Mike’s Review: The Last Matinee (Popcorn Frights 2021)

Scary DVDs! Woo!
How do we escape the clutches of the eyeball gouger?
★★★★ out of ★★★★★

Directed by Maximiliano Contenti.

The Last Matinee is a loving homage to film. More to the point it’s a loving homage and exploration of Argento, Fulchi, grindhouse cinema, slashers, grimy movie theaters, and quite possibly the great Lamberto Bava film Demons. Don’t be fooled though. While The Last Matinee pulls from many of the classics, it’s got its own unique style and flavor, and it’s cram-packed with EYEBALLS. 

The Last Matinee, directed by Maximiliano Contenti, is an Uruguayan film set, somewhat inexplicably, in 1993. The film is literally the last matinee in the middle of a brutal and rainy downpour. A smattering of individuals has converged on a somewhat dingy theater to take in an Uruguayan horror film, Frankenstein: Day of the Beast. Contenti deploys a super-cool device where he effectively shows a horror film within his horror film by featuring the perfectly awful Frankenstein: Day of the Beast. In fairness to Contenti, I’ve never seen Frankenstein: Day of the Beast, but using it as the backdrop to the Last Matinee sure made this hardened horror podcaster want to give it a look. 

Gathered at the theater (completed with a movie poster of Argento’s Opera) are three drunk/stoned teens, two old men — one of which who refuses to leave the theater, a young woman who’s arrived by herself, an awkwardly mismatched couple on their first date, and a young boy who’s snuck into the theater to ingest the grindhouse glory.  Unbeknownst to this gaggle of filmgoers is the fact that they’ve been joined by a grisly slasher who’s got a penchant for eyeballs. Not just stabbing them, but EATING THEM. 

Trust us, it’s as gross as it sounds.

In addition to the moviegoers, Contenti also creates the perfect final girl in Ana (Luciana Grasso). Ana’s Dad is the longtime projectionist who’s overweight and a heavy smoker, but oh so committed to his cinema career. Ana convinces him to take the night off and rest. She’s been exposed to his celluloid tinkering her entire life and she can handle the final showing of Frankenstein: Day of the Beast.

The Last Matinee slowly unfolds. Nothing too alarming. Nothing too jarring. The killings do eventually start to happen — because you can’t get eyeballs without the killings — but they’re fairly routine horror fare. It’s not until one of the drunk/stoned teens approaches the lone cinema-goer that things take a far more gruesome and unpleasant turn. 

The delightfully unidentified slasher with no clear motive, other than repeatedly gouging and eating live eyeballs, methodically makes his way through the barren wasteland of a theater.  Each character is perfectly well established, reasoned, and empathetic. You pull for each and every one of them to escape the maniacal clutches of the eye-gouger. Some do, and of course, some do not. 

Contenti has a love and real understanding of analog cinema and slashers of yesteryear. In his worldview, there’s no need for brooding backstories, complicated character evaluations, or wasted exposition. The real fright lies not in the slasher’s saddened history, but the audience’s ability to escape the clutches of the madman. Coupled with a beautiful pastiche of late 1980s-early 1990s cinema lore, Contenti writes an accomplished love letter to the grimier side of a very specific period of slasher cinema. 

The Last Matinee is very clearly a Rated R film. Check back soon for release info!

Review by Mike Campbell
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