“Half man… half ant… all terror!” That’s the tagline not to Joe Dante’s Matinee but to Mant!, the schlocky film-within-a-film produced by John Goodman’s cigar-chomping Lawrence Woolsey. Woolsey’s films may be far from masterpieces, but he likes to put on a good show, and for the screening of Mant! in Key West, Florida, he’s pulling out all the stops, including hiring a man dressed as the eponymous ant monster to spook viewers and installing electric shock devices in the chairs, not to mention his ‘rumble-rama’ which will simulate the film’s nuclear explosion. The problem is, this is October 1962, and not far away from Key West, the Cuban Missile Crisis is threatening to tear the world apart – which Woolsey sees as an opportunity to draw on his audience’s fears.
It’s not Woolsey, however, but Simon Fenton’s Gene who’s the protagonist. Gene’s dad is on one of the submarines near Cuba and so the fear is very personal for him; a fear he tries to get away from through his love of horror movies. Following Gene and his friends in the build-up to the Mant! screening, and then the show itself as it goes as out of control as you’d expect, Matinee is a fast-paced and very funny farce, with broad, daft humour aimed at a family audience. Though its plot threads intertwine nicely, Charlie Haas’ script does throw in one heightened side character too many, meaning that the love story between Gene and his date Sandra (Lisa Jakub) doesn’t get time to develop.
It’s also a film filled with nostalgia; just as recent Netflix hit Stranger Things saw the Duffer Brothers pastiche the sci-fi films they loved as kids, this is Joe Dante paying tribute to his favourite childhood movies, albeit through comedy rather than straight-up imitation. And though John Goodman’s long monologues on the magic of cinema can get a little bit too much, the warmth of Dante’s affection for this genre shines through in the upbeat tone, particularly when we get to see scenes from Mant!. It perfectly tears apart the tropes of that genre, from the shrieking women to the patronising scientist: “now he’ll grow at an accelerated – or speeded up – rate”. Even better, the whole sixteen-minute Mant! is included as an extra on this Blu-ray.
And that’s worth watching, because Mant! is a hilarious and entertaining watch made with charm and affection – just like Matinee. It’s not perfect, but it’s perhaps Dante’s most personal film and definitely an underacknowledged gem. This new Blu-ray release comes courtesy of Arrow, who’ve done as good a job as ever, so now would be a great time to add Matinee to your collection.
Special Features: Mant! / Making-of / On-set Footage / Discussion with Joe Dante / Deleted Scenes / Trailer
MATINEE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JOE DANTE / SCREENPLAY: CHARLES S. HAAS / STARRING: JOHN GOODMAN, SIMON FENTON, CATHY MORIARTY / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 12TH