For most of us hardcore movie fans, the theater is our church…
…The theater is where we come to escape reality. For ninety+ minutes, we’re able to bask in the soft glow of the silver screen, munch on some popcorn, maybe cuddle into a date, and forget the world around us. Which is why it is so goddamn frustrating when others interrupt that experience by talking through the movie, playing on their phone—you know the drill. Maximiliano Contenti’s The Last Matinee (aka Red Screening), which just played at Panic Fest 2021, is a vicious dose of much needed catharsis for anyone who has ever wanted to see a rude filmgoer get theirs.
Written by Contenti and Manuel Facal, The Last Matinee opens in 1993 on a rainy day. Projectionist Ana (Luciana Grasso) has just set her emphysemic father home, and patrons have escaped the storm to gather in the mostly empty theater for a showing of Frankenstein: Day of the Beast—a nasty gorefest out of the 70s. While a variety of people watch the film, entranced by the violence, real violence erupts throughout the theater as one by one, a mysterious killer picks them off in the grisliest of manners.
What’s great about horror films set in theaters is that nearly every time, for better or worse, you’re going to get a film that is a love letter to specific genres, and the art of filmmaking itself. In that regard, The Last Matinee is a blood-soaked love letter to Giallo films, and Contenti excels—for the most part—at capturing the spirit of the films that inspired The Last Matinee.
The Matinee Killer—as we’ll call them—resembles all of the standard tropes that go into crafting a Giallo killer. Black gloves? Check. Black raincoat? Check. A penchant for slitting throats and gruesome stabbings? Check and mate. The Matinee Killer, like most Giallo killers, is a complete mystery for much of The Last Matinee. We hardly see much of them at all outside of quick glimpses of black-gloved hands as they slink through the theater like a vengeful ghost, striking at anyone who commits any sort of film-going sin. Spoiler: everyone is an asshole. One old bum in particular screams for everyone to “shut up” early on before storming out, and god, if we all haven’t thought of doing that once in a while.
Contenti and Facal pack the “Cine Opera” theater with a host of potential victims that have all committed some sort of “sin”. One woman sticks her gum on the seat and smokes. Anglea (Julieta Spinelli) and her friends all barge into the film partway through, giggling and talking loudly. Tomas (Franco Duran), has snuck into a movie he probably shouldn’t be watching. Some of them are representations of the sort of people who might piss you off at the theater, but the filmmakers pull off the damn near impossible in finding the time to make almost every one of these characters relatable. We were all Anglea and her friends at one point, and Tomas is a kid after our horror hearts, braving the film by himself, so terrified that he smears chocolate on his face, missing his mouth completely. Being a slasher, we don’t get to know any of these characters on a deep level, but by giving us people that showcase going to scary movies from all points of life, whether it’s that terrified kid, obnoxious teens, couple on a date or old person asleep five minutes in, we’re given just enough so that we care when the blood-letting begins.
And oh yes, The Last Matinee lets the aisles run red with gore.
Giallo films are well-known for the way they blend blood and beauty, and The Last Matinee is no exception. This film doesn’t have the color palette of Argento, nor the gothic atmosphere of Luci, but Contenti and cinematographer Benjamin Silva still present a showcase of gore packaged within high art. From the get go, The Last Matinee is a larger than life film, beginning with sweeping shots over a foggy city set to a brazen score from Hernan Gonzalez that blares loud trumpets and ominous tones, while occasionally breaking into high-tension, operatic notes similar to something you might hear from Goblin. Shades of green and red neon occasionally seep in during some of the more violent moments, complimented by well-timed uses of slow-motion to accentuate the heart-stopping terror of the scene.
The Last Matinee is not what I would call a “pretty” movie on the level of Suspiria. Just the opposite.
Contenti’s film plays like a sort of catharsis with the anger we sometimes feel towards those who disrespect film, and that comes through heavily in the violence. Not every kill is over-the-top or all that memorable, but every kill is a Rob Zombie sort of vicious. Throats aren’t just slit—the knife slowly slides over the flesh, spilling blood and allowing every last drop to pour out before cutting away. Heads aren’t just smashed, they’re pummeled over, and over, and over again. There were more than a few times that had me squirming like poor Tomas—including not one but two particularly gruesome eye gags that seem to say hey Fulci, that thing you did in Zombie? Hold my beer—all of it done with exceptional practical effects. This is not a film for weak stomachs when it comes to violence. The Last Matinee is so unnecessarily grotesque at times, that it starts to feel a bit mean-spirited.
But in this case, that’s the point.
At first glance, a major smudge on the reel of The Last Matinee is that the film lives in such a heightened sense of reality that it comes close to crossing the line of believability. I wouldn’t put it past anyone asking “how the hell did they kill that person in this theater without anyone seeing!?”, but the message here is simple: we watch violence in movies to escape the violence of real life, so while these patrons are entranced by the screen, that’s when the killer strikes. Violence is all around us. Movies are the coping mechanism we use to deal with it.
The Last Matinee is the kind of film that will scare the shit out of any kids brave enough to sneak into screenings like Tomas. It’s nasty, mean, shocking and utterly merciless. But more than anything, it’s a homage to the great Giallo films of old, with an unquestionable love for the art of filmmaking. With a memorable killer and a highly stylized—and bloody—execution, The Last Matinee has all of the potential to become the next great modern Giallo film.
By Matt Konopka