Matinee (1993)

  • Time: 99 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Joe Dante
  • Cast: John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton


A showman introduces a small coastal town to a unique movie experience and capitalises on the Cuban Missile crisis hysteria with a kitschy horror extravaganza combining film effects, stage props and actors in rubber suits in this salute to the B-movie.

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  • Joe Dante’s Matinee is a bewilderingly overlooked little gem about a period when going to the movies was a far more innocent experience. Directors such as William Castle would turn a trip to the cinema into something all the more involving for the audience, pulling stunts such as rigging audience’s seats with buzzers to shock the viewers whenever a fright occurred on screen, or even allowing them to choose their own ending. It was a time when a film-makers could make a decent buck with a bit of old-fashioned theatrics and a genuine passion for delivering an exciting experience for the paying punters. Matinee is also about the loss of such innocence, both at the movies and in the U.S.A. as a whole.

    It’s 1962, and avid young horror buff Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton) spends his days at the movies with his little brother while his father is away on a submarine. He’s recently moved to Key West, Floria, where just over the horizon the Soviets are storing missiles in Cuba, and President Kennedy has just announced the threat of nuclear destruction. Gene dotes on the prettiest girl in school, Sandra (Lisa Jakub) while his new best friend Stan (Omri Katz) tries it on with Sherry (Kellie Martin), whose ex-boyfriend is a flick-knife wielding senior. While the whole town is in a subdued panic, charismatic B-movie schlock extraordinaire Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) arrives to personally promote his new film Mant!, a cheapo creature feature about a man turned into an ant by nuclear radiation or something or other.

    There was very little time spent during my viewing of Matinee without a smile plastered across my face, which is what you would expect from a Joe Dante movie during the best spell of his career. This is a picture for those who truly love the movies from a guy who clearly loves movies too. In one of Matinee’s most bewitching moments, the camera sweeps into Key West’s cinema with the same sense of awe I experienced as a child, when I remember gazing at posters of the upcoming movies adorning the walls and being hit with that sickly smell of popcorn. Sadly, I wasn’t around for the black-and-white kitschy B-movies of the 50’s and 60’s (the earliest memory I have is watching Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with my brother back in 1991), but the affect is still the same.

    Cathy Moriarty also stars as blonde bombshell Ruth Corday, an actress and also Woolsey’s girlfriend, eternally grumpy with the man she sees as full of out-of-reach dreams and cheap gimmicks, but demonstrating loyalty by dressing up as a nurse stationed outside the screening in case anybody falls ill because of the ‘horror’ on show. The Cuban Missile Crisis coincided with the decline of such showmanship, as American cinema evolved into something all the more serious, cynical and paranoid, and Matinee waves goodbye to such innocence. But it does so with a smile, and Goodman is terrific as the larger-than-life promoter who is perhaps a version of Dante himself, or at least the more flamboyant directors Dante grew up admiring. Matinee has a lot to say about our love for the movies and of the important role it plays in our general society, but more importantly it is joyous, funny and often extremely touching.

    Rating: 5/5

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