Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Uruguayan Giallo: The Last Matinee

If you haven't seen Ricardo Islas’s Frankenstein: Day of the Beast, his super-graphic take on Mary Shelley, it is just as well. You can watch it unspool as the film playing within this film’s faded movie palace, while Islas himself plays the slasher-killer. Islas’s movie pretty much s*cks, but there are aesthetic merits to the neo-retro giallo that repurposes it. The brutal killer does in fact wear black patent leather gloves in Maximiliano Contenti’s The Last Matinee (a.k.a. Red Screening), which releases today on VOD.

Ana is an engineering grad student, who is covering for her projectionist father in the booth of this downtown Montevideo borderline-grindhouse cinema. We can tell from the posters on the wall, they now specialize in horror, including Argento’s
Opera. Supposedly, the film is set in 1993, yet Islas’s Frankenstein released in 2011, but it doesn’t really matter. It looks like the kind of Euro-dreck you would find heavily edited on Elvira’s Movie Macabre back in the day.

Unbeknownst to Ana, a rain coat-clad killer has trapped the sparse audience and skeleton-crew staff inside the theater, so he can hack them up, one-by-one. That’s the movie for you. The characters are such obvious stock characters, it is almost perversely entertaining to see them fed through the grinder.

What really works is the wonderfully seedy theater setting. Contenti takes us through every room and cranny. He also channels the look and vibe of vintage giallos (perhaps even more successfully than Onetti’s
Francesca or Cattet & Forzani’s Amer, but not as entertainingly as the spoof The Editor), even though thematically, it is more closely akin to 1980s slashers. The meta-ness of Islas adds a layer of irony, but his Frankenstein truly looks unwatchable.

Unfortunately, that is about as far as it goes. Luciana Grasso is mildly engaging as Ana, but we’re basically just waiting for everyone else to get killed. Even by slasher standards,
Matinee is quite violent, but Islas’s Frankenstein is rougher still.

Contenti and cinematographer Benjamin Silva recreate the uber-stylish look of superior giallos, but the film has nothing clever to say about the genre. As a result, there is a depressing sense of inevitability to watching it play out, like the Mets choking late in the season. Despite some initial excitement generated by its production values,
The Last Matinee just is not recommended when it releases today (8/24) on VOD.