If Alfred Hitchcock is the master of suspense then Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) is the master of horror, the B-movie producer who wants to really engage with his young audience. Even when the Cuban missile crisis is looming heavy over his next release. Reschedule maybe, or maybe not, as history has taught us the timing of a films release can make or break a film. Take Donnie Darko (2001) released soon after 9/11, poorly timed with the plane crash and audiences having experience events that had not been imagined on-screen. Reality had beaten film at its own game.
In Matinee (1993) timing really can mean everything, and also showmanship in how you deliver and promote your film. Which now relies more on digital methods to find their audience, back in the early 1960’s all they had were the old-fashioned posters, trailers and advertisements. For Woolsey he only needs himself to sell a film, much like Hitchcock who used his celebrity to promote his work with his own dry macabre humor, which is channel with good effect by John Goodman whose having a ball in this rare lead role.
He even takes the stance of the master of suspense, it’s all in good fun. For his next film Mant the film within a film of a man whose been transformed by overexposure of X-Rays and an Ant he becomes transformed into a massive ant. Taking a number of cues from the golden age of B-movies such as Tarantula (1955), The Fly (1958) and any number of other classics which are form the fabric of this homage to the genre that had gone into. In 1962 when cold war tensions had a reached a new high with the Cuban missile crisis maybe now is not the time to release a film about the potential harmful effects of radiation with nuclear missile potentially flying in the skies above. This doesn’t stop Woolsey who uses that fear to encourage his young audience to a test screening of the film in the new medium to fully immerse the audience. It reminds me of theme-park attractions that employed similar techniques, explosion, water spray and shaking seats just to get you even more excited.
Woolsey is a movie mogul who understands the changing audience even admits the current political climate which he uses to his advantage. He knows his genre, what horror does to an audience, who want to be scared, to feel alive. They know what they are seeing isn’t real, it’s that primal instinct which is only sought out now for fun not survival.
Lawrence Woolsey: “A zillion years ago, a guy’s living in a cave. He goes out one day, Bam! He gets chased by a mammoth. Now he’s scared to death, but he gets away. And when it’s all over with, he feels great.”
He’s even in a relationship with his lead actress Ruth Corday (Cathy Moriarty) whose too cynical to see what is going on, a realist going out with a dreamer living the Hollywood dream. his investment in Rumble-Rama similar to other gimmicks looks to be his last-ditch attempt as real success, not that Woolsey would let on, he’s passionate about the audience experience he wants to deliver.
Away from Mant we have a less exciting teen comedy that take a while to find its feet, following two young teenage boys Gene (Simon Fenton) the son of a Navy father and Stan (Omri Katz) who befriends him at his latest school. There’s more focus on the army kid, who has traveled from base to base, not able to put down any roots. We even have a jealous older man Harvey (James Villemaire) who warns Stan away from his much to young ex girlfriend Sandra (Lisa Jakub) who wants a man to hold. You feel like your watching two genres colliding, that of a b-movie with a the kids relationships before they go to the movies and get more than they bargained for.
Once we have built up a dynamic we are back in the cinema ready for everything to come together we have the young love-stories complete with hurt ex working the Rumble Rama a system that synchronises experiences with moments and lines in the film. It’s all coming together, whilst cinema owner Howard (Robert Picardo) is more concerned about safety and the potential nuclear fall-out, having built his owner bunker. We have adult fear of the real horrors juxtaposed with those induced into children for quick thrills, escaping a reality they are all to aware of.
Mant the homage to science fiction at a time when it was only for kids, reflecting a time of great political fear. Oversized creatures terrorising neighbourhood’s that were recognisable to audiences. All made on shoe-string budgets with unknown actors using these roles to hopefully break through to bigger roles. Combined with in-screen novelties that keep audiences in their seats or even falling out of them. I just wish I was there to see this spectacle. Up to the point where things start to go wrong but somehow in favor of Woolsey who understands whats going on.
Matinee maybe much forgotten film today, which should be rediscovered by film-lovers and those who wants a piece of nostalgia the golden age of cinema. We are surrounded by film posters of classics from 1962, a lot of detail and love has gone into this film that you can’t help but enjoy. Before special effects were the beginning and end of a film. Woolsey bring these effects to the audience who he understands more than others may think. He’s all about the emotions that cinema stimulates, that good story telling is based upon, if you are engaged with the action, everything else is either falls or is a bonus