Joe Dante has made a career out of nostalgia for the classic monster movie. The kind of monster movie that was fun to watch when you thought you shouldn’t, fun to be scared by, and from before it was fashionable to like vampires and gore. Today’s movies like the Godzilla or King Kong remakes are arguably more popular -more accepted at least- yet miss the mark and lack real content. And of course the penchant for torture-porn is just vulgar and disturbing.
Get back to more innocent times with this brilliant release of Matinee, Dante’s superb tribute to 1950’s b-movie cinema and the classic paranoid, wonderfully silly atomic monster movies of the time. The mischievous black humour that ran through his more famous Gremlins and The Howling is exploited further here, with the story being set around a cinema.
The film takes place in a town neighbouring a military base while the Cuban missile crisis is underway. The threat of nuclear annihilation is a very real danger and the townspeople are living on a knife edge. Not least Simon Fenton as teenager Gene Loomis (Psycho inspired name?) whose unseen father is on one of the ships in a stand-off with the Russians.
Fenton could very well be Joe Dante’s younger self. A kid that loves monster movies, even when he knows how they’re done, and he gets to show off to his mates by being the only film buff. He relishes finally meeting the great Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) who is planning to personally open his latest atomic-horror movie MANT! in the town and use every trick to exploit the paranoid atmosphere.
Goodman is fantastic fun as a William Castle style director who can’t resist trying every gimmick in the book. He’s got Robert Picardo’s long-suffering cinema manager terrified by the prospect of rigged seats and pyrotechnics, something you wouldn’t put past the real William Castle! And of course Dante himself was a student of Roger Corman, the King of b-movie production. Goodman also has a touch of Hitchcock about him (we even first meet him in silhouette); Hitchcock may have been one of the greatest directors, but he loved teasing and manipulating an audience as much as anyone.
Matinee plays out like a disaster film, much like the kind of movie it parodies. Half the film builds the tension against the Cuban Missile Crisis and preparing the cinema for cheesy 4D audience participation (“Atmovision”), the rest takes place while MANT! plays and causes glorious carnage amongst the kids being willingly and gleefully scared out of their minds. Dante must have loved making the schlocky, black and white MANT! as much as the rest of the film. The clips you get to see are fantastic with brilliant, dead-pan humour. Cathy Moriarty gets to play a part in both films and gives a great performance.
Sentimental Americana disguises an undercurrent of sharply cynical political satire (“duck and cover!”), but while parallels are drawn between selling cheap movies and the Government selling a war, this is a film that’s first and foremost proud to love cinema. There is one standout sequence with Goodman walking through the foyer, describing the experience he wants to sell. With posters for classic real films adorning the walls and Goodman’s excitement, it’s wonderfully evocative.
I wonder if Matinee is Joe Dante’s favourite of his own films. He gets to cut loose even more so in Gremlins, and that film is stronger than this one, but at the same time, Matinee captures his own adolescence and why he made Gremlins at all. There’s a line towards the end that kind of sums it up: “Hard to believe you’re a grown-up”.
This review is based on the DVD, but it’s easy to imagine that the Blu-Ray exploits what is clearly a well-balanced and colourful transfer.
You might wish for a 5.1 remix, but actually, the lossless stereo track is excellent.
Bit Parts! The Joe Dante Players 09:42 - Some of the fun of watching a Dante movie is spotting Dick Miller and other regulars like director John Sayles. This feature interviews a few of the usual suspects, including Miller, about the attraction of working with Dante time and time again.
Atomo-Vision! The Making of Matinee 07:45 - All too brief, but it features new interviews with cinematographer John Hora and editor Marshall Harvey.
Paranoia in Ant Vision 31.14 - A substantial interview for Joe Dante for 2011 French release by Carlotta Films.
Forward (clearly from that French release). Joe talks about the kind of films that inspired Matinee.
Mant! When you see a film-within-a-film, you often want to see the whole thing and here you can. Over 15 minutes of the footage collected together as one watchable run. It’s great. Like a mini b-movie.
Original EPK 4.15 (Brief making of within an extended trailer)
Behind the Scenes footage 8.01
Deleted and Extended scenes 2.20
A glorious experiment in nostalgia and b-movie horror. Director Dante is having as much fun as you will.