My Favorite Movies – Matinee (1993)

21 May

By Tanner Smith

I’m just going to start this one with my favorite scene from “Matinee,” because it’s one of my absolute personal favorite movie scenes, no doubt about it.

Our young protagonist Gene (Simon Fenton) is given the opportunity to help one of his idols, schlock-meister Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman), prepare for the big premiere of his new horror film “MANT!,” about a man who becomes a giant ant. Woolsey gives the kid sound advice about the benefit of watching a scary movie: keep your eyes open during the scariest scenes and you can walk out of the theater feeling happy to be alive. He then tells a story about why he makes monster movies, using a parallel story of a caveman who barely escapes a mammoth attack, draws the mammoth on the cave wall and then makes it look scarier to show to his cave friends. “Boom! The first monster movie,” Woolsey explains.

This is then followed by a POV shot through a movie theater lobby, as we hear Woolsey’s dialogue: “The guy tears your ticket in half; it’s too late to turn back now. The water fountain’s all booby-trapped and ready, the stuff laid out on the candy counter, and then you come over here to where it’s dark–there could be anything in there. And then you say… Here I am! What have you got for me?”

I’ve always loved this scene…. Watching it now, in a time when theaters face uncertain futures, it’s kind of bittersweet too.

Joe Dante’s “Matinee” takes place in Key West, Florida in 1962–a time when everyone feared nuclear attack from Cuba (and Key West is only 90 miles away from Cuba!). Well, monster master Lawrence Woolsey sees this as the perfect opportunity to showcase his new horror movie (people are already scared; this will add to it, his logic says)! His previous film was about a psychotic hypnotist named Dr. Diablo–I would’ve loved to see that fake movie! (“They hypnotized you [in the theater]?” someone asks Gene, a big-time horror-movie buff. “I don’t know,” Gene says. “They guaranteed you wouldn’t remember.”)

Gene is a Navy brat whose father is one of the blockade ships outside of Cuba. That scares his mother (Lucinda Jenney) and his little brother Dennis (Jesse Lee), who is already a nervous wreck because Gene keeps taking him to see scary movies. A monster-movie matinee may be the perfect distraction.

There are other characters in the mix, like a paranoid theater manager (Robert Picardo) who has a fallout shelter in the theater basement, Gene’s new friend Stan (Omri Katz) who asks out the pretty girl in school Sherry (Kellie Martin), a rebellious would-be radical (Lisa Jakub) whom Gene takes a liking to, the resident bad boy Harvey Starkweather (James Villemaire) who doesn’t like that Stan is moving in on his ex-girlfriend (Sherry), and many other colorful characters that it’s hard to keep track of them all! Somehow, all of these story elements and characters come together in a brilliant final act in which Murphy’s Law takes effect on this “MANT!” premiere.

And I love it! The brilliantly clever screenplay by Charlie Haas brings all these characters and all these subplots together seamlessly, which makes the last half-hour or so of “Matinee” all the more entertaining. And I always love revisiting it.

I loved “Matinee” as a kid and I still love it as an adult.

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