"Matinee" stars John Goodman as a sort of William Castle-Alfred Hitchcock-Roger Corman blend, one of those creature-feature shlockmeister filmmakers from the late '50s and early '60s whose monsters were mutations from atomic fallout.
The setting is 1962 in Key West, Fla., and Goodman plays the part as genial and jovial, an old-fashioned showman who sincerely wants to give his audience a thrill, rather than simply to take the money and run.
He dresses up his girlfriend-star (Cathy Moriarty) in a nurse's uniform, and she asks patrons to sign a waiver, to release liability in case they are scared to death during the movie. Goodman then wires the seats for a mild electric shock to be administered during a key moment in the film, which he labels "Atomo-Vision." Then he rigs a device to shake things up as buildings on the screen are tumbling, "Rumble-Rama."
The film's central character is actually a young boy (Simon Fenton), whose father is among the troops dispatched during the Cuban missile crisis, and the coming-of-age themes revolve around him and his friends discovering their own emerging adolescence. These scenes are overly familiar and also provide a few vulgar asides that could have easily been eliminated.
The real fun is Dante's re-creation of an old-fashioned monster movie based on "The Fly," "Them!" and myriad other black-and-white, cheesy horror yarns "Mant," about a mutant that is half man and half ant. This film within the film is a riot and easily the film's high point.
Goodman and Moriarty also provide some genuine humor and solid characterizations, and the young actors here are appealing. But it is Dante's affection for the material that gives "Matinee" its real success.
And the biggest joke of all is realizing that Dante's movie cost about 100 times the budget of any of the old pictures he is parodying.
"Matinee" is rated PG for a couple of vulgar jokes and a profanity or two, along with the campy violence of "Mant."