(DirecTV/Starz/VOD) Of Joe Dante’s amazing run of movies though the 80s and 90s, MATINEE is often forgotten, which is a shame because — while all Dante films are paeans to cinema — MATINEE is his magnum opus to filmmakers like Bert I. Gordon and William Castle and the theatergoing experience.
A brief synopsis: It’s 1962. Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton) is a Navy teen whose parents just moved to Key West. Due to the constant life interruptions, Gene finds comfort in horror films, and more often than not spends his free time haunting movie theaters with his little brother Dennis (Jesse Lee Soffer). It just so happens that schlocky director Lawrence Woolsey (an utterly delightful John Goodman) is coming to town to show off his latest gimmicky film, MANT!, which is about a man who, due to radiation incurred while having his teeth x-rayed during a dental appointment, turns into a mutated ant. Woolsey’s visit also just happens to coincide with the Cuban Missile Crisis, which has the world on pins-and-needles, especially the Loomis family as their father has been sent out on a Navy submarine mission. MANT! becomes a huge town event, and — as typical of a Dante film — anarchy ensues.
MATINEE was co-written by Charles S. Haas, who also wrote GREMLINS 2, which is unsurprising as it has a lot of the same self-reflexive nods — although few as fourth-wall breaking as GREMLINS 2 — that never detract or take you out of the film.
If there’s one flaw to the film, there isn’t much of a reason why we’re following the Loomis brothers, apart from the fact that their father might be involved with a Cuban Missile Crisis operation, and the fact that Gene loves horror. They aren’t given much to do but, once the MANT! screening unfurls halfway through the film, it doesn’t matter.
Speaking of MANT!, one could argue that it’s -too good- of a horror film, with some overly clever dialogue (which killed when I rewatched it at a recent theater screening) and surprisingly detailed creature design. That said, I realize complaining that the film-within-the-film is too good is a severely stupid nitpick, and please don’t let my dumb quibbles deter you from enjoying both MATINEE and MANT!.