Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Body Horror Month Quick Picks and Pans

Taxidermia Poster

Taxidermia (2006) Director/co-writer György Pálfi’s fascinatingly grotesque film consists of a trio of interwoven stories (based on short stories by Lajos Parti Nagy), covering three generations (1942, 1960s, and presumably the 1980s) of a Hungarian family. In the first segment, a sexually frustrated soldier indulges in his perverse fantasies. The second concerns a fictional Eastern Bloc eating contest, while the third involves a skinny taxidermist (Marc Bischoff) and his beyond-morbidly obese father (Gábor Máté). Pálfi juxtaposes some truly stomach-turning imagery with visual poetry, adding up to an unforgettable viewing experience. It’s a mixture decidedly not for everyone, but if you’re that certain someone who appreciates the repugnant with the sublime, this might just be precisely what you’re looking for. 

Rating: ****. Available on DVD

Titane Poster 

Titane (2021) This audacious, unsettling movie by filmmaker Julia Ducournau makes her one to watch. Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), an exotic dancer with a titanium plate in her skull, has intercourse with a car (No, really!). She subsequently becomes pregnant, but there’s much, much more to the story, full of twists and turns that I wouldn’t dare spoil here. I’m not going to venture an explanation about what it all means, and I can’t exactly say I enjoyed it, but I can’t help but admire Titane’s unflinching commitment to its absurd premise, melding flesh and metal.   

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Hulu

Sssssss Poster

Sssssss (1973) Strother Martin plays, Carl Stoner a herpetologist shunned by the scientific community because of his unorthodox theories. He hires David Blake (Dirk Benedict, of Battlestar Galactica and A Team fame), a naïve young college student as his assistant. Soon, he becomes Stoner’s unwitting pawn in an experiment to transform man into a king cobra. Complications ensue when the mad doctor’s comely daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies-Urich) falls for David. None of the proceedings in this batty flick make a lick of sense (It’s never explained why Stoner keeps the cobra’s mortal enemy, a mongoose, on the premises, except perhaps to justify the climactic battle), but it’s strangely entertaining, thanks to a committed cast and some cool makeup effects. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Manster Poster

The Manster (aka: The Split) (1959) Some men could be accused of being led around by their “other” head (amiright?), but I’d wager no one’s expecting to take that literally. Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley), an American journalist working in Japan, meets mad scientist Dr. Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura), and soon becomes a test subject. After the doctor injects him with an experimental serum, Larry suddenly sprouts another noggin, and his baser instincts take hold. He forgets his wife Linda (Jane Hylton), starting an affair with the scientist’s lascivious assistant, Tara (Terri Zimmern). By the end of The Manster, the only thing that Dr. Suzuki’s experiment proves is that two heads are certainly not better than one. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself scratching your own coconut over the dubious science and the wacky climax. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Antiviral Poster

Antiviral (2012) Filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg’s commentary on the cannibalistic nature of celebrity worship brings up some intriguing concepts, and the labyrinthine plot wouldn’t be out of place in a film noir. It’s too bad that it suffers from a wooden lead (Caleb Landry Jones) who mumbles most of his lines and a cast of unrelatable characters. I suppose the art design (where white walls predominate) was intended to convey an austere, clinical look, but without the benefit of contrasts from set to set, the overall impact is numbing. The net effect is an intellectually stimulating, yet emotionally uninvolving experience. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Exte - Hair Extensions Poster

Exte: Hair Extensions (2007) Director/co-writer Sion Sono dips his foot in the body horror sub-genre, with this fractured fable about human foibles and stolen follicles. A mysterious shipping container yields a bizarre and gruesome discovery when officials find it filled with hair and bodies. A lonely dock guard with a hair fetish (Ren Osugi) takes one of the corpses (which might or might not be alive) home, to harvest its continually sprouting locks. Meanwhile, Yuki (Megumi Satô), a young hair stylist, contends with her irresponsible older sister while she balances her job responsibilities. There are some nice moments, featuring creepy imagery, but Sono’s film is all over the board, tonally (from wacky comedy to a drama about child abuse). I wish Sono had picked a lane and stuck with it, but Exte might be worth a look, for curiosity’s sake. 

Rating: **½. Available on DVD

Tusk Poster

 Tusk (2014) An obnoxious podcaster (Justin Long) travels to Canada to cover an internet meme celebrity, only to find a much bigger story, involving an eccentric retired sea captain (Michael Parks) who’s obsessed with walruses. Little does he suspect (Isn’t that always the case) that he’ll soon become a victim of the warped millionaire’s latest experiment. The story at the movie’s core would make a nice half-hour segment in a horror anthology. Unfortunately, Writer/director Kevin Smith fills the other two thirds of the movie with mostly unfunny gags (imagine every Canadian stereotype thrown into the mix) and scenes that go nowhere (mostly involving an uncredited Johnny Depp as a French-Canadian detective). While I can’t recommend this movie in good conscience, it might be worth checking out, if only for the absurdly horrifying scenes of the walrus-human creation (featuring some excellent makeup effects supervised by Robert Kurtzman of KNB Effects). 

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy

Contracted Poster

Contracted (2013) Writer/director Eric England’s cautionary tale starts with an intriguing premise, but falters after it leaves the starting gate. After being manipulated into an ill-advised one-night stand, a young woman discovers a strange disease spreading rapidly throughout her body. She soon finds herself falling apart, while she gradually alienates herself from everyone. Unfortunately, Contracted is hampered by unconvincing performances and situations. Even when she undergoes some very conspicuous (and icky) changes, no one seems overly concerned. Even her doctor, completely at a loss about her illness, doesn’t seem particularly alarmed (I’m not an MD, but I’d probably contact the CDC or refer her to a hospital). Instead, everyone thinks she’s being annoying, hooked on drugs, or making things up. There was a great opportunity for social commentary, but it’s a hard pill to swallow when it’s so clumsily executed. 

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


Friday, March 25, 2022

Announcing the Corman-verse Blogathon

The Corman-verse Blogathon

When you think of the term “living legend,” Roger Corman should be on everyone’s short list. Hollywood outsider, who re-shaped Hollywood into his image, famous for making movies fast and cheap, creating significant work and schlock in equal portions (But we’re not judging. Someone else’s trash could be your treasure). He’s mentored and influenced some of the biggest names in the business, including James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Gale Anne Hurd, Joe Dante, Jack Nicholson, Beverly Garland, and many, many more… Gill Jacob, my superb blogathon co-host from Realweegiemidget Reviews, is joining me to celebrate the man, his movies, and his countless mentees. Now, we’re inviting you to join us.

Bucket of Blood

What’s the Corman-verse? IMDB lists more than 500 producing credits (and counting) alone!  Not one to simply rest on his laurels, he’s still going strong at the age of 95 (96 on April 5th!). Chances are, whether you know it or not, you’ve probably seen something that involved Mr. Corman. Don’t know where to start? Check out his IMDB and Wikipedia pages.

The Raven

What does that mean for you, dear blogger (or podcaster)? Thanks to Mr. Corman’s numerous credits, you have virtually endless possibilities (Surprise us!). Anything he’s produced, directed, written are good candidates for the blogathon, but we’re also opening this up to include any actors or filmmakers who have been strongly influenced by Corman – if you can link them to Corman, it’s fair game!

Rock 'n Roll High School

Here are just a few topic suggestions: 

·       Corman’s “Poe Cycle” of movies (The House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, etc…)

·       Social consciousness in Corman movies

·       Dick Miller’s many appearances in Corman films

·       Joe Dante’s early work

·       Corman’s numerous disciples

·       The ill-fated, unreleased movie, The Fantastic Four (1994)

And just because it’s called a “blogathon,” don’t let that deter you. We will cheerfully accept submissions from your podcast, YouTube channel, Facebook/Instagram post, sea shanties, beat poetry, whatever. Still puzzled about a topic? Feel free to reach out and bounce your idea off us. No reasonable offer will be refused.

The Fantastic Four

What: The Corman-verse Blogathon

Who: Hosted by Yours Truly (Barry P.) and Gill Jacob

Where: Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews

When: May 26-28, 2022

How: Please read the rules below, and send me your post request(s) (reviews, podcasts, etc…) via email (barry_cinematic@yahoo.com), Twitter (@barry_cinematic), or by commenting below. You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, or through her blog’s Contact Me page (Be sure to include your preferred name, along with your blog’s title).

The Intruder
And now, the rules…


  1. If Roger Corman produced, directed, wrote, or appeared the film, you’re welcome to review it. Book reviews are also acceptable. You may also submit reviews of movies from filmmakers that were mentored by Corman.
  2. Due to the vast number of potential subjects for this blogathon, ABSOLUTELY NO DUPLICATE TITLES WILL BE ACCEPTED (unless it’s part of a career profile or series of films).
  3. We won’t accept posts that are uncomplimentary or disrespectful to him.
  4. Review/post choices may be requested as a comment on this page or you may contact me through the methods listed above.
  5. Add your Twitter username so we can promote your post.
  6. A full list of blogs and review choices will be posted on a separate page and updated regularly.
  7. Only original, never-before-published posts will be accepted.
  8. Limit TWO blog posts per participant, please.
  9. Send a link of your post(s) to me or Gill on one of the days of the blogathon. Note: We will be publishing all links on both blogs. 
  10. Please also note: Gill and I have already claimed the following titles below:

Barry at Cinematic Catharsis – Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)


Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews – Alligator (1980)

One more thing...

If you plan to participate, or just want to show your support, please grab one of the following banners to display on your blog:


We can’t wait to see your submissions. Put on your thinking caps, be creative, and above all, have fun! 


Monday, March 21, 2022

Double Take: The Fly


The Fly 1958 Poster

The Fly (1958) Directed by Kurt Neumann; Written by James Clavell; Based on the short story by George Langelaan; Starring: Al “David” Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Kathleen Freeman and Charles Herbert; Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Rating: ****

The Fly 1986 Poster 

The Fly (1986) Directed by David Cronenberg; Written by Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg; Based on the short story by George Langelaan; Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz; Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Rating: ****

“He was like an explorer in a wild country that no one had ever been before. He was searching for the truth. He almost found a great truth, but for one instant, he was careless.” – François Delambre (Vincent Price)

“I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over... and the insect is awake.” – Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum)

The Fly 1958 Helene Delambre

The Fly (1958/1986) is part of a long tradition of the venerable science fiction cautionary tales, depicting an intrepid researcher delving into mysteries we were not meant to know. Essentially, it’s a contemporary re-telling of the myth about Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, and paid the consequences for his hubris. Distilled to their central theme, both films are about a brilliant scientist who developed a revolutionary invention that will transport matter from one place to another, rendering most other forms of transportation obsolete. There’s just one catch, however.  In their zeal to forge ahead with their discovery, they neglect to notice a fly in the ointment, or in this case, a fly in the teleportation device. Man and fly are combined, with the scientist progressively losing his humanity in the process. Oddly enough, both films are set in Canada, with the 1958 version, directed by Kurt Neumann,* set in Montréal, and the 1986 remake, directed by David Cronenberg,** in Toronto (Cronenberg’s preferred city for movie-making). While the 1958 film was considered a low budget production,*** filmed in only 18 days, The 1986 version**** was more moderately budgeted.

* Not-So-Fun Fact: Neumann passed away, just prior to the 1958 film’s release.

** Fun Fact #1: Robert Bierman was originally set to direct the remake because the producers’ original choice, David Cronenberg, was attached to Total Recall for Dino De Laurentiis. Due to a family tragedy, Bierman bowed out of the project, while Cronenberg left Total Recall because of creative differences with De Laurentis, and the rest is cinematic history.

*** Fun Fact #2: The original film’s budget of roughly $400,000 was less than half the cost of Cronenberg’s salary for the remake.

**** Fun Fact #3: The iconic quote and tagline, “Be afraid. Be very afraid” was based on producer Mel Brooks’ (Yes, that Mel Brooks) comments, after viewing the dailies from a scene, which Cronenberg subsequently incorporated into the script.

Dr. Seth Brundle

Aside from transplanting the proceedings from France to Canada, Neumann’s version is the most faithful to Langelaan’s 1957 short story (which originally appeared in Playboy magazine). The 1958 movie plays like a mystery, utilizing a flashback approach to gradually uncover why Helene Delambre (Patricia Owens) killed her husband, Andre (Al “David” Hedison).* Cronenberg’s film uses the source material as a departure point, rather than a template, letting the events unfold in chronological succession. Outside of the science-gone-wrong story, it depicts a love triangle between Dr. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum),** Veronica (Geena Davis), and her ex-boyfriend Stathis (John Getz). Both films share a common thread, underscoring the complicated dynamics of love and loss. The tragic elements work so well in the 1958 and 1986 versions, because we’re invested in the likeable protagonists. Andre is an absent-minded genius, who’s also a loving father and husband, while Seth Brundle is a brilliant, socially awkward goofball who somehow makes the word “cheeseburger” sound inviting. Sadly, the outcome for both is the same, although no matter how many times we may have seen these movies, we always wish for a different outcome.

* Fun Fact #4: Before relative newcomer Hedison accepted the role, it was offered to Rick Jason and Michael Rennie, who both turned it down.

** Fun Fact #5: The character’s last name comes from Formula 1 driver Martin Brundle. As a racing enthusiast, Cronenberg commented that he often based character names after personalities in the sport.

The Fly 1958 Helene & Andre

As in the original story, Andre’s post-accident body now features a fly’s head and front limb, while somewhere, buzzing about the Delambre family estate, is a fly with a human head and forearm. Although the prospect of switching heads with a common housefly is certainly unsettling, it’s not too difficult to imagine why the same approach would be considered too unsophisticated for ‘80s audiences, weaned on the realism of gritty ‘70s flicks. If you also factor in the numerous technological advances and leaps in genetic research, it becomes clear that the same story wouldn’t exactly fly (pardon the terrible pun). Instead, Cronenberg envisioned a fusion of man and insect: not two separate creatures but one being, which is the sum of its parts. Cronenberg also introduced a modicum of ambiguity to Brundle’s transformation, suggesting that not everything is necessarily bad. Initially, Brundle emerges from the transport pod seemingly unscathed. Teleporting himself could be equated to a drug, which increases his strength, agility and virility. It’s only later, as his body undergoes a metamorphosis, that the downside becomes apparent. On the other hand, the 1958 version leaves no wiggle room for debate – there’s no question that mixing a man and a fly is a terrible thing. As both movies also prove, the quest for knowledge is fraught with peril for animals as well. When Andre attempts to transport the family cat Dandelo,* it fails to reintegrate, instead becoming a string of atoms floating in space. Brundle’s poor baboon** test subject fares even worse, when he reintegrates, albeit with messy results. 

* Fun Fact #6: In the original story, the unfortunate scientist not only takes on the aspects of a fly’s anatomy, but sports some feline facial features, due to a previous failed experiment with his family cat, Dandelo.

** Fun Fact #7: Typhoon, the baboon took a liking to script supervisor Gillian Richardson, becoming visibly (ahem) aroused whenever she walked on the set.

The Fly 1986 Brundlefly

It’s unfair to compare one visual approach versus the other, since they’re the product of different eras and aesthetics. Andre’s basement lab is a mass of flickering lights, neon tubes, and big dials, surrounding two teleportation chambers* that resemble phone booths. Cronenberg’s version features a much more industrial look, typified by the teleport pods.** Instead of a house with a lab, Brundle lives in a warehouse fashioned into a laboratory, with living space an incidental necessity. Likewise, the makeup effects reflect two different decades. The idea of a man walking around with an enormous fly head undoubtedly would have seemed more than a bit silly to today’s jaded audiences, and would be more likely to elicit laughter rather than chills. Ben Nye’s makeup is quite respectable for the time, and at the very least, loads of fun to watch today. The opening scene remains quite effective, with the shot of Andre’s body slumped over a hydraulic press, with a profuse amount of blood running down the sides of the device – pretty strong stuff by 1958 standards. Cronenberg interprets the source material in a completely different way. After the fly is incorporated into Seth Brundle’s body, he undergoes a gruesome (realized in appropriately icky detail by Chris Walas and his team), often-painful transformation that appears to be a disease at first. His body becomes something else, neither fly nor human, but Brundlefly, a grotesque hybrid. His condition works as a metaphor for a terminal degenerative illness*** – he’s powerless to stop the process, once the DNA from both organisms has fused. His medicine cabinet becomes a collection of discarded body parts, which he glibly refers to as the “Brundle Museum of Natural History.”

* Some have likened the graphic progression of Brundle’s condition to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. While this is certainly a valid observation, Cronenberg’s intent, in his words, was to depict, “…the inevitability of deterioration and death.”

** Fun Fact #8: Perhaps fortunately, the computing power required for teleportation is far beyond the capacity for current technology. According to a study by the University of Leicester, transferring a human would need 2.6 x 1042 bits of information (I’m not a math wiz, but that’s an enormous number). And that’s not counting the monumental amount of energy required to teleport a human. In short, it’s not very likely we’ll see such a device in our lifetime.  

*** Fun Fact #9: The unique look of the teleportation pods was inspired by an unusual source, the cylinder head of Cronenberg’s Ducati motorcycle. 

The Fly 1958 Andre Communicates via Typewriter

Another profound difference between the two films is how the protagonists convey information to the other characters. After the accident occurs, Andre loses the ability to speak, requiring Hedison as Andre, to pantomime throughout the remainder of the film. It’s a credit to Hedison that he’s able to convey so much emotion with movement. Cronenberg, however, didn’t want his main character rendered mute so early in the story, thus limiting Brundle’s ability to communicate with the other characters, and by extension the audience. For Cronenberg, it was crucial that Brundle was able to articulate the changes he was enduring. 

How Brundlefly Eats

The 1958 version of The Fly has a naïve, retro charm, requiring a healthy suspension of disbelief for maximum enjoyment. The image of a man with a fly head and leg remains one of the most memorable images from 1950s science fiction cinema, entrenched firmly in our pop culture consciousness. The 1986 version belongs to its own sub-genre best described simply as “Cronenberg,” reflecting his medical background, and fascination with “the flesh.” Brundle’s changes occur on a microcellular level, changing his genetic code, not simply grafting parts of a fly onto a human body (and vice-versa). The ’58 and ’86 films are so wildly divergent, there’s room for both. Each scratches a certain itch. The original is, at heart, an old-fashioned Saturday matinee monster movie for the kid in all of us, and what it does, it does very well. Cronenberg takes a more mature approach to the material for his version, exploring the deleterious effects of disease and toxic relationships. Which one is best depends on the eye of the beholder.


Sources for this article: Blu-ray commentary by David Hedison and David Del Valle; “Teleportation: Will It Ever Be a Possibility?” by Dave Hall, The Guardian (June 2018); Blu-ray commentary by David Cronenberg; Documentary, Fear of the Flesh: The Making of the Fly 


Sunday, March 13, 2022

Short Take: Boxing Helena


Boxin g Helena Poster

(1993) Written and directed by Jennifer Lynch; Story by Philippe Caland; Starring: Julian Sands, Sherilyn Fenn, Bill Paxton, Art Garfunkel, Betsy Clark, and Kurtwood Smith; Available on DVD 

Rating: ** 

Nick and Helena

Helena (Sherilyn Fenn): “I’ll never need you.”

Nick (Julian Sands): “You need me now. None of those other men ever cared for you, but I always loved you, and I’ll take care of you, no matter what.” 

Helena: “You don’t love me. You think you can’t be a man without me.” 

Nick: “But I have you.” 

The controversy surrounding some films makes a bigger splash than the movie itself. Such is the dilemma with Boxing Helena, written and directed by then 24-year-old Jennifer Lynch (daughter of David Lynch). It’s probably best remembered for the controversy surrounding the production: three weeks before shooting was slated to commence, Kim Basinger walked out on the film, and a $3 million paycheck. She was later successfully sued, and Sherilyn Fenn (of Twin Peaks fame) was brought on. Considering Boxing Helena’s twisted premise and the filmmaker’s lineage, one might expect something truly unconventional. Oh, if only that were the case…   

* Fun Fact: Prior to Basinger leaving, Madonna was slated to star in the role, but she also decided to bow out.

Nick Performing Surgery

Dr. Nick Cavanaugh (Julian Sands) is a gifted surgeon, skilled (presumably) in the reattachment of severed limbs. Despite the admonitions of his pal Dr. Augustine (Art Garfunkel), Nick can’t seem to get his ex-girlfriend, Helena (Sherilyn Fenn) out of his mind. Soon, he’s trying everything to win her back, which alienates him from his current partner Anne (Betsy Clark). I’m unsure if it was intentional, but Anne is so vanilla that anyone else might be an improvement. The friction comes to a head when Helena appears at Nick’s party (which was intended to celebrate Anne and Nick’s engagement), and he follows her around like a lost puppy. In the following scene, Nick finagles a way to get Helena back to his sprawling estate, where an unfortunate accident forces her to be his patient and prisoner.  

Ray and Helena

The over-the-top performances in this would-be erotic thriller border on camp. Instead of being intimidating and sinister, Sands portrays Nick as whiney and sniveling. Fenn does the best she can with an underwritten role, as the largely unsympathetic Helena. She doesn’t deserve the hand she’s dealt, but it’s hard to feel much sympathy for her either way. The normally reliable Bill Paxton (sporting a terrible wig) is terribly miscast as Ray O’Malley, Helena’s narcissistic boyfriend. We’re supposed to accept him as a modern-day Lothario, but he comes across as a cartoon character.

Nick Reads to Helena

Watching Boxing Helena, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about (including a threatened NC-17 rating). While there are a few borderline slow-motion sex scenes, there’s nothing that wouldn’t pass muster on ‘90s-era Cinemax (aka: Skinemax). Besides its tedious pacing, however, the movie’s biggest fault is pulling its punches with the subject matter. Lynch had an opportunity to show something truly grotesque, but what remains onscreen is a largely bloodless affair. The surgical procedures that render Helena limbless are left offscreen. Instead, we’re left with a common magician’s trick, presenting the illusion that there’s nothing underneath the table supporting her (I spent half of the movie wondering how they hid Fenn’s legs when she sat on a bed or in a wheelchair). If nothing else, Boxing Helena serves as a textbook illustration of how arbitrary the MPAA can be. I can only conclude that the ratings board people were so fixated on the unsavory premise, they neglected to pay attention to what was actually depicted.

Nick and Helena in the Rain

(Spoiler Alert) It somehow seems fitting that the icing on this under-baked cake is the big reveal (Gasp!) that it was only a dream. Jennifer Lynch’s tale of obsession and control is a ham-handed, unsubtle metaphor for the level of control that some men would like to exert against their wives or significant others. What we’re left with is a movie that’s all hype and no show. Anyone expecting something that overwhelms our senses or stretches the boundaries of our endurance should likely search elsewhere.


Sources: “Fenn Loses Limbs as Lawyers Grill Kim,” by Michael Fleming, Variety (April 27, 1992); “Lynch: Basinger Not Deceived,” by Donna Parker, The Hollywood Reporter (March 1, 1993); “Lynch: Basinger Loved Script,” by Donna Parker, The Hollywood Reporter (February 26, 1993) 

Sunday, March 6, 2022



Matinee Poster

(1993) Directed by Joe Dante; Written by Charles S. Haas; Story by Jerico Stone and Charles S. Haas; Starring: John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Lisa Jakub, Kellie Martin, Dick Miller and Robert Picardo; Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Rating: ****½

"Atomo Vision, Rumble Rama… It takes a lot more to scare people these days. Too much competition… Now they’ve got bombs that’ll kill half a million people, nobody’s had a good night’s sleep in years, so you gotta have a gimmick, you know? Something a little extra.” – Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) 

Lawrence Woolsey

A huge thanks (or should I say, “Scream Out”?) to Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews for inviting me to join the Wilhelm Scream Blogathon, looking at one of the most ubiquitous sounds from Hollywood movies. Today’s offering, Matinee, qualifies for the blogathon and this month’s theme (Body Horror), thanks to the marvelous film-within-a-film, Mant (more on this in a moment).

Theater Marquee

Matinee is Joe Dante’s love letter to the genre movies he grew up with, and the unique theater experience from his adolescence. Dante originally envisioned Matinee as a fantasy (with a vampire projectionist and monster theater manager), but eventually eschewed these elements when he couldn’t find a studio that was interested in the concept. The final product, however, reflects his affection for B-movie cinema, told amidst the backdrop of real-life events, circa 1962 (i.e., the Cuban Missile Crisis). The relatively low-budget production was originally slated to be funded overseas, with Universal to distribute, but when the money fell through, Universal took over the bill. Filming took place on location in Key West, Florida, where the story takes place.

Gene and Stan

Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton) is a typical all-American kid who lives on a military base with his mother Anne (Lucinda Jenney) and younger brother Dennis (Jesse Lee Soffer). As if adjusting to a new town and a new high school aren’t enough to cause anxiety, he’s faced with the uncertainty surrounding his father’s latest post, on one of the Navy vessels engaged in the U.S. blockade around Cuban waters. Gene’s only common thread, hopping from base to base, is his love of sci-fi and horror movies.* His new friend Stan (played by Omri Katz. best known for the beloved but short-lived series, Eerie Indiana) introduces him to another pastime – girls. While Stan pursues Sherry (Kellie Martin), Gene sets his sight on non-conformist proto-hippie Sandra (Lisa Jakub). But things are about to get more complicated when tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union come to a head, just as B-movie showman extraordinaire Lawrence Woolsey rolls into town to promote his new movie, Mant

* Fun Fact #1: Gene’s room is decorated with various memorabilia, which came from Dante’s personal collection.

Lawrence Woolsey and Ruth Corday

John Goodman (whom Dante envisioned for the role) impresses as cigar-chomping filmmaker Lawrence Woolsey, an amalgamation of a special breed of mid-century self-promoting genre filmmakers,* with an obvious nod to William Castle. Woolsey, who’s part con-man, all showman, knows a mark when he sees one. He delights in pushing an audience’s buttons, inside and outside the theater, promoting his latest gimmicks, “Atomo Vision” and “Rumble Rama.” If there isn’t controversy about his movies, he creates it. One of his ploys involves a staged protest outside the theater where Mant is set to premiere. His shills, Herb and Bob (Dick Miller and John Sayles) stir up outrage for his movie, under the auspices of phony organization “Citizens for Decent Entertainment.” Inside, he wires theater seats to zap the posteriors of select patrons (in a direct nod to Castle’s The Tingler), sets up an elaborate sound and light display, and hires juvenile delinquent Harvey Starkweather (James Villemaire) to terrorize the audience in a giant ant suit. He’s a big kid at heart, much to the chagrin of his sarcastic, long-suffering girlfriend Ruth Corday (Cathy Moriarty). She’s at the end of her rope; never a bride, always a bridesmaid to Woolsey’s cockamamie schemes. 

* Fun Fact#2: In addition to Castle, Dante cited Bert I. Gordon and Jack Arnold as influences for the character.

Mant and Carole

Among Matinee’s many highlights are excerpts from Mant (tagline: “Half man. Half ant. All terror.”), a spot-on parody of ’50s monster movies (particularly The Fly and Them), presented in glorious black and white. The cautionary tale, in which Bill (Mark McCracken), an ordinary man, transforms into a deadly human/ant hybrid, features genre staples William Schallert and Kevin McCarthy. Mant captures the style and tone (including over-the-top performances) of the films from that era, including an expert who dumbs down his explanations for Bill’s beleaguered wife Carole (played by Cathy Moriarty as Ruth Corday). The Wilhelm Scream is right at home with the monster-related mayhem when a giant ant tears through the city. Another clever parody* pokes fun at a special brand of Disney pablum from the 1960s (frequently starring Dean Jones or Fred MacMurray), in which a sentient shopping cart foils some would-be burglars. 

* Fun Fact #3: Matinee marks Naomi Watts’ first American performance, appearing in “The Shook Up Shopping Cart.”

Cuban Missile Crisis

Matinee provides sober reminder that real life is infinitely more frightening than anything that could be depicted on the silver screen. Life in 1962 was anything but carefree, when the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed, with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The bomb shelter maintained by the jittery theater manager (Robert Picardo) and routine “duck and cover” drills at school, at once reflect the public’s hypervigilance at the height of the Cold War, and the futility of surviving a nuclear blast. Dante’s film illustrates how humanity could be brought to the brink of extinction, yet somehow carried on with their daily lives. Woolsey offered an escape from the horrors of reality, providing thrills without consequences. His monologue at the end of the film encapsulates the public’s raison d'être for movie-going, and specifically why many of us enjoy horror so much.  

Lawrence Woolsey

Matinee failed to connect with audiences and critics at the time, possibly as a result of Universal’s uncertainty about how to market the film. It’s unfortunate, because many missed out on a deceptively intelligent movie, with excellent ensemble work by a combination of new faces and old veterans (including a who’s who of Dante regulars and B-movie actors). Filled with an abundance of humor and heart, Matinee re-creates an experience from a bygone era when it actually looked fun to go to the movies. Dante manages to strike the perfect balance between comedy and drama, without seeming saccharine or heavy handed. His inclusion of autobiographical elements makes this his most personal film, and (to date) his best one.