6 February 2011 | AlsExGal
Tribute to those old horror films of the 50's and 60's
I felt that the advertising for this movie was somewhat misleading. I expected to see a film about John Goodman portraying a loose characterization of showman William Castle. Instead, the main focus of the film is a young boy, Gene Loomis, whose father is a soldier who is dispatched to active duty during the Cuban missile crisis, which is the time period in which this film is set. You have your typical coming-of-age themes revolving around Gene and his friends as they discover their own emerging adolescence, and this consists largely of tired material that has been done to death.
Somewhat in the background we have John Goodman as old-fashioned showman Lawrence Woolsey, a vaudevillian stuck in the age of cinema who wants to put the show back in picture shows. He is tied into the film because Gene enjoys Woolsey's showmanship as a way to forget about the world around him which seems to be on the brink of self-destruction. Woolsey pulls such stunts as having his girlfriend (Cathy Moriarty) dress a a nurse and ask patrons to sign a waiver releasing Goodman's character from liability in case they die of fright during the movie. This is based on a similar stunt by William Castle and his movie "Macabre". Woolsey also wires the seats to produce a mild electric shock during a key moment in a film, which he labels "Atomo-Vision." That antic is based on what William Castle did during the showing of "The Tingler". Then he rigs still another device to shake things up as buildings on the screen are tumbling and calls it "Rumble-Rama." Again, these are all very similar to the showman-like stunts of William Castle during the 50's and 60's.
The best part of the movie is when Woolsey comes up with an atomic-age monster movie entitled "Mant" that is a composite of cheesy 50's horror films such as "The Fly," and "Them!". "Mant" is about a mutant that is half-man and half-ant and is a total riot. Woolsey's schlock merchant displays just the right mix of con-man materialism and childlike glee at his own bogus movie magic. It's too bad that Goodman's character and his showmanship weren't the main focus of the movie - Goodman was truly born to play the part of Lawrence Woolsey.
Watching this movie really made me happy that some of William Castle's films have finally been coming out on DVD in the last couple of years, through both traditional DVD releases and through the Warner Archive manufacture on demand program. At any rate, enjoy.