Matinee (1993) PG | Comedy | Drama
Matinee is a tale of social satire of the early 1960’s with a touch of William Castle-esque movie promoting magic sprinkled throughout. The story is written by Jerico (Stone) and Charles S. Haas, with Haas also writing the screenplay and directed by Joe Dante – known more famously for The Howling (1981), Gremlins (1984), The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) and Small Soldiers (1998). Dante merges the science fiction films of the era with the real life horrors of the time, demonstrating the skill of a master at work educating his audience without overly preaching while keeping it light and humorous along the way.
Matinee is set in 1962 Key West, FL with the Cuban Missile Crisis as its backdrop. The story centers around a blatant homage to a William Castle-type filmmaker (played by John Goodman) named Lawrence Woolsey and a young boy named Gene Loomis (played by Simon Fenton). Gene is a huge science fiction/horror movie fan that reads the fan magazines and becomes super excited when he finds out Lawrence Woolsey himself is coming to his town to promote his new film “Mant!” However, all his excitement is threatened when, alongside with his mother and younger brother, he watches President Kennedy interrupt a television broadcast to announce the threat of nuclear war from Cuba .
Woolsey turns out to be an optimistic albeit nearly broke producer relying on his new film “Mant!” to be a breakthrough hit, hoping to utilize the recent atomic fears to promote the “Half man! Half ant! in Atomo-Vision and Rumble-Rama!” His girlfriend, who helps promote his films, has started losing faith in his visions and is near leaving him, only increasing the pressure in his life. At a gas station he gets recognized as “Hey, aren’t you that guy that makes them scary movies?” though it’s mistakenly as Alfred Hitchcock, which seemingly causes him to scratch out his autograph, perhaps accepting Hitchcock as his identity for just this one instance.
At school, Gene is called a “walking encyclopedia” since he knows the most about films out of a group of boys. His knowledge ends up getting him accepted into the group, having been friendless since he moved to the naval base in town with his family. Eventually the entire town starts to show signs of panic as a parent acts paranoid from the radio broadcast of a report being “the world is right on the brink and that is the terms they’re puttin’ it in”. As citizens clean the shelves off at the grocery store, fighting over the last box of shredded wheat, the U.S. military moves in and sets up enforcements on the beach.
Smitten by a couple of girls at school, Gene’s newly acquired friend Stan seeks Sherry while Gene turns his attention toward the more open-minded Sandra. Sandra even stumps his knowledge at the mention of Gandhi being imprisoned for a year, leaving her feeling slightly superior. Simon eventually meets Woolsey and starts to discover secrets of the the movie business, getting himself a backstage ticket to what the film really offers in the secrets behind Mant!’s “Rumble-Rama!” Mant! is the film within the film which spoofs the science-fiction horror films of the 1950s. “Rumble-Rama!” pays homage to William Castle’s “Percepto!” from his film The Tingler which consisted of buzzers being installed in select theater seats which would give the viewer a jolt of excitement during the climax of the film, causing them to scream out for extra added effect.
Dante allows the real-life horrors to mix with the simulated scares during the climax of both Matinee and Mant!, creating a craze of excitement until the end. The original film score by Jerry Goldsmith contributes to a truly under-appreciated gem of film making by the wonderful Joe Dante. Matinee highlights the genius of William Castle and exploits – better yet exposes – the ludicrous fallacies during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis (or rather the Cold War overall) while keeping it fun for the whole family. I give it a 3 out of 5 for a rating of Really Good.
Highlights: The film score borrows several cues from classic science fiction and horror films arranged and conducted by Dick Jacobs in his only film credit. Jacobs is better known for producing hits for Tommy Dorsey and Buddy Holly.
Along with Mant! another film-within-a-film is seen called The Shook-Up Shopping Cart, which stars Naomi Watts in her first American role, and is a parody of a Disney-esque family-oriented gimmick comedy.
Kevin McCarthy, the star of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), has a cameo in Mant! as the 4-star general. After he is informed that Mant! isn’t a monster but a shoe salesman, McCarthy comments comically, “Would you let that fit you in a pump?”
A school teacher explains with the help of his chalk board that you need 3 servings of red meat a day to satisfy the food group, giving examples of bacon or sausage for breakfast and a hamburger or pork sandwich for lunch. Only the air raid sirens sound, sending them into the hallways to duck and cover, which leads to a young girl protesting the ignorance of the whole situation. She declares it does no good to put your hands over your neck and even if you do survive the blast of the bomb you’re unlucky since you’ll get radiation poisoning. It will cause your hair to fall out, make you bleed from your intestines and then you’ll start throwing up your own organs. Her outburst leads a student to accuse her of being a communist under his breath. Eventually a teacher manhandles her to the principle’s office where she gets detention for a week, but not before she tells an eternal truth about how “they” don’t tell you the truth but rather tell you to just put your hands behind your neck while “they” keep building bombs.
Favorite lines of dialogue:
Gene Loomis: Y’know, it’s hard to believe you’re a grown-up.
Ruth Corday: No kidding.
Lawrence Woolsey: You think grown-ups have it all figured out? That’s just a hustle, kid. Grown-ups are making it up as they go along, just like you. You remember that, and you’ll do fine.
After the credits scene from MANT!
Ruth Corday as Carole: “Oh Bill.”