The year is 1993 and it’s a rainy night downtown in the capital city of Uruguay, Montevideo. A struggling movie theater sets up for its last show of the evening, a foreign horror film. The crowd is sparse: a few teenagers, a first date, an old man with nowhere to go, and a child who snuck in to simply see a scary movie. What none of those people or the tiny staff of the theater realize is that a very deranged and dangerous person has chosen this dreary evening to make this movie house their hunting ground. Before the last reel ends people will die in horrible ways for unspeakable reasons, blood will drip from the screen, and those who want to live will have to fight for their very lives.
This is the premise behind THE LAST MATINEE, the latest release from Dark Star Pictures as part of a partnership with the horror film website Bloody Disgusting. The film, from writer/director Max Contenti, is a love letter to both the Italian “Giallo” and its American cousin, the “Slasher” film. These two grisly flavors of on-screen violence are mixed together with a beautiful setting, a stellar cast of performers, and a lean runtime to produce a fast-paced horror film that is as fun as it is brutal. For those who love genre cinema from all over the world and have a strong stomach for cinematic carnage, THE LAST MATINEE is one show they will definitely want to catch.
I was recently able to have a brief chat with Maxi Contenti about the film. We talked about the project’s origins, his love of period detail, and how his own childhood fears found their way into the story.
***Please note: Maxi Contenti’s native language is Spanish. He graciously conducted the entire interview in English. Some editing was done to the transcript to allow the intent of his statements to come through more clearly.
How did THE LAST MATINEE first come together?
Well, the film came in one part out of frustration from not making another project that I was working on and I couldn’t get film funding. It just didn’t work with the script, and it wasn’t a genre film. I’m very much into genre, but I was trying to do a drama and all that didn’t work out and I needed to make something, and I always wanted to make a very competent, legitimate film in Uruguay. That’s how it started, and I had this idea a few years before, because of the location, this theater house was the inspiration. I shot a commercial in this theater that I knew as a kid and all. I looked around and I thought, man, there’s a movie here. There was a horror movie here. So that’s how it happened and sort of came out of necessity of making something and making something that was producible. Horror for me came more naturally, I guess, than the other drama that I was trying to develop, I guess. And so that’s how it happened, and this inspiration was actually that location. That’s how it started developing as a project.
The Giallo (Italian thriller-horror) influence is very apparent here. A poster for Dario Argento’s OPERA even appears in the background at one point as an “easter egg” but I also felt a real homage to the American slasher films of the 1980s. Talk to me about your influences and how they playing into the creation of the film.
Yes, it’s exactly that. Firstly, once I decided what kind of horror it was going to be, what kind of sub-genre of horror, and I decided for a slasher. It just came more naturally. It was what I was very much into as a kid. I watch those kinds of films when I was very little, and then the idea to merge or mix in the Giallo came after. I think thinking about the movie within the movie and the movie theater thing and looking up for examples or references came DEMONI (aka DEMONS) by Lamberto Bava, so that connected the Giallo. I thought, “well, that’s cool.” I like very much the stylistic approach to what the poetry of Giallo films and Italian filmmaking, in general. I’m very much into Sergio Leone too, and the Spaghetti Westerns and all that. They’re very stylistic, they’re very poetic in what they do. So, I connected that and I always thought that Giallos were in a way that the fathers of the American slasher. So, let’s bring them together, let’s mix them up and combine them, and that’s something that hasn’t seen as much. I thought that could be a cool idea.
I think it works wonderfully because it doesn’t really feel like an homage but there’s a little bit of familiarity there. You mentioned that the movie theater itself was a big inspiration for wanting to do the film in the first place. It’s a beautiful location. Can you tell me a little bit about the production design that went into making the theater appropriate for the story you were trying to tell?
The movie house was the main inspiration and it also tied into one of the major things I wanted with the film- to travel back in time to the 90s, and the time when I was a kid. I went to this same theater and all that. So with the production designer, which is Cristina Nigro, she’s a more experienced production designer done a lot of movies here. She’s Argentinian. We worked very closely to make this old 90s theater fit with another theater we used to create the best possible setting. We wanted the feeling of traveling back in time, the detail on the costumes, the details of the era, the newspapers, the posters, the actual advertisements. The radio ads you hear- I picked real ones from that time. I am very much into being a little bit obsessive with details. I liked that idea of grounding something really in a way, like horror, very classical horror, almost a horror fable, just a very fantastical story grounded in a sort of reality. Even though it’s the 90s from my imagination, it’s still grounded in reality.
You mentioned going to the actual location as a young person. Clearly, that influenced the story, which features young actors. What were some of the challenges and rewards of working with such an inexperienced cast?
I had some part of the cast already locked up of people that I knew, actors, friends, that I knew or just colleagues that recommended me something like Luciana Grasso, just some people were locked up. But most of the cast and the youngsters were through casting. With Tomás, Franco Durán, I was very lucky because I wasn’t finding a child actor that could work out and do this character that is very much a visual character, almost doesn’t speak. I think he has the one line, so he had to be really expressive and really understanding, and so I was lucky to find him. I was also lucky to find some of the teenagers like Julieta Spinelli, who plays Ángela. We did a casting and she was awesome in her presentation. I had to push a little bit during the shoot to get the performances I needed though. I had to be a little more insistent with some of the teenagers, but it was okay, but I had to motivate them. So, in some areas I was lucky, in some others, I had to work a little harder to bring up the performances.
Well, I thought they all gave great natural performances. As we wrap up, I wanted to ask you since THE LAST MATINEE is so much about the idea of fear: What frightens you?
[Laughs] Well, since I was a kid, I had a fear of unnatural openings in the body. So, I didn’t know what it was called until some years ago, someone said that it’s called “trypophobia.” I didn’t know why that scared me. I was also scared of going insane, for a long time. I was really scared of just going nuts. That scared me- just losing control over my head. And I think that the other thing that scared me very much was going blind. So, all those, in a way, are relatable to the film.
It’s funny how those things manifest themselves in our creative output.
Well, those were my childhood fears. Right now, maybe it’s more insidious. I don’t know exactly what scares me, but I’ll know it when I find it. But it’s the unknown, I guess. it’s always scary and the unknown can appear anywhere. So, the mystery and the unknown always scare me.
The Dark Star Pictures and Bloody Disgusting release of the Uruguay-Argentinian horror filmTHE LAST MATINEEis currently available on VOD, Digital and DVD.