First Published October 30, 2010
"MATINEE" -- WHY CAN'T I LEAVE THIS POOR MOVIE ALONE?
I know, I know. After this week's podcast in which I took up a whopping fifteen minutes talking about the 1993 memory lane Young Adult Comedy where John Goodman plays a Carnival-Barker-cum-Movie-Producer, MATINEE, you guys took a vote, and agreed by a majority so large you can fit a Fantasia hippo through it that you want me to stop raving about it once and for all.
Go get your own podcast and blog. This is mine, Harvey. And I still don't think I did enough justice to this flick, which I believe is an unabashed prize of its genre, as well as a priceless moment in the history of...humans.
And I hate overpraising; I mean, this is coming from the guy who said the only reason they let "Crash" win the Best Picture Oscar was that they were afraid to let the presenter, Kirk Douglas, say more than one word.
But for this movie, I'm willing to sell my soul a little, because I absolutely love the way it combines the spirit of coming-of-age flicks, the monster movie mania of the late 50s/early 60s, and the true grit Joe Gideon-like obsession over dedicating your life to something you love and doing it right.
The Joe Gideon in question is John Goodman's character Laurence Woolsey; after a slew of independantly produced fright flicks that might strike a chord of recognition with all you William Castle fans out there, he's beginning to realize his career is aging as much as his audience, an incourrigable assortment of
seat-wetters and pimple poppers who are beginning to find puberty and the desperate need to get laid that comes with it. Is he gonna give up on his audience? Not a Mant's chance in water, he ain't.
Hanging on by a thin financial thread, he hightails it to Key West, FLA where he plans to premier his new and most ambitious project yet, complete with ATOM-O vision, "the new audience participation thrill that actually makes YOU part of the show"!
Meanwhile, here's Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton), a shy kid willfully escaping the pains of growing up a military brat by retreating to the strand every Saturday for a new monster-movie Matinee. Gene uses the movies the way we all do, a surefire way of leaving our problems by indulging in those of others, and grinning sideburn-to-sideburn while we do it. It’s not that Gene’s problems are particularly world threatening, especially as the Cuban Missile Crisis looms overhead; it’s just that he’s in Junior High School, a time in anyone’s life that forever haunts their memories with the smell of sawdust-engulfed vomit, the constant fear of beatings from upper-classmen, and the lay-down-and-die feeling of the first time they farted in class and realized it was no longer laugh-with-you funny (what, didn’t that happen to you guys, too?).
As Gene prepares for Woolsey's balls-out premier, he finds a friend in another kid-in-waiting, Stan, played by Omri Katz, who, as the main character in the popular show "Eerie, Indiana" and a Disney meet-Cute in "Hocus Pocus", was as much an early 90s mainstay as Bill Clinton's saxophone. To call Stan horny is as much an understatement as calling Che Guivara opinionated, and his myriad infatuation for the opposite sex and what they have to offer a kid of 13 soon rubs off on Gene. Now, for the first time, Gene sees Woolsey's scare tactics as a litle more useful than giving his little brother nightmares, and pines for the tight grasp of sweetheart-hopeful Sandra's (Lisa Jakub) hand in his as the self-proclaimed "Master of Shock" releases new thrills on his unassuming audience.
Half Man, Half Ant, ALL Terror
"It's like 3D, only stuff comes out of the walls." So says Gene as he tries his best to explain the spine-tingling gimmicks of his movie producer Doppleganger, Laurence Woolsey.
As Saturday afternoon approaches, Woolsey attempts anything and everything shameless under the sun to get folks to see his movie -- even paying a couple of blacklisted actors to portray outraged members of the Christian association trying to get his new flick banned in Key West and beyond. In the flick itself, a prototypical creature feature called MANT about a...well, read the section title...Woolsey hides buzzers under the seats to shock the pants off the audience during a key scene; he plants sub-woofers under the screen and along the walls -- the kind they have in that special room in the back of Circuit City that'll make your car alarm go off and your dog howl like it's getting a back alley spaying.
An outsider to Key West and pretty much every other place in America, this is what Woolsey does, and he loves it. His calendar for 1962 probably read: make movie, drive from town-to-town showing it, destroy theaters to accommodate its gimmicks, take the money and run so I can get back out there and make another one.
At first sight, it may seem like Woolsey's just in it for the money; his project is poorly written and hastily promoted, and he's constantly prodding the reluctant theater manager for his money in advance. But as the lights go down and the gimmicks take hold, you begin to see a childlike twinkle in his eyes as the audience's screams pummel the acoustics. You see in him the youngster, growing up in the Roaring Twenties, surviving constant pouncings by the tougher neighborhood kids and cautiously treading the back alleys every day in fear of his own life. Now, he is on the other side of the scare, and this is his well-intentioned revenge.
Not to mention that he loves his audience, and hopes to instill in them the continued tradition of thrill-seeking that is inherent in his world. Maybe, just maybe, one of them -- perhaps Gene, even -- will grow up to continue the calculated manufacturing of screams he has built a career on, and believes people need in their daily lives, a necessity not unlike gasoline. Watching MATINEE, your convinced Gene probably grew up to be its director, Joe Dante, himself, who, with this movie, and the movie-within-the-movie, MANT, finally gave himself the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Woolsey's real-world counterpart, William Castle.