Matinee (1993)

Matinee is now available to stream, rent or buy.

Mention the name Joe Dante, and many will undoubtedly talk about the brilliant GremlinsExplorers or Innerspace. Yet, for me, Dante’s joyous celebration of the big screen and the end of childhood innocence, Matinee, is one of his finest and most autobiographical movies. Here Dante takes his inspiration from the fascination surrounding the horror of atomic energy in monster flicks and magazines. While at the same time celebrating the movie mogul William Castle, a showman who would bring a range of gimmicks and live theatre antics to cinema screens during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Castle’s movies ranged from The Tingler (1959), where the audience found their seat literally shocking, to Mr Sardonicus (1961), where the audience got to vote on the ending. 

Of course, many laughed at Castle and his box of tricks, but his legacy has continued to impact cinema from ‘Sensurround’ in Earthquake (1974) to the present craze for 4DX. Matinee places Castle’s showmanship front and centre in the guise of the fictional Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) as he prepares for his next monster flick, ‘Mant’. However, just off the coast of Florida, the Cuban Missile Crisis is unfolding, and his movie premiere is about to ignite social fears of a possible nuclear conflict. 


The year is 1962, and John F Kennedy is entering his second year as president of the United States. However, the optimism of his inauguration in January 1961 has been replaced by paranoia and the fear of war. Lawrence Woolsey not only understands this but seeks to turn it to his advantage with ‘Mant’, a B-movie that combines fears of atomic war with a giant killer ant. Even his choice of location for the film’s premiere plays to broader social fears as a small cinema in Key West gears up for the arrival of Woolsey’s box of tricks. 

Meanwhile, young teenager Gene (Simon Fenton) lives on the local army base with his younger brother, mum and absent navy dad. Gene spends his days buried in monster magazines, movies, and science fiction as the world changes around him. His best friend Stan (Omri Katz) shares in his passions but is also beginning to shun the local cinema for the lure of girls. However, as Woolsey’s new film storms into town accompanied by the great man himself, Gene’s love of monster’s and cinema will clash with the reality of the world around him as childhood nears its end in a cinema rigged with theatrical tricks.


Matinee is a love letter to cinematic showmanship and a celebration of cinema itself. If, like me, you spent your weekends as a kid and teenager in the safety of an auditorium where your feet stuck to the floor, as you were whisked away to another world, Matinee is for you. Here Dante reminds us of the power cinema can wield in our younger years. While also reminding us that not even the big screen can shield us from the events surrounding us or the invasion of the adult world. Matinee marks the end of the fantasy and wonder of our early teens through a glorious haze of buttered popcorn, movie magic, cheers, and screams. It is the ultimate love letter to cinema, dreams and teenage awakenings. 


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