Sunday, October 11, 2009

Half Man...Half Ant...All Terror...MANT!

It may be that the sixteen+ minutes of film I am posting here constitutes the happiest time director Joe Dante ever spent behind a camera. There are few bigger fans alive today of the sci-fi and creature features of the 1950s than Dante, as evidenced by his early 70s reviews in the magazine Castle of Frankenstein and his contributions to the definitive volume on the era, Keep Watching the Skies! His films are loaded with inside references (check out the laboratory scene in Looney Tunes: Back in Action, where the shout-outs all but bounce off the walls), and he seldom bypassed an opportunity to cast journeymen actors from the period like Kevin McCarthy and Dick Miller.

This is Mant!, the film-within-a-film that is the centerpiece of Matinee, Dante's 1993 valentine to a bygone era of cinematic showmanship, elevated to an artform by shockmeister William Castle. Mant! is the movie being peddled to a South Florida cinema by ragtag impresario Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) in October 1962...the same time as the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As the local citizenry prepare for nuclear annihilation, Woolsey preps his picture's premiere, complete with all the bells, whistles and in-theater gimmicks that were Castle's stock in trade. Add some teens lost in the swirl of post-pubescent delirium, and you've got a delightful time at the movies...and the movie within the movie. In addition to McCarthy and Miller, you'll also see Robert Cornthwaite (The Thing, War of the Worlds) and William Schallert (The Incredible Shrinking Man), the latter still acting at the indomitable age of 87!

Many of us hoped that Mant! might be a project Dante would return to and flesh out in its entirety, and maybe with the new-found interest in 3D (and Dante's apparent career resurrection with the 3D feature The Hole), that just might happen. The footage posted here is from the laserdisc of Matinee; the bare bones dvd release (now out of print) of about a decade ago didn't include this material, but here is everything of Mant! that Dante shot. Now if only I could bring it to you in Atomo-Vision and Rumble-Rama...

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