FILM / Schlock around the clock: Matinee (PG) Joe Dante (US) Boxing Helena (18) Jennifer Chambers Lynch (US) Fire in the Sky (15) Robert Lieberman (US)

THERE was a time when Joe Dante seemed like Spielberg without the sugar, willing to show the dark side of childhood without distortion or apology. His episode of Twilight Zone: The Movie used the palette of a Tom and Jerry cartoon to nightmarish effect, and Gremlins made a potent appeal to the part of any cinema audience, however sophisticated, that likes to see things smashed up.

Since then, though, it's only the Gremlins sequel that has really brought out the best in him, and the title of Hollywood Mixed-Up Kid Extraordinaire has passed to Tim Burton.

In Matinee, Dante starts with a promising idea: the promotional visit to Key West, Florida, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, of a maker of schlock horror films, movies which, with their mutated villains and benign authority figures, rehearse the bigger dramas being played out on the world's stage. Jerico Stone's screenplay has much quiet fun with the early Sixties, a time when the nearest thing to a forbidden drug available was your parents' Lenny Bruce LP, and the school nutritionist primed young hearts for coronaries by urging red meat three times a day.

The young hero, Gene (Simon Fenton), whose father is on Navy blockade duty, is enough of a horror movie buff to recognise that one of the fundamentalists ('There's no First Amendment to the Ten Commandments') picketing the cinema where Lawrence Woolsey's Mant (half-man, half-ant, all terror) is about to preview was actually a bit-part actor on an earlier Woolsey production.

He uses this knowledge to gain admission to Woolsey's world, where fancy names like Atom-O-Vision and Rumble- Rama disguise crude effects - buzzers in the seats, flashes, loud noises - but a world for which Matinee has almost too much affection.

As the Cuban crisis builds, Dante cuts into his narrative a number of loving B-movie pastiches, not only of Woolsey shockers but of wholesome Disney-type entertainment (The Shook-Up Shopping Cart, for instance, which plays with The Baffled Bobcat).

The greatest joy of the horror pastiches is Cathy Moriarty as the long-suffering heroine ('He's not a monster, he's a shoe salesman'). Moriarty, who also appears as Ruth, Woolsey's girlfriend, has become a first- rate comic actress, more than a match for John Goodman, enjoying himself but undeniably coasting as Woolsey.

Where Matinee goes wrong is partly by becoming too farcical in structure, with all the elements uniting at the premiere of Mant. (Remember the movie- house climax of Gremlins? It's as if all Dante's formative experiences took place in a cinema.)

More importantly, the film starts moralising. We see nuclear explosions staged three times: first in documentary footage, then as a nightmare of the young hero, finally as an illusion put on by Woolsey so as to clear the cinema, in an unorthodox and grotesquely insensitive manner, when the balcony threatens to collapse.

The message seems to be: we must all, child and adult, learn to live with our fears. Matinee passes the time perfectly satisfactorily, but these themes need not be handled so patronisingly. Next to, say, the Australian film Celia, in which the heroine's fears were taken with complete seriousness, Matinee would look like the Shook-Up Shopping Cart.

Talking of double bills: Jennifer Chambers Lynch's debut film, Boxing Helena, wants to be up there with Peeping Tom as a dark study of obsession, but it would be more in its element sharing a programme with Bitter Moon.

Like Peeping Tom, Boxing Helena takes a grotesque plot (in this case, a surgeon amputating the limbs of a woman with whom he's besotted, and keeping her prisoner) and treats it lovingly, and less than realistically. There's a lot more blood in the average episode of Casualty, and there's no doubt that Lynch has tried to take the story towards poetry rather than horror.

She wrote the screenplay, but the original story came from Philippe Caland, who also produced. The mutilation becomes a metaphor, but a flailing, uncontrolled one. Does it stand for dependence (Helena eventually falls in love with the doctor, whom she spurned when she had a wider choice)? For men's tendency to treat women as aesthetic objects and to take away their power?

An audience might be more interested in teasing out the implications if Lynch's grasp of psychology, normal and abnormal, was a little less shaky. There's no point, for instance, in showing that the star surgeon, Nick Cavanaugh (Julian Sands), is obsessed with hygiene even when he's not at work, neurotically wiping perfectly clean glasses before daring to drink, and then have him happily slurp down most of Art Garfunkel's vodka-tonic.

Sherilyn Fenn, stepping into the role that Madonna and then, to her cost, Kim Basinger found herself unable to accept, does a charmless variation of her role in Twin Peaks. She's a scheming bitch, her captor is a wimp, and without anything to make you identify with either character, it ultimately doesn't matter whether you find the situations shocking or strangely bloodless, in more ways than one.

Jennifer Chambers Lynch discounts nepotism as the reason for her becoming the youngest female American film-maker, but certainly has it to thank for her early experience on the sets of Dune and Blue Velvet. She borrows freely from her father David's box of tricks - blurry slow motion for a parrot trying to escape its cage, wing-beats amplified to thunderousness, being only the most obvious example.

Fire in the Sky is a startlingly inept alien-abduction thriller, 'based on a true story', if that phrase still impresses you. An Arizona lumberjack called Travis Walton claims that extraterrestrials took him to add to their redneck collection, but returned him afer five days, for all the world as if they had been sent him on approval, and weren't satisfied with their purchase.

For its first hour or so the film takes the point of view of those investigating Walton's disappearance, before the aliens return him and demand their refund. The investigators assume that something more mundane has happened - namely murder - and their suspicions turn the whole community against the witnesses to Walton's abduction.

This is one sort of film, though not a very fresh or interesting one. But then when Walton returns, Industrial Light and Magic begin to earn their fee, and we get disjointed flashbacks to his other-worldly experiences, the longest memory being triggered, ludicrously, by maple syrup accidentally dripping into his mouth. The alien world is as contradictory as the aliens' behaviour, since they have total mastery of slime technology but suddenly decide to experiment on Walton with cruel metal devices out of Brazil.

Fire in the Sky shortchanges even the credulous. Still, mere days after the movie finished shooting in Oregon, the state suffered only its fifth recorded meteorite impact. And if that doesn't convince you that aliens are out there watching us, you just won't listen to reason.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star