Matinee, directed by the great Joe Dante, was released in 1993 and yet, it is a time capsule that will take you back to the sixties ! This love letter to B-movies is an absolute pleasure to watch for any cinephile who loves this particular aspect of cinema.
Gene lives with his mother and little brother in the Key West military base while his father, a navy officer, is at sea. The Cuba Missile Crisis is at its peak but while adults are in absolute panic, Gene only has one thing on his mind : go to the movies to watch Lawrence Woolsey’s latest horror film : Mant.
The opening sequence immerses you right away. It shows the trailer for Mant, the movie our main character wants to see. Lawrence Woolsey, the producer, presents the feature as a cheap version of Alfred Hitchcock. Mant, the film within the film, is in the pure tradition of B-movies from the 1950’s and references the genre several times. The poster is heavily inspired by the poster of Them!, a sci-fi movie from 1954 about…ants ! It is very entertaining to get to see excerpts of Mant throughout Matinee. It seems to be an alternate version of The Fly (1958) as shown, among other details, with the black fabric on the man/creature’s head. All those details about Mant just enhance the feeling that you are watching a film directed by someone who is as passionate as you also probably are.
Setting the film during the missile crisis emphasizes one of the film’s most important message and one that is very dear to my cinephile’s heart : movies can, at least for a short while, make you forget about the worries of the real world. Such an endearing message ! But Matinee has multiple facets : it is a comedy, a drama, a charming coming-of-age story, a portrait of society in the early 1960’s. However, it never feels like a melting pot of random elements : every aspect is essential to the story.
As mentionned above, Matinee also focuses on cinema and this is definitely the most appeling side of the film. There are details throughout to please every horror aficionado : it is set during the Halloween season so there are decorations everywhere, Gene is seen reading horror magazines on several occasions and…his last name is Loomis ! It is also interesting to get a glimpse at several aspects of the independant film industry : movie marketing, promotion, gimmicks etc… I also loved how Joe Dante captures the magic of cinema from the spectator’s point of view. In a world prior to the internet, you can’t help but feel Gene’s anticipation to see this new horror film.
To conclude, Matinee is a beautiful coming-of-age story that every film fanatic should see. Good directing, good acting, lovable characters, references to horror classics… the film has all the ingredients to put you in a good mood as you can’t help but nod when a character talks about what’s so great about cinema