Directed by Joe Dante.
Starring John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Omri Katz, Lisa Jakub and John Sayles.
An enterprising film promoter capitalises on the hysteria during the Cuban missile crisis and introduces the idea of live props and special effects to a Florida town during a horror movie showing.
There is a theory that horror movies tend to thrive and become popular with mainstream audiences during times of social upheaval. Joe Dante’s Matinee is a comedy that has this idea at its core and, amongst other things, plays with the notions of horror movie making in a love letter to 1950s/1960s creature features and growing up during a time when everything seemed so much more innocent.
Set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, Matinee stars John Goodman (Arachnophobia/10 Cloverfield Lane) as Lawrence Woolsey, a movie producer/promoter who is plugging his new movie Mant!, a low-budget monster movie about a man exposed to radiation and becoming a giant ant. Woolsey brings his movie to Key West, Florida and immediately drums up interest with the local youth – especially teenage movie fan Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton – The Power of One), who lives on the local military base while his father is away serving in the Navy – and the flamboyant showman intends to put on an event that the kids won’t forget as he employs every trick in the book to get a reaction during his movie.
A snapshot of a moment in time when a post-WWII generation lost their innocence and had to grow up under the constant threat of being nuked, Matinee is a filmmaker’s film from a director who was exactly the right age to have experienced this first hand and who manages to wrangle every last drop of nostalgia out of each scene. As stories go Matinee is actually pretty thin on plot and doesn’t really have anywhere to go once Mant! is screened in front of the local population but that isn’t really a problem as the film is crafted so delicately and with so much detail that by the time the end credits roll you’ll have enjoyed being in that world of 1962 for the last 98 minutes so much that anything could have happened and it would have been great.
Apart from the film screening, Matinee also has a few other plot points going on and more subtext than a George A. Romero movie marathon. Gene is a kid who lives his life through horror magazines and movies because his father is absent for most of the time and he has to look after his younger brother while his mother takes care of the home. Being seen as the man of the house at such a young age has made him distant from his peers and the idea of Lawrence Woolsey coming to his town gives him a bit of childhood joy that he desperately clings onto, and while Gene is making himself known to Woolsey and trying to score a date with rebellious new girl Sandra (Lisa Jakub – Mrs. Doubtfire) the friends he does have are trying to score dates of their own and fend off the local greaser poet, who just happens to land a job working for Woolsey.
Of course, this is a Joe Dante movie and there are references aplenty, from the obvious homages to the original The Fly (at one point the line “Be afraid…” is used, so even the remake gets a nod) to more subtle musical cues and movie posters from other movies in the background. The character of Lawrence Woolsey is inspired by William Castle, the man behind such classics as The Tingler (which employed the use of electric buzzers in theatre seats, exactly like Woolsey uses) and The House on Haunted Hill (which saw Castle thrill audiences by using props from the film in the theatre), but also with a bit of Alfred Hitchcock thrown in for good measure and John Goodman sells it like he really believes most of the waffle that Woolsey comes out with, and his promotional films to advertise Mant! are hilarious and totally spot on. Dante regulars Dick Miller (Gremlins/Small Soldiers) and John Sayles (Piranha/The Howling) also show up as a pair of protesters secretly hired by Woolsey to help promote Mant! in a scene obviously designed to have a dig at the campaigners who helped to boost sales by declaring horror movies morally corrupt. It is these little details that many mainstream audiences may not pick up on straight away but Matinee is full of them and once you know they are there the film opens up and watching it with that knowledge makes it a different experience from being just a regular light-hearted comedy.
As Joe Dante points out in one of the special features, major movie studios just don’t make films like Matinee because they don’t know how to market them. If truth be told, Matinee has marketed itself by simply being a delightful and meticulously well put together movie and Arrow Video’s pristine HD transfer is simply gorgeous to look at. The disc also includes interviews with Joe Dante, archive featurettes and the complete 16-minute version of Mant! (including an intro from Joe Dante and its own trailer) and for movie buffs of any age it is simply a joy to watch and even better to own so you can escape your current life and take yourself back to more innocent times whenever you wish. Wonderful.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★