I’m pretty sure most of you, like me, have enjoyed a discussion at some stage on who your ideal dinner guests would be, should you be able to choose from history.

Naturally for me, my immediate thoughts turn to the world of film, and once I tick Winona Ryder off the list (missus apart, my dream woman), next would most definitely be shockster William Castle.

For the uninitiated, Castle was a movie producer/director who enlivened a host of classic B movies during the 50s and 60s with a host of audience-grabbing gimmicks.

Moviegoers were treated to the likes of life insurance policies being handed out in case patrons died of fright, cinema seats wired up with buzzers during the Vincent Price-starring The Tingler, an on-screen clock allowing audiences the chance to exit if they could not stomach the end of Homicidal, and so on.

Put it this way, Castle certainly put the fun back into going to the movies, and his biography Step Right Up, I’m Going To Scare The Pants Off America, is a damn good read.

All this is why I absolutely love Joe Dante’s Matinee, a thinly-veiled take on Castle’s antics, with John Goodman playing the larger-than-life mogul.

Set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Goodman plays Lawrence Woolsey, who is hot-footing around the States promoting his new monster movie, Mant.

Woolsey is arriving in Florida, and as much of the running time is spent with the locals of a sleepy coastal town as Goodman’s character himself.

But that is fine as there is plenty to be enjoyed from the locals themselves, as a budding teenage romance between Gene (Simon Fenton) and Sandra (Lisa Jakub) takes centre stage.

In many ways this resembles a high-school romantic comedy at times, but with the added bonus of scenes reminiscing about the magic of cinema, and the beauty of Woolsey’s endless gimmicks.

Topping things off very nicely are the scenes from Mant itself, a loving homage to the black-and-white creature features that is pretty much guaranteed to have viewers chuckling.

The final scenes are all shot in the cinema itself as a rowdy audience takes in Mant, allowing the full gamut of gadgets and gimmicks to come to the fore, giving you some indication on what it must have been like to watch one of these flicks for real back in the day.

Goodman is on top form here as cigar-chomping Woolsey, with excellent support from sidekick Carole, played by Cathy Moriarty.

The many kids on show (especially Fenton and Jakub) turn in creditable performances, and there is a sweetness to the whole thing that makes me more than happy to sit through it time and time again, even if I consider myself a big cynic.

Genre fans also get the bonus of the likes of Dick Miller, John Sayles and Robert Picardo turning up in smaller roles.

The script is absolutely spot-on, and the period detail (old movie posters, copies of monster magazines etc) adds a nice edge to proceedings.

Dante’s direction is excellent, as you would expect from someone who clearly has a lot of love for the cinematic period in question.

Truth is, Matinee is just a whole lot of fun, always putting a smile on my face, and then having me reaching for my William Castle collection to watch the likes of Mr Sardonicus again.

Thoroughly recommended.

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.