There is no writer like Joe R. Lansdale, the man is a genre unto himself. The criminally underrated East Texan wordsmith has been thrilling those in the know since the early 1980s, releasing a staggering number of novels, novellas, short stories and scripts, including The Drive-In, Bubba Ho-Tep, The Bottoms and the Hap and Leonard series. Despite the complete and total adoration of artists and celebrities like Stephen King, Joe Hill, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, Bruce Campbell, Don Coscarelli (and many, many more), Joe’s never quite hit mainstream success, occupying a space somewhere in the cult or indie realm. This is a savage injustice, as Lansdale pens some of the most vivid, deranged yet heartfelt yarns ever scribed by (bizarre) human hands, and freshly cooked documentary, All Hail the Popcorn King seeks to correct it.
All Hail the Popcorn King, directed by the wonderfully-named Hansi Oppenheimer, is clearly a low budget labour of love. Fittingly, a large portion of the screen time features Joe on his own self-describing where he came from and why he writes. Lansdale is a natural born storyteller, who can’t help but spin a yarn even when he’s just chatting, and Popcorn King’s best moments have Joe holding court on all manner of subjects including film, Texas, the nature of politics and racism in America. The rest of the doco features famous admirers of Lansdale – like Bruce Campbell and Joe Hill – giving their impressions of the man, with Campbell in particular offering hilarious insight into why you should both admire his writing but “not fuck with [him]” (Joe both knows and teaches martial artists, y’see).
As pleasing as these observations are to long term fans of Lansdale, it would have been great if the documentary had included more material for newbies. Not much time is spent on Joe’s actual written works, and with so many wonderful talents on board, a couple of paragraphs from The Drive-In or Bubba Ho-Tep read by these luminaries would have sold the premise much more effectively. The documentary is also quite clearly made on the cheap, so the sound and visual quality is variable, which may be distracting to some.
That said, All Hail the Popcorn King does effectively convey the love of rabid fans (of which your humble reviewer is certainly one), and the sheer unbridled charm of champion Joe R. Lansdale. Freewheeling, and occasionally undisciplined, it nonetheless offers an insight into a fascinating, unique artist who in a just and decent world would be a beloved household name.