Welcome back to THE UNSEEN HORROR. Today, we prepare to close up the crypt, but not without a final look at a forgotten piece of horror cinema. That said, this one isn’t quite a frightfest. Instead, it examines the relationship between the real world and horror films, and why certain themes are frightening at certain times. Most importantly, it also examines the release horror can give us and why we love it so much. So let’s head to the 60’s with Joe Dante’s MATINEE.

The Plot

MATINEE takes place in Key West in 1962. A young boy. Gene, lives on an army base. Gene is a fan of monster movies, specifically the work of producer Lawrence Woolsey. Woolsey is promoting his new film MANT (about a ant-human hybrid) as the Cuban Missile Crisis puts everyone on high alert. Woolsey decides the environment is perfect to debut his film, and stages ‘protests’ to draw attention to it. However, the experience is more complicated then Woolsey had believed, as he and Gene find their own romantic dilemmas amid the controversy surrounding them.


If you don’t think MATINEE sounds very scary… well, you’re right. The movie is much more a coming of age drama that uses horror films to tell a story. However, the film uses the horror of the time with great love and affection. Director Joe Dante grew up in this period of time, so it’s not surprising he puts his love his childhood films into MATINEE. The film score uses bits and pieces from famous monster movies like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. TARANTULA, and THIS ISLAND EARTH. The movie within a movie, MANT, calls to mind the classic atomic monster films like THEM!. MATINEE even pokes fun at the Disney comedies of the time with a second movie within a movie, THE SHOOK UP SHOPPING CART. However, the film’s greatest tribute is Woolsey, played by the great John Goodman.

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Horror fans will recognize Woolsey as a tribute to Frank Castle, the infamous horror director-producer of the era. Castle directed a number of lower-budget horror films. These include HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THE TINGLER, and THIRTEEN GHOSTS. Castle was famous for using gimmicks with his films; TINGLER had buzzers under the theater seats to shock audiences, and THIRTEEN GHOSTS had special glasses that allowed patrons to see or not see the onscreen ghosts. Woolsey acts in the same way. He rigs the theater with devices to shake it when the giant ‘Mant’ walks onscreen. He also gets costumed actors to play monsters and nurses. Most importantly, Woolsey sees the Cuban Missile Crisis as a helpful controversy that will bolster the film. Goodman brings all of that too life, without making Woolsey a money-grubbing producer and having him evolve as the film goes on.

Horror Off-Screen

The real scares of MATINEE come from the Cuban Missile Crisis. The most gripping moment is during a duck and cover drill at Gene’s school. One girls speaks up as the drill commences. She decries how pointless the drill is, and that it’s better the students die in the blast then suffer the fallout of radiation sickness. It’s a moment that highlights just how real this threat was, and how truly unprepared people were for the worst case scenario. However, that only enhances why movies like MANT were so popular.

We’ve mentioned before how films like THEM! let people forget the real dangers of nuclear power. MATINEE gives a us a deeper look into those people and their lives. We see how tense and on edge they were, not just in this moment in time, but in general. The fear of nuclear attack was a unspoken one, but it lingered in their lives daily. The movies acted as a way to release that tension, to make nuclear power into something that could be defeated and even laughed at. It made an intangible fear tangible, and in doing so, showed why we love horror so much.

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The Truth of Horror

Horror films gives us an escape from the troubles and issues of the day. Of course, that’s the purpose of storytelling in many cases, but horror does something else too. It gives something else to be afraid of, something onscreen that looks scary but isn’t real. Our fear is re purposed away from our real problems and onto the screen. The experience makes it fun to be scared. And because it’s a story, the fears we see on screen can be defeated, and take the weight of our fear away. MATINEE perfectly captures that feeling and experience horror fans know for everyone.

Get Your MATINEE Tickets

MATINEE isn’t a film to scare you, but it is a film for horror fans. It captures the love of the genre, and shows just why we love being scared so much. So if you can’t explain why horror matters so much to you, show people this film, and you’ll be able to explain your fears with ease.

And that wraps another year of THE UNSEEN HORROR. Don’t worry, though, there always crypts to explore on your own until next time. Until then, have a happy Halloween, and remember… there’s always something to be scared of.


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