Matinee Review

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A '60s horror film maker schools a young boy in the art of shocking the audience.


A beguilingly evocative tribute to independent producer, gimmick genius and showman supreme William Castle and 50s atomic-frightmares such as Them! and The Blob, Joe Dante's film centres on the arrival of schlockmeister Lawrence Woolsey in Key West, Florida, on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 to preview his new movie, Mant (Half Man, Half Ant, All Terror!) to the town's Saturday afternoon movie crowd.

The perfect time, Woolsey concludes, to open a new horror movie with the entire country poised on a nuclear knife edge. As played by Goodman, Woolsey is determined to lift himself out of life-long financial insecurity with one massive hit, arriving in town with Moriarty, his leading lady, girlfriend and ever-sarcastic, ever-reluctant accomplice.

Hooking up with horror movie fan Gene (Fenton), whose father is on one of the US ships blockading Soviet-armed Cuba just 90 miles away, he schools him in the finer and not so finer points of his craft (such as rigging the seats with buzzers to administer electric shocks to his audience) while the islanders, to varying degrees, crack up around them.

Scripted by Charlie Haas and featuring appearances by Dante regulars Dick Miller, Bob Picardo, Kevin McCarthy and Belinda Balski, plus John Sayles (who wrote Dante's Piranha and The Howling) as a blacklisted cynic posing as a religious fanatic, this is likely to appeal to 50s horror movie anoraks and nostalgia freaks, though the pastiche black-and-white Mant footage and spoof trailers should tickle even those unaware of what they're meant to be parodying.

Dante has always illicited fine performances from children, and here he pulls off a bunch more in the shape of Fenton, Katz and jailbait vixen Kellie Martin. By choosing to focus on their exploits instead of Goodman's gregarious huckster, however, he forfeits a valuable fourth star.

A loving tribute to the era of Saturday afternoon cinema - at its best when Good man is on screen.