Popatopolis, The Jim Wynorski Story Is Terrific!

Guys, guys!  If you haven't seen Popatopolis yet, the 2009 documentary about B-movie director Jim Wynorski, you must.  It's so good.  And listen, I didn't rush to see it either.  It popped up on my radar because, as you can tell from this site, I'm pretty big into cult films and documentaries.  But I wouldn't call myself a Jim Wynorski fan.  I'm a Chopping Mall fan, and there are elements I appreciate from a few of his other films... Everybody should probably watch Lost Empire once in their lives.  But usually, honestly, seeing Wynorski's name attached to a project means not for me.  It means renting Evil Toons and finding out the evil cartoons have about ten seconds of screen-time in the whole movie.  It means cynical, direct-to-cable TV softcore porn with titles like Busty Cops & The Bare Wench Project (not to be confused with The Erotic Witch Project), and bewildering, unconnected sequels to franchises that weren't so great in the first place.  I mean, who knew the Ghoulies franchise could sink so much farther than it started out?

Update 9/14/17 - 5/31/24: Just in time for the Hush Money Verdict comes Stormy Daniels in Terror Vision's brand new blu-ray edition of Popatopolis!
The title (if you don't get it, just read the "let's pop some tops" quote from Wynorski plastered right across the top of the poster), trailer and even the film's opening scenes make it look kind of a like a cheap, misogynistic exercise, inviting us to laugh at the airhead babes of Hollywood B-movies.  From the very beginning where Jim repeatedly calls an actress auditioning for a role in his latest "erotic thriller" stupid for showing up late and neglecting to bring a resume, to him showing off the Howard Stern books in his pantry, I was buckled in for a fairly sleazy experience.  But this film is really an insightful, compelling piece of filmmaking.
This film really comes at us from two angles.  One half is an immediate documentary of Wynorski making his latest feature (at the time), The Witches of Breastwick, which he is determined to complete in three days.  The documentarians are on set the whole time, and it's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a level of filmmaking that we don't usually (ever?) get to see.  This is very far removed from the 4-hour Prometheus blu-ray doc.  As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong shooting a feature in three days with plenty of nudity out in the woods, and we get a very funny, thorough first-hand perspective of that experience.  Even if The Witches of Breastwick is the last sort of film you'd ever find yourself watching, the 'making of' is an entirely different, fascinating experience.
And that's just one half of what's on offer here.  The other is a career-spanning retrospective of Wynorski, with clips from his biggest films, interviews with his biggest peers and collaborators from Andy Sidaris to Julie Strain to Roger Corman, and even a visit to his mother's house.  Popatopolis does a great job in finding the joy in his body of work and unraveling the layers of an ultimately charming curmudgeon who clearly loves film and takes pride in doing the best he can with the dwindling budgets he's given to work with.  There's some sad discussion about the death of roles for softcore B-movie actresses who are being replaced by hardcore pornstars that don't have a problem doing whatever they're asked.
And that brings up another great strength of this picture.  This is no puff piece.  I mean, sure the cast and crew complain about the hardships and stress they're under making a film in three days.  In a scene where several of the actresses are reading over the script, Monique Parent comments that the man who wrote this clearly hates women.  And Julie K. Smith replies, yeah, when they start drinking "the anger comes out," later pointing out where the stage directions refer to her as "the cow."  But beyond just those candid little moments, people like Smith and Corman really open up about their long histories working with Wynorski, and the disappointments he's had in his career.  Corman talks about the popular "I'm sick of all these Jim Wynorski movies" reaction his films were getting in the 90s.  It's certainly an affectionate look, and you'll probably come out of this liking Wynorski more than you did going in, but it's far more honest than your usual DVD documentary where everyone answers softball questions and calls each other brilliant.  In Popatopolis, Jim calls everybody stupid.
admittedly, not the most exciting screenshot I could've selected
Now, probably the most exciting aspect of Terror Vision's new blu is the addition of the original 3-hour workprint of the film.  That's more than twice as long as the film itself, and it's missing some scenes from the final cut, like Roger Corman's interviews and clips from any of Wynorski's films.  But that just means this has a mega-ton of previously unseen material, and it's all pretty great.  As a fan of the original, I was delighted watching this extended cut, and never once bored.  It is a little rough, missing inserts, on-screen text and effects, and at one or two points they just show a test pattern while they play audio from an interview where the video was presumably lost.  If you just want to watch a light doc about the entertainment industry with friends, the final cut will probably go over better.  But if you're ready for a deep dive, the option is here and it's very satisfying.
1) 2009 Imaginaut DVD; 2) 2024 Terror Vision BD.

DVD left; BD right.
So, the 2009 DVD from Imaginaut isn't the most amazing PQ to look at, but I imagine it's about as good as the film can be presented.  The fact that Terror Vision's BD looks almost the same is testament to that.  It's a fine SD presentation: anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with no interlacing or other issues.  During the film we watch Jim shoot his film with an old HD camcorder on DV tapes, and we know the filmmakers are using smaller cameras.  This is just a micro-budget 2009 digital film, and the DVD has probably exactly the same image that they screened at festivals.  Which isn't to say the BD is 100% identical.  It's basically the same 1.78 image, but they've done a little work to it.  A lot of compression noise has been smoothed away, but at the cost of making the image generally softer.  We don't really lose any detail, but it comes out as sort of an arbitrary distinction: 10% better, 10Z% worse, resulting in a tie that'll boil down to personal taste, for the very select viewers who would even notice a difference.  Like, look at that 400% close-up.  We get rid of some overly enhanced edges, but we get a weird sort of pixelated jagged edge to them instead, and we maybe lose some light shading detail, but nothing you'd see in motion anyway, so it's basically a wash.

The back of the DVD touted a 5.1 mix, but it was really just your basic 2-channel track with optional English and Portuguese subtitles.  That 2.0 has been upgraded to lossless DTS-HD for the blu, and still has the English subs, though the Portuguese ones have been dropped.
2024 Terror Vision BD.

The workprint, on the other hand, doesn't look as good.  That's usually how it goes with workprints, so that's not too surprising.  But since it's all digital footage being shared around, it makes you wonder how some of it got that way.  The film slightly shifts from 1.78 to 1.77, but a lot of the footage, like in the second comparison shot, has been vertically stretched into the clearly wrong AR, chopping off the top and bottom of the image and making everybody look like Slenderman.  Gah!  The top shot, though, shows it hasn't all been stretched, which makes it all the more perplexing.   Even the non-stretched footage is clearly in worse condition, though, with additional combing and loss of fine detail.  Also, the audio is lossy and this version's not subtitled.  Oh well.  That's usually how it goes with workprints.
The care given to these releases is especially evident in the special features.  You're really going to want to pick up the disc as opposed to just catching this on some streaming site.  First of all, starting with the DVD, there are two audio commentaries.  One is by the filmmaking team, and it's pretty solid; they're certainly in good spirits.  Also in good spirits are actresses Monique Parent and Antonia Dorian, but their commentary is very skippable.  They have little to say, leaving long stretches of silence or simply laughing at the film, and it also doesn't help that their commentary is mixed so low that it's often very hard to hear them over the sound of the film "in the background."

But more importantly than either commentary are the deleted scenes.  There's some great stuff in here, including interviews with some people who never even made it into the finished film.  There's also a festival talk where Jim goes into some great stories working on his biggest films, and during the Deathstalker 2 clip, we suddenly cut to a whole exclusive interview with its star John Terlesky, which is exclusive to just that deleted scene.  And there are more deleted scenes tucked away as easter eggs, which are also great (Julie Strain takes you on a tour of her house, dances for us, and talks to her maid who once cameo'd in a Wynorski film), so you should definitely hunt those down, too.  Finally, there's the trailer and a cute Chopping Mall-related video where a remote controlled killbot travels around the UK promoting an upcoming screening.  They even threw in an autographed postcard when I ordered it off the official website (which has shut down since I first posted this article).
2024 Terror Vision BD.
And happily, except for the postcard, that's all been ported over to the blu-ray, including the easter eggs.  And they've included a bunch of new stuff.  There's a brand new interview with Wynorski about the documentary ("if it wasn't about me, I'd be laughing my ass off, okay?  But it is about me, so I'm kind of embarrassed by it all"), and a long one with the director of the doc itself.  And the best new addition is probably the new interview with Monique Parent that pretty much delivers everything you might've hoped for from her commentary.  There's also a silly tongue-in-cheek video essay about Wynorski's body of work that I could've done without.  And impressively, although something I doubt I'll ever watch, is the inclusion of the entire Witches of Breastwick film that Wynorski was filming in the doc.  It's 1.77:1 and, having been shot in actual HD, looks light years better than the main feature.  The audio is lossy and there are no subtitles, but as they pointed out in Popatopolis, nobody's watching this for the dialogue.

Terror Vision's blu comes in a nice, thick slipcover, and my pre-order came with a sticker, fortune telling fish and a pixie stick.
This movie's great and the DVD was even better.  I was a little bummed that most fans probably weren't going to take a shot and order it from their website despite my strong recommendation.  So now that Terror Vision's come along and given it an even better release, I hope none of you guys will miss out!  And if you're one of the few who does have the DVD, no the PQ isn't much of an upgrade, but the workprint and additional features still make it a very worthwhile double-dip.


  1. Thanks, I can get this via my local library. Sounds fun and I thank you for your spotlight.

  2. Thanks for the tip -- just ordered a copy!

  3. watched this last night and found it fascinating. The only thing that I was they would have done is looked at more of his other films indtead of focusing on the one with others sprinkled in. Still, thanks for the recommendation.

    1. Yeah, the extras get into that more, with sections on each of a couple of his biggest films.