From the opening strains of Power Glove’s classic power-pop anthem “Motorcycle Cop,” we know we’re in safe hands with The Last Matinee (aka Al Morir La Matinée). A Spanish-language slasher set in Montevideo, Uruguay, this slick little film pays homage to classic giallo movies while also staking a claim for itself as a unique entity, thanks to boasting plenty of homegrown shocks. Maximiliano Contenti’s solo feature directorial debut, which he also co-wrote, is yet another nineties throwback, but thankfully this one isn’t bogged down with irritating music cues or awful CG violence. The gore here is eye-poppingly disgusting. Thankfully, the colorful characters are just as compelling too.
Our heroine is Ana (Luciana Grasso), who finds herself handling projection duties at the local Opera movie theatre – the name is no coincidence, with a poster for Dario Argento’s film hanging conspicuously in the lobby of the place – after her father takes on a bit too much work. It’s Ana’s job to ensure everything runs smoothly, but her night is thrown into chaos when a pickled egg munching killer starts taking everybody out (he’s such a sicko, this guy has a moldy jar of the things to hand at all times). Despite the film’s title, the action understandably takes place at night, because killing the cinephiles and elderly patrons who attend matinee screenings isn’t cool.
The setup is ruthlessly simple and, although The Last Matinee pays homage to giallo in everything from its set design to its font, the violence is grounded despite its luridness, the theatricality pared back for a modern audience. The cinema itself is a stunning location, colorful and filled with winding corridors and dark corners. The idea of audience members being murdered during a screening seems absurd on its face, but the room in question is cavernous, making it horrifyingly simple for the killer to pop in and out as he pleases. Even when the bodies start piling up, the film continues playing out onscreen as normal, with the audience members who are left obliviously paying attention to it.
The film-within-a-film is a kind of old-school werewolf movie in the Hammer vibe with just as much violence as The Last Matinee, albeit not quite as convincingly staged, ensuring our attention remains on the latter. The film is funny but not diverting enough that you wish you were watching it instead. Frankenstein: Day of the Beast is actually a real movie, directed by Ricardo Islas, who plays the killer here (credited as “Asesino comeojos,” but don’t look that translation up unless you want the movie spoiled). Whether you come away from this film wanting to watch Day of the Beast will be based on personal preference but suffice to say Islas’s similarly low-rent project doesn’t steal Contenti’s thunder. It’s a nerdy choice but not an annoyingly self-referential one, thankfully.
Speaking of nerdy stuff, though, there are so many brilliant, cinema-specific grievances included here that will delight regular moviegoers, from people talking during the film to patrons taking forever to find their seats. The tactility of working the projector will hopefully never get old, while the crunch of popcorn underfoot gives one character’s location away at the worst possible time. The cinema can be a scary place; it’s bathed in darkness, you’re usually sat next to strangers, and The Last Matinee exploits all those familiar notions to brilliant effect. It’s also shot beautifully, with the glow of a red sweet displayed against a black glove establishing the giallo-lite atmosphere early on. Likewise, a throwaway sequence involving candy rolling down the stairs pays off in a brilliant way.
The killer initially resembles the fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer, but he spends lots of the movie unmasked and his identity is inconsequential, which is a fun, and ruthlessly modern, twist. As our Final Girl, Ana is strong and capable but not a superhero. The body count isn’t huge, but the murders are vicious and surprising enough that who’s going to survive isn’t terribly predictable. The gore, meanwhile, is truly next level from teen lovers being speared through the head to sinews being torn all over the place, teeth flying, and sick eyeball gouging. The lurid, stylistic violence is shot close, so we get the full effect, and rightly so – evidently, plenty of care and attention went into creating the practical effects, with the squishy, crunchy sound design providing the perfect accompaniment to each kill. Score-wise, the filmmakers get their money’s worth out of “Motorcycle Cop,” the song providing a strange kind of ambience.
All of which combines to create a compellingly brutal but gorgeously captured modern giallo. The Last Matinee might be paying homage, but Contenti has his own story to tell and the modern twists make this more than just another gory rehash.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Maximiliano Contenti
Writer(s): Maximiliano Contenti, Manuel Facal
Stars: Ricardo Islas, Luciana Grasso, Franco Duran
Release date: August 24, 2021 (VOD, Digital and DVD)
Studio/Production Company: Yukoh Films
Run Time: 88 minutes