Nostalgia for idiosyncratic analogue film style is the simplest explanation for the recent giallo revival – but maybe there’s more to it than that. This most stylised of horror modes is perfect for our over-aestheticised age, so the newcomers – such as Berberian Sound Studio, Censor en Sound of Violence – make artists and viewers accessories to violence, often unleashed through that giallo mainstay, the power of the gaze. Set almost entirely in a tatty Montevideo rep cinema, Uruguayan slasher The Last Matinee joins this voyeuristic club, even if it ends up more in the raw than the refined camp.
On a rainswept night in 1993, engineering student Ana (Luciana Grasso) insists on taking over projectionist duties for a screening of Frankenstein: Day of the Beast (an in-joke – it was released in 2011 and was directed by Ricardo Islas, who plays the killer here). She shuts herself in the booth, trying to ignore the inane banter of usher Mauricio (Pedro Duarte) – but neither have noticed a heavy-set trenchcoated bogeyman enter the auditorium to size up that night’s film faithful: three teenagers, an awkward couple on a first date, a flat-capped pensioner and a underage kid stowaway (Franco Durán).
Director Maximiliano Contenti stages a slow-motion intro in full giallo pomp, as the killer and punters pitch up, and is sharp at conjuring the deep-pile ambience he will soon soak in gore. He is far less assured, wel, at suspense, with painfully banal repartee between audience members constantly shattering the spell as it builds up to the main show. Contenti attempts some passing comment on the semantics of voyeurism – mostly blunt parallels between the horror on screen and in the theatre – but here does not achieve the sophistication of a film such as Censor. At least he rustles up a tense climax, with a commendably lurid conceit (pickled onions will be off the menu for a while). But The Last Matinee only manages to cut skin-deep.