"Popcorn'' is surprisingly good for an inexpensively mad horror film.
It is also surprisingly easy on the gore. Yes, there are killings, but these are pre-''Friday the 13th'' killings. By comparison, they are almost humane.
''Popcorn'' begins at a film school where the students make pompous remarks about people like Ingmar Bergman. One of them has a grand idea. Why not stage a Horrorthon at a local, dormant movie house? The others think this a great idea and hop to it.
Where they get the money to refurbish the place, put in a popcorn machine and procure all the equipment necessary to running a movie house, is never explained, but this is, after all, a horror film.
One of the girls is having a recurring dream. It looks like a scene from a movie, an old one, and it is. By chance, the film is discovered and projected, and when it is, people begin to die.
It shouldn't take long before you cotton to the murderer, but there is diversion along the way. The films the students have chosen to include in the Horrorthon are scare ''classics'' from the '50s, movies like ''Mosquito,'' ''Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man'' and ''The Stench,'' which is shown Aroma-rama. Actually, there were no such titles. These were created for the film, and we see scenes from them, clever send-ups of the movies they are kidding.
This may be the best of the film, but the rest is novel enough. The plot, that is, has a number of original turns. It also has some that are not that original, but again, the scriptwriters may be kidding the genre.
jTC Jill Schoelen is the young girl who is having the bad dreams, and Dee Wallace Stone (''E.T.'') is her mother. Tony Roberts is the man teaching the film students, Ray Walston has a very brief walk-on, and Tom Villard is the student who comes up with the idea of having the Horrorthon.
''Popcorn'' is showing at local theaters. It is almost encouraging to see a horror film that moves some distance away from the slice-and-dice movies.
** A group of film students take over a dormant movie house to stage a Horrorthon, a collection of old scare films.
CAST: Jil Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace Stone, Ray Walston, Tony Roberts
DIRECTOR: Mark Herrier
RATING: R (violence)
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes