Slasher movies wer a big force in the ’80s. They unseated huge box office movies from the top spots, they launched the careers of world famous actors, and it seemed like you couldn’t move without tripping over a new one being released. But over the years slasher movies have become less and less common, and other than the odd big budget US movie once a year or so you’ll have to turn to independent cinema in order to find new ones. The Last Matinee is one of these films, a Spanish language horror production from Uruguay that not only tries to live up to the slasher films of the past, but is a love letter to some of the great Giallo classics too.
The film begins one stormy day in Montevideo in 1993, as we see various people begin to gather in a run down old movie theatre to watch a horror film as the rain comes down outside. There’s a young woman who takes over running the film projector so that her sick father can go home, a boy who’s snuck in to watch a film he isn’t allowed to see, a trio of drunken teens, and a young couple on a date, to name but a few. As they all settle in to watch the film a mysterious figure enters the cinema, locks the doors behind them, and begins to use the cover of the darkness and the loud noises to kill the people inside one by one.
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For the first half of the film we’re only really given hints and promises that there’s something sinister to come, that things will take a turn for the horrific, as we spend a good deal of time getting used to the environment and learning about the characters. We don’t get huge backstories for the people there, and for the most part I can’t even remember if we get given all of their names. But compared to a lot of horror films where all you get is broad caricatures, these feel like pretty well crafted characters. We understand the kinds of people they are, why they’ve come to this almost deserted cinema, and we come to care for them as the killer begins to strike.
The killer himself, played by horror director and producer Ricardo Islas, is a figure that we only get the briefest of glimpses of until the final act of the film, with him sneaking through the darkness, always just out of frame or blurred in shadows in the background. When we do get to see him more clearly it becomes clear why director Maximiliano Contenti cast Islas in the role. It’s not just a cameo towards an icon in South American horror, but because he’s a genuinely creepy actor, who’s able to steal the focus in the scenes he’s in. There’s one particularly creepy and disturbing moment when he has a few of the characters cornered that easily stood out as one of the best sequences in the entire movie; and this was largely down to his screen presence.
The rest of the cast are great too, and whilst this does fall into the slasher genre trope of having a ‘final girl’ there were times I found myself wondering if I might be wrong as to which character I believed that was going to be. They all felt like they were given enough of a foundation that any one of them could live to survive the end, and were all acted well enough that they could have been the lead.
One of the things that really impressed about the film was how much it was clearly a love letter to older movies. The camera moved a lot slower, you were given time to sit with the shots and things were allowed to linger, instead of being a mess of movement and fast cuts. Atmosphere was allowed to build, and certain camera angles and direction felt like things from films forty years old. In the ‘making of’ featurette, the director talks about how he was inspired as much by Giallo as he was the slasher genre, and you really can see that translate onto the screen. It felt like a film that could have been directed by Mario Bava, or Umberto Lenzi; and it being set in a cinema certainly made me think of the Italian horror film Demons.
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The new Blu-ray release from Arrow Video comes with a full length audio commentary by director Maximiliano Contenti, as well as some behind the scenes making of videos and a short that takes a look at the practical special effects used on the film. ‘The Matinee Massacre’ are a fun series of three mockumentary shorts that act like the events of the film really happened, and we get a few short films from the director included too. One of the extras that I found really interesting is a conversation between Maximiliano Contenti and Ricardo Islas, as the two of them discuss not only working on this film, but horror cinema in Uruguay itself.
If you’re a fan of slasher movies and Giallo cinema, The Last Matinee will feel like a throwback to movies that don’t really get made any more. It’s a love letter to a part of the horror genre that has fallen out of mainstream cinema focus, but is still a wonderful genre in which to create. A definite must see.
The Last Matinee is out on Blu-ray on 6th December from Arrow Video.