By CHRIS HALLOCK
Directed by Hansi Oppenheimer
Written by Hansi Oppenheimer and Brian Harrison Mack
Starring Joe R. Lansdale, Bruce Campbell, Don Coscarelli, Joe Hill
Squee Projects LLC
In Hansi Oppenheimer’s heartfelt documentary ALL HAIL THE POPCORN KING, prolific mojo storyteller Joe R. Lansdale, in describing his bold style, discusses a “free-wheeling” approach to his craft. It’s the perfect descriptor of Lansdale’s seamless blend of genres in wild tales like Cold in July, Bubba Ho-Tep, and his beloved and enduring Hap and Leonard series. The term also encapsulates Oppenheimer’s (and editor Brian Harrison-Mack’s) construction of the film, a visual expression of a tireless writer, loving family man, and (yes) Hall of Fame martial artist, whose boundless enthusiasm and approachable manner beams through the screen.
Lansdale is a ten time Bram Stoker award-winner, recipient of a British Fantasy Award, and has earned scores of other accolades. He collaborated with his hero, Edgar Rice Burroughs on the novel Tarzan: The Lost Adventure, the writer who Lansdale once said, “set my youthful imagination on fire.” Lansdale grins humbly at these achievements, but the accomplishments aren’t what drives him. His mission is telling a gripping story, drawn from a seemingly bottomless creative well, with reverence for the forces that guided him there; chiefly comic books, classic fantasy literature, crime thrillers, and countless hours spent watching westerns and horror movies at the local movie house.
Oppenheimer wisely keeps the camera trained on Lansdale as he goes about a normal day. We travel alongside as he guides us through his hometown in Nacogdoches, Texas eager to share the rich history of the oldest town in the state. Lansdale ruminates on the legendary figures who passed through like Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, as if forgetting he himself is the documentary’s focus. Oppenheimer rarely cuts away, lingering on conversations that always contain an amusing anecdote or profound insight. It’s a refreshing approach, letting Lansdale double as a tour guide through the everyday spots that inspired the robust settings of his most famous works, sharing real life experiences that often seem stranger than fiction.
Sprinkled throughout are conversations with genre literary and film luminaries like Christopher Golden, Joe Hill, Bruce Campbell, Don Coscarelli, and Mick Garris, who started as fans, but forged deep friendships with the affable and encouraging sage. Oppenheimer also speaks to members of the Lansdale clan, his incredibly supportive wife Karen, his daughter, actor and musician Kasey, and son and screenwriter Keith. It’s wonderful to see how the creative spirit flows through every member of the Lansdale family, who often work collaboratively on projects. It’s these conversations that shape the narrative, and the film becomes a celebration of these relationships, and evidence of why Joe R. Lansdale is your favorite author’s favorite author.
ALL HAIL THE POPCORN KING clocks in under an hour, so it’s not the deep dive into all things Lansdale it could be (although Oppenheimer covers a lot in this span). It is, however, a wonderful way to get to know Lansdale as a human being, and audiovisual evidence that his storytelling prowess excels beyond the written page. One might agree that he’d make a great narrator for a documentary about any of the interests he touches upon throughout. Ultimately, it’s a swift visit that leaves us wanting more in that succinct way that defines Lansdale’s sparing style. The film may not be large in presentation, but is Texas-sized in its outpouring of love and admiration for an author who could knock you out with a fist, but prefers to strike with words.
ALL HAIL THE POPCORN KING is exclusively available on DVD from Squee Projects LLC.