Review by David Paul Hellings
“HALF MAN… HALF ANT… ALL TERROR!
So says the advertising campaign for Mant!, the latest low-budget schlock-horror classic from cigar-chomping producer Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski), who more than makes up for his films’ lack of production values by festooning them with gimmicks that would turn even William Castle (The Tingler) green with envy.
But the most potent gimmick of all is accidental: Woolsey schedules a sneak preview of Mant! in Key West, Florida, in October 1962, unaware that the Cuban missile crisis is about to flare up. Will the threat of genuine nuclear war distract the locals from the movie, or will they find it doubly terrifying?
Directed by the legendary Joe Dante (The Burbs), this delightful film isn’t just an affectionate love-letter to the sci-fi and horror films that he grew up with in the 1950s and 60s, it’s also a witty and intelligent exploration of the way that the most successful genre films worked by preying on the very real fears of their audiences about everything from Soviet satellite launches to atomic mutation”.
- via Fetch Publicity
Director Joe Dante’s loving homage to the Atomic-age films of the 1950s set during the Cuban missile crisis is actually more engaging now than it was back in 1993. John Goodman and Cathy Moriarty’s performances are the standouts in a strong cast; and the various nods to the period in which Sci-Fi overtook and temporarily killed off the success of horror films which had proved so lucrative with the studios and popular with audiences throughout the 30s and 40s, is beautifully presented by a director who has always been a film lover first and filmmaker second.
Following up his successes of “The Howling”, “Gremlins” and “Gremlins 2” was never going to be easy for Dante, and they remain the high points in his career, but “Matinee” is still a fun watch for fans that share the director’s endearing view of the age of the showmen producers who travelled the land before the lights dimmed and the era of super-agents and faceless corporations arrived to kill the cinematic world as it had been and replaced it with high concept cookie cutting.
But, it is the film within the film “Mant!” (also presented in its entirety in the Special Features on this disc) that provides viewers with the glorious reminder of how much audiences of the 50s (even though “Matinee” is set in the 60s) were presented with new and frightening stories based on paranoia and fear, as the Cold War heightened the uncertainty based around the new science that had followed the dropping of the Atomic bombs and the growing realisation that it was weaponry that was fundamentally the biggest danger now facing the planet; a science now in the hands of America’s greatest enemy.
The “Reds under the bed” world of the 50s has never truly gone away in the manner in which ‘others’ are presented. The appearance of Kevin McCarthy of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is a cute touch and a timely reminder that mob mentality has often dictated political response and vice versa, be it “The Day the Earth Stood Still” or “Frankenstein”.
“Matinee” is a reminder that Joe Dante was a director who made films worth watching. His subsequent years of struggling to find funding for original productions reflects how much the studio system has changed in such a short time, and clearly not for the better. “Matinee” is film for lovers of cinema and, in this case, fifties monster movies and the crazy characters that inhabited them. This is a lovely, strong print, in terms of colour, natural image and strong audio; and comes with excellent special features, not least the previously mentioned “Mant!”
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
High definition digital transfer supplied by NBC Universal
Lossless stereo audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Newly edited interviews with director Joe Dante and select cast and crew members
Paranoia in Ant Vision, a discussion with Joe Dante about the making of the film
Mant!, the full length version of the film-within-a-film
Introduction to Mant! by Joe Dante
Vintage ‘making of’ featurette
Rare on-set footage, sourced from Joe Dante’s personal collection
Deleted and extended scenes sourced from Joe Dante’s workprint
Original theatrical trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
This review appeared on SFFWorld at: