(Joe Dante, USA, 1993)


Here is a fabulous idea for a movie, courtesy of Charlie Haas, brilliant scriptwriter of Over the Edge (1979), Gremlins 2 (1990) and Martians Go Home (1990).

B movie entrepreneur Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) tours small-town America, wiring up theatres so that they will quake, buzz and bellow smoke during screenings of his latest schlock-horror opus Mant ("Half man, half ant – so terrifying only screams can describe it!").

But it is 1962 so, while Mant premieres at a packed and groaning theatre in Key West, concerned citizens are glued to their television and radio sets waiting for the latest word on the Cuban missile crisis. Many of them are convinced that their world may end at any moment. But this real-life panic does not deter Woolsey; instead it pushes him to incorporate his spectacular new stunt, "Atomo-Vision", into the film presentation.

Haas and inspired director Joe Dante (Innerspace, 1987) have effortlessly condensed about a decade's worth of academic cultural studies into an often hilarious conceit. How the mass media interact with historical realities, how they prompt intense audience emotions for the sake of both pleasure and capital, how the threat of nuclear devastation has entered the imagination of popular culture ...

It's all here, topped off with a reassuring lecture from Lawrence about how his tacky movies are really just like the stories told at the dawn of time by the first cave dwellers. Dante has a fine way with this kind of sentiment, lovingly sending it up as the purest corn. Matinee is a winning piece of pop whimsy.

MORE Dante: Gremlins, Looney Tunes: Back in Action

© Adrian Martin December 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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