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All Hail the Popcorn King

Review by Craig Draheim

Director: Hansi Oppenheimer

Starring: Joe R. Lansdale, Bruce Campbell, Don Coscarelli, Joe Hill, Mick Garris, the Lansdale family

Growing up in Michigan as a horror fan, there’s one thing you must (not like) love, The Evil Dead franchise. I’m not sure if the same rules pertain to the younger generations (maybe It Follows) but it felt that way for me. Michigan action and science fiction fans must also have that blind loyalty for Robocop, though unrelated to the topic at hand. So, like many, my first experience with the work of Joe Lansdale was through the film adaptation of his story Bubba Ho-Tep, starring Michigan native, Bruce Campbell. See, the rambling was with purpose.

Joe R. Lansdale is considered one of the “most well-known, unknown authors.” While his work is considered in the same vein as a pulp novel or the B movie at the drive-in, Lansdale has become an anomaly as an author who can mix every genre together in one project and yet make something truly entertaining with emotional weight at its core. The documentary, All Hail the Popcorn King provides a 55-minute glimpse into the life behind this distinctive voice.

As a fan, this is a great little doc that fits perfectly with Lansdale’s style. It is all over the place in how the information is presented or formatted but it works, and within it are pockets of heartfelt insights on topics like race. He even discusses being a liberal in East Texas, why he stays there, and how it has allowed him to respectfully address subject matters from both a liberal and conservative point of view. It feels like the audience is hanging out with the author, as he’s showing us around town and talking about the things he loves in a down-to-earth fashion. Actually, it feels like he’s more inclined to give us little facts about his town, the drive-in, or discuss martial arts (or martial “science” as is referenced) than his work. We are treated with the doc highlighting three of his most influential or popular works with Bubba Ho-Tep, the Hap and Leonard series, and The Drive-In, which are great crowd pleasers and introductions to the author’s style.

I was 100% into it. However, as the credits rolled, I found myself asking, “What was the purpose of this documentary?” Is it a “fluff piece” destined to be a special feature for some adaptation of his work? Because that’s what it is. I imagine if I showed this to my partner, who likes Bubba Ho-Tep, yet hasn’t read any of Lansdale’s writing, she’d think he was interesting but there’s not enough content or depth to hook her into checking out his work. So, this is a “by the fans, for the fans” piece, here to fill the small niche that wants it.

I wish I had more to say to really shore this up and help bring more people on board with an incredible author, but I find myself about to enter the realm of verbosity for the sake of a higher word count. If you’re already a fan then definitely check it out. If you’re interested and just starting out, then read some of his work first. If you’re anywhere from don’t care to unsure, this won’t sway your opinion at all. Whatever camp you fall into, it definitely gave this reviewer enough reason to reread some of his personal favorites.

4 out of 5 as a fan

3 out of 5 as a reviewer

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