We’re rolling down South America way for a truly international salute to Italian giallo cinema, that takes place inside a cinema.
In The Last Matinee, a handful of unlucky patrons and staff encounter a thoroughly disgusting maniac who eats the eyeballs of his victims!
Me? I prefer Junior Mints.
Writer-director Maxiliano Contenti hails from Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, where The Last Matinee unfolds on a furiously dark and rainy evening in 1993.
Industrious engineering student Ana (Luciana Grasso) is taking a shift in the projection booth, hoping to dodge the clumsy attention of Mauricio (Pedro Duarte) a boring usher with no game to speak of.
In the theater itself, a few parties settle in for a viewing of Frankenstein: Day of the Beast. There’s a couple on their first date, a little kid (Franco Duran), who hides in the aisle to see a grisly horror film, a trio of smart-ass teens sipping on a hooch bottle, and a grumpy old geezer who just wants to enjoy the movie.
While their collective gaze is locked on the onscreen atrocities, a beefy lunatic in a trench coat (Ricardo Islas) is stealthily carving up the “crowd” until the small audience gets noticeable smaller.
Editor’s note: Ricardo Islas, who plays the killer, also directed the gruesome Frankenstein feature being watched by the victims. How’s that for symmetry?
Contenti assembles a dreary little theater world peopled by very mundane citizens. When the action ramps up, the safe and predictable reality is shattered, heralded by blasts of dissonant synthesizer that generally indicates a crazed killer has entered the building.
Once the madman has announced his presence with a few preliminary cuts, the lurid elements of operatic horror (there is a poster of Dario Argento’s Opera on the wall) snap into place.
Doomed moviegoers are artfully slain and fall, like snack-bar sweets, to the cinema floor as seen through the eyes of poor little Tomas, the urchin who spends most of the film cowering in the darkness from authority and maniac alike.
A little parental discretion would have been a good idea. Tomas is going to need years of therapy.
Contenti isn’t the first filmmaker to draw a parallel line between screen violence and the behavior of deranged of individuals, but The Last Matinee is reverently rendered as a tribute to the giallo school, even if it lacks some of the top-drawer flair demonstrated by the masters of the craft.
The message comes through loud and clear, to those of us watching. We willingly put ourselves in the grip of horrifying stories. Buying a ticket is a contract that puts us is in the same line of fire as the characters.
And that’s the thrill of it all. Just ask Tomas, if you can find him.
To his credit, Contenti’s most vivid creation is the eyeball-chomping killer. Shortly before the conclusion, a few tattered survivors witness the fiend lustily chowing down on his favorite snack, just as they were minutes before with popcorn. This moment is such an over-the-top freakout, you could get whiplash.
It’s a surefire scream scenario that also folds in neatly with an earlier visual point of reference. Nicely done!
The Last Matinee is not the last we’ll be hearing from Maximiliano Contenti, that’s for certain.
Settle in and get comfortable, because there’s no walking out once the movie starts.
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