Documentary Review: ‘All Hail The Popcorn King’

Greetings again from the darkness. For anyone who has ever tried to write a story, you know how difficult it can be. Generating an idea, building characters, and establishing a tone are challenging enough; but discovering the perfect ending is nearly impossible. So no matter how many times you tried, and how frustrating you found it, imagine the world of Joe R Lansdale. He papered his walls with more than 1000 rejection letters, but now (at age 68) has written more than 50 novels and more than 500 short stories.

As if the sheer volume of volumes wasn’t enough, Mr. Lansdale has written in just about every genre you can name: horror, western, science fiction, mystery, and suspense. He’s had success in comic books and graphic novels, and some of his work has been adapted to film and TV series, including cult favorite BUBBA HO-TEP (2005), COLD IN JULY (2014), and the TV crime series “Hap and Leonard.”

Filmmaker Hansi Oppenheimer aims the camera at her garrulous subject and lets him go. Mr. Lansdale loves talking about writing, and it’s clear that he was born to write. He and his wife Karen live in Nacogdoches, Texas which isn’t too far from Gladewater – where Joe was raised, and where he revisits for this film. His East Texas roots seem to have kept him grounded, as there isn’t an ounce of condescending tone in any of the stories he tells or memories he recalls. At least a dozen writers are interviewed here, along with musicians (guitarist Vince White), a book editor, actors (Bruce Campbell, James Purefoy), and directors (Don Coscarelli, Mick Garris).

We hear Joe described as “a genre unto himself”, “a no BS guy”, and “the most well-known unknown author.” Joe talks about the time he was chosen to finish an Edgar Rice Burroughs story that had been left unfinished when the Tarzan writer passed away. He also reminisces about how pulp fiction led to the radio programs of his youth and then evolved into the early TV series he watched. And it’s fascinating to hear about the crazy dreams he had after chowing down on Karen’s greasy (lard-coated) popcorn at movie time … and how those dreams led to many of the stories he wrote.

Ms. Oppenheimer includes many photographs throughout and the use of terrific retro graphics adds a dash of art to the look of the film. Mr. Lansdale owns his own martial arts studio where he still teaches Shen Chuan, and we get a clip of him in action. He claims “The Drive-In” (series) was his most imaginative work, and that’s really saying something coming from the writer who had old Elvis team up with black JFK to battle an Egyptian mummy in a senior citizen home. Surely that will provide a unique epitaph when the time comes. Until then, expect a lot more words to find the Lansdale page.

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