Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ants are irritating, but being terrorized by Mant was no picnic

By Steve Crum
Shades of William Castle! Make that booby trapped shades. Castle, the king of gimmicky 1950’s and ‘60s horror movies, always went for the audience’s jugular in both promoting and filming his flicks. Matinee, directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins), is a homage to the late William Castle. Released 21 years ago, Matinee stars John Goodman as Lawrence Woolsey, whose latest B-grade schlockfest, Mant!, is about to premiere in Key West, Florida.  Woolsey drives to town in his convertible accompanied by his girlfriend, Ruth Corday (Cathy Moriarty), who co-stars in his movie. She will also participate in the film’s presentation. 
Like William Castle, Lawrence Woolsey devises scenarios to help both lure the audience into buying tickets and give added entertainment during the film's showing. During the movie’s opening, Ruth is dressed as a nurse, and sits in the lobby to aide anyone fainting or having a heart attack during Mant! viewing. Woolsey, like Castle did in The Tingler, has wired theater seats located up front with an electrical charge that will be turned on during particularly horrifying sequences, causing audience members to scream and leap up. 
The premiere occurs during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962, which serves as dramatic backdrop for what is otherwise a hilarious comedy packed with sight gags and inside jokes. Among the inside jokes are bit roles by Robert Cornthwaite, Kevin McCarthy, and William Schallert, actors associated with horror films of that era. 
Matinee is really a film within a film. We see producer-promoter Woolsey hyping and presenting his movie, Mant! We also see a great deal of the movie itself while it is being shown. But wait, there’s more!
The Backstory 
A couple of weeks before Matinee opened in Kansas City, in mid-January 1993, I played hooky from my regular job to attend—what else—a matinee Matinee screening held at the Crown Center Theatre in midtown K. C., Missouri. I called in sick that day, confident that no one would ever know I was anywhere but resting in bed at home.  There were only a dozen film critics in the audience, so no sweat. 
During the latter part of the movie-within-a-movie when the ant-headed man monster picks up the screaming on-screen nurse in his arms, Woolsey has his “live” nurse, who is seated on the theater’s front row, grabbed and picked up by an actor dressed in the Mant costume. She screams and is carried out of the room at the same time. Is that clear enough to envision? (See the movie.) 
So…as I and my fellow critics are watching this filmed fracas, a real, live woman dressed as a nurse, seated on the front row of OUR viewing room, is accosted by the same-costumed Mant creature, who picks her up and carries her out while she screams bloody murder. The two run up the aisle by which I am sitting.  They are followed by someone else Universal Pictures publicity has hired to videotape the event, including our reactions! In other words, I am among those being taped for possible showing on the local evening news. My incognito status is blown. 
Therefore, I became part of a movie-within-a-movie, within-a-movie, within-a-movie. Triple play, and I was fouled. 

I never saw the video shot at the screening, and do not know if it was shown locally. If it was, I never heard anything about it from anyone, including my boss. Maybe only Universal executives viewed it. Regardless, I am pretty sure I blocked my face with a notebook. I cannot remember. Seeing Mant in person clouds one’s mind. 
Enjoy both the 1993 trailer to Matinee + the mock-up trailer to Mant!:

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