Doth Thou Protest ‘Popcorn’ Too Much?
I’ve never seen The Room or, by default, its “making of” film The Disaster Artist. At this point in my life, that’s by choice. The popularity of the “worst film ever made” doesn’t make me want to take the time to watch it. I don’t care that The Disaster Artist became an awards darling. I also have never seen Avatar. Popularity does not influence my movie-watching habits.
I had, up until a few days ago, never seen the 1991 film Popcorn and not because it was popular or derided as so bad it’s good in various conversations. While I’ve seen it come up a few times more recently, I don’t see it on “underrated” or “you missed” lists. So why hadn’t I seen it? It’s been available on home media, although the market isn’t exactly flooded with copies. Since its release, it’s almost as if the movie was wiped from our collective consciousness. I remembered it, though. I remembered because the summer Popcorn came out, my local newspaper carried a handful of articles regarding protests about the film and how it should be banned. Thirty years later, I carried the memory of those articles with me. What was it about this movie that warranted protests? I knew about the protests that sunk Silent Night, Deadly Night, and even though I disagree, at least I knew the reason. I’ve tried tracking down those articles, but the archives seem to have a dead spot, and I don’t live close enough to that newspaper’s home base to dig into physical or even microfiche archives. There is a good chance that my memory is incorrect. I don’t think it is, but I recognize the possibility. The only thing to do then was to watch the movie. I’ve been watching horror movies for long enough to know that any hype over a film from the late 1980s or early 1990s should be ignored. That hype goes both ways: nothing will be as good as the mega fan thinks it is or as bad as the worst reviews pretend it is.
Popcorn — as of this writing — is not streaming anywhere that I could find. So, I bought the Blu-ray. Not the cool-looking steel book edition. Just a regular Blu-ray. It cost me half as much as the out-of-print DVD of Warning Sign did so there weren’t any protests about the investment. With a fresh bag of microwave popcorn at hand, I started the movie.
It’s not bad. A great villain, a classic final girl, and enough familiar faces from the era combined to keep it interesting. If you like slashers such as Fade to Black and Scream, or Matinee with its similar William Castle rip-off motif, you’ll like Popcorn. For some of you — maybe even YOU — it’s your favorite horror movie. I can respect that.
What I didn’t see were any reasons to protest the film. Excessively bloody and violent? No, not really. Too much sex or graphic nudity? Not that I saw.
Maybe I’m wrong and something else was being picketed. That was 1991, the year of Cape Fear and Silence of the Lambs. Slashers were headed in hibernation with the release of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Child’s Play 3. I don’t think Popcorn ever played in my local area. If it did, it ran at the same theater that, three years later, when I was 14, didn’t card me to see The Crow. If it did, it took a spot from Silence of the Lambs somewhere between that film’s February release and its trip back when it started racking up awards. Those ads were all over the paper and I don’t remember anyone batting an eye, let alone telling others not to see it.
Ultimately, the memory of a banned film holds more power than whether or not the film was indeed protested. It’s like having your parents tell you the limits and you pushing them. For years, I assumed Popcorn must be one of the scariest movies ever. I’m not let down at all by it being average. An average horror movie, to me, is a better experience than many above-average films in other genres. It’s just how I’m wired.
The appeal of the forbidden is a catch-22. The thrill dissipates the moment of indulgence. When you eat the thing you weren’t allowed to eat or date the person you shouldn’t, that initial giddiness is gone. You crossed the line, you can’t come back, and unless somebody got hurt, you move on. Maybe some other thrill is out there. The next big rollercoaster, the next protested movie, the next banned book.
Truth is, there are a lot of movies I haven’t seen and for different reasons. If you are an adult, you get to make those choices for yourself. If you want to see something now that your parents wouldn’t let you watch before, go for it. Just be prepared for the allure to waft away the moment it’s over.
I’m still not going to see The Room or Avatar. They don’t interest me. But if you get a bunch of moms together to picket another horror movie, I’ll be there opening night. 🩸
T.J. Tranchell was born on Halloween and grew up in Utah. He has published the novella Cry Down Dark and the collections Asleep in the Nightmare Room and The Private Lives of Nightmares with Blysster Press and Tell No Man, a novella with Last Days Books. In October 2020, The New York Times called Cry Down Dark the scariest book set in Utah. He holds a Master’s degree in Literature from Central Washington University and attended the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp in 2017. He currently lives in Washington State with his wife and son. Follow him at www.tjtranchell.net or on Twitter @TJ_Tranchell.
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