There's a certain kind of cinema that's all about anticipation. The movie itself (usually with the word "attack" or "terror" or "wild" in the title) is less than memorable--unless you saw it when you were under, say, 14 years old or so; the build-up was everything. The Coming Attraction, the poster, the schoolyard speculations and rumors--all these gave you more than your money's worth. At the heart of the movies is the joy of imagining what you will see, then re-imagining what you have.
Joe Dante understands this just about as much as anybody. Since Piranha back in 1978, most of his horror films have been in large part homages to/parodies of the genre, filled with references to classic B pictures, the sendups always affectionate. In 1993, he finally received the chance to bring this tendency to the forefront with Matinee, courtesy of a William Castle/Roger Corman/Samuel Z. Arkoff-style director/producer, Lawrence Woolsey, who finds himself debuting his latest feature, Mant ("Half man, half ant, all terror!"), during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Nuclear annihilation was never so much fun, not even in Dr. Strangelove.
Everyone who loves this movie remembers the salient features:
1. Woolsey's picture, the above-mentioned Mant, scenes from which Dante presents in loving, laughable detail.
2. John Goodman as Woolsey, in a performance that I still hear echoes of in everything fine he's since done.
3. Cathy Moriarty as his jaded but patient companion. If she'd handled Jake LaMotta this way in Raging Bull, he wouldn't have dared to lay a finger on her.
Dante gets just about everything right, from the achingly bad "family musical" the mother would rather the young protagonist see than all that horror stuff, to the joyful chaos of a Saturday matinee. I have mixed feelings about the finale--although, to tell you the truth, the details are a bit fuzzy: I haven't seen this picture in a while, since its availability has been woefully spotty. But it remains in my memory as a re-imagined masterpiece--so much so that I know another viewing will not entirely diminish its charms.
I'm keeping it safe in my Instant Play Queue for this weekend--and you should, too. It's not available through Netflix on disk, but it's ready and willing to watch now, as real as the gimmicks Woolsey uses to keep 'em in--and jumping out of--their seats.