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Film review: Popcorn

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In better days, Dee Wallace Stone was the mother in "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," Tony Roberts was Woody Allen's sidekick in numerous movies and Ray Walston starred as TV's "My Favorite Martian."

Yes, that's right. Even "My Favorite Martian" is a step up from this.

"Popcorn," apparently named for the preferred movie snack only because most of this film is set in an old theater, is a throwback to slasher films that used to come to town every other week a decade ago.

There are a couple of twists on the genre here, most notably some "bad movies" that are spoofs on old '50s horror pictures, created as films-within-this-film. But otherwise, it could be "Prom Night" or "Terror Train" or "The Burning" or any number of other sub-"Halloween" ripoffs.

The story has Tony Roberts' high school drama class planning an all-night horrorthon at a local movie theater that's been shut down for years. Why was it shut down? Because 15 years ago the crazy guru of a filmmaking cult showed a gruesome homemade horror film in the theater one night, except for the final reel. The last act he performed live on stage, killing his family in front of the audience.

How pleasant.

Naturally, when the kids clean up the theater — in music-video fashion, of course — and begin their night of B movies, the crazed killer strikes again, using elaborate disguises and masks so that he resembles the kids themselves. But is this phantom of the movie house the killer from 15 years back? Or is it someone else — perhaps even one of the kids themselves?

Who cares?

The killings are gruesome and ridiculous, each attempting to be a bit more creative than the last. And there are lame attempts at slapstick that are amazingly unfunny. On the whole, "Popcorn" is so amateurish in its development, with pseudo-hip dialogue that drops movie references every few lines, it winds up being neither scary nor funny.

The films shown during the horrorthon are fairly amusing, all parodies of old gimmick movies: A scratchy black-and-white monster flick called "Mosquito!" shown in 3-D "Projecto-Vision"; the black-and-white story of a killer whose stint in the electric chair turns him into "The Electrified Man," with theater seats wired up for mild electric shocks; and a Japanese horror yarn called "The Stench," in "Aroma-Rama,"with putrid gases pumped into the auditorium at the appropriate moment.

Though the glimpses of these movie parodies are amusing, they are hardly worth either $5 or the torture of sitting through the rest of "Popcorn," which is rated R for violence and profanity.

And a brief footnote: The killer in this film is revealed to be a burn victim, which, of course, brings to mind Freddy Krueger in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series and other slasher pics that have used similar motifs. To use someone who is psychotic as the killer seems natural, but to assume, as these films do, that someone is psychotic because he is a burn victim, seems a cruel stereotype. I have to wonder how burn victims themselves feel about that.