters is my personal favourite De Palma film. Hands down. He’s done some other fascinating work. I can’t shake this one. There’s an undeniably unsettling effect to the whole thing. Each moment that pulls you into the psychological viewpoint makes the end of the main plot feel that much more intense. As you draw closer to the finish there’s a sense of impending doom. The suspense De Palma employs, the tension he uses to work his audience over with is brutish at times, in the best sort of sense. In terms of talent you really can’t say that De Palma wasn’t shining nearly right from the get go in his career. Margot Kidder provides an emotional, manic performance as a woman torn apart by the bursting identities instilled in her through the loss of her conjoined twin. She is a great actor and I’ve enjoyed so many movies because of her alone. Not to say she’s the only one, just that her role and performance are the highlight in that arena. You can’t say you love De Palma and not see this one. Seek it out if it hasn’t hit your eyeballs yet. Not sure, after finally watching it awhile back, why I waited so long. This needs to be watched and watched and watched again. There is much to enjoy, much to fear. What an underrated psychological horror is Sisters! Let’s not forget it. Ever.