Joe Dante's 1993 film Matinee, a celebration of art over war, movies over Armageddon, is the closest thing the Gremlins director has to a lost masterpiece. Snap it up on Blu-ray
Joe Dante is the master of subversion. He takes, seemingly, inconsequential fluff and surreptitiously creates films with social consciousness – see Gremlins (Christmas creature feature / comment on American consumption) or Small Soldiers (Toy Story cash-in / Vietnam analogy). Matinee belongs to this lineage.
The setting is Key West, Florida, 1962. Our protagonist, Gene (Fenton), and his high school buddies have two things on their minds: girls, and the arrival of low-rent filmmaker Laurence Woolsey (part William Castle, part Jack Arnold, played with warmth and wit by John Goodman), who’s premiering his new monster movie, Mant, in town… Well, actually, the kids have one other minor worry: the Cuban Missile Crisis and the real possibility of total nuclear annihilation.
Matinee is Dante's most personal film. Born 1946, the director would have been a similar age to Gene at this apex of Cold War panic, and it’s easy to believe that the authentic artefacts scattered around the frame – copies of Mad, 50s horror posters, etc – have been pulled from Dante’s basement rather than Universal’s props department. On the surface it’s comic nostalgia, but Happy Days this is not. A terrifying moment in American history, the fear and paranoia are palpable. A scene where the school kids practice the duck and cover technique while a young female anarchist screams, “It’s a waste of time, we’ll all be dead,” is chilling. Dante wants us to chortle through the terror, however, and you might as well go up in a mushroom cloud if you don’t get a kick out of movie-within-a-movie Mant or the authentically juvenile high-school dialogue – “Does touching her boob with my elbow count as second base?”
In among a few bare bone docs is one extra to get excited about: the full version of Mant!, a note-perfect pastiche of 50s nuclear fallout horror (think Them! or Tarantula). If only they’d made room for the other film-within-the-film, the candy-coloured family adventure The Shook-Up Shopping Cart – they'd make a ludicrous, but hugely entertaining, double feature.
Released on Dual Format Blu-Ray + DVD by Arrow – order your copy here
Released on Dual Format Blu-Ray + DVD by Arrow – order you