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Part showman! Part shaman! ''Matinee'''s inspiration

Part showman! Part shaman! ”Matinee”’s inspiration. William Castle was the king of horror gimmickry

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Part showman! Part shaman! ”Matinee”’s inspiration

With all its inventiveness, Matinee(1993, MCA/Universal, PG, $95.95) could have been called ”Double Feature.” For a while it’s a sensitive coming-of-age comedy about an eventful week in the life of a horror-flick-obsessed Florida teen (Simon Fenton). It encompasses first love, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a visit from the boy’s idol-gimmick-happy, bigger-than-life movie producer Lawrence Woolsey, in town to premiere his latest opus, ”Mant!” While this main story often lands ”Matinee” in the same bittersweet-lessons-of-life soup served up by TV’s ”The Wonder Years,” director Joe Dante and screenwriter Charlie Haas also strike enough true-ringing grace notes and pointed jokes to keep the movie from drowning in sentiment.

But ”Matinee”’s real kicks come from ”Mant!,” its fun film within a film, and ”Mant!”’s creator Woolsey (played with delightful brio by John Goodman), a showman who delights in scaring the pants off his pubescent audience with a barrage of ”thrill processes.” Woolsey is an homage to producer-director William Castle, who, for his most notorious effort, ”The Tingler” (1959), wired select theater seats to dispense a joy-buzzer jolt during the film’s climax. This brand of low-tech interactivity obviously doesn’t translate well to video, so relatively few of Castle’s efforts are on tape. The ones that are all display the flamboyant charms that captivated Dante and Haas. So spiff up the fallout shelter, shake up some Jiffy Pop, and throw your own quadruple-feature tribute to the Matinee age.

The theatrical version of Castle’s ”House on Haunted Hill” (1958, Facets, unrated, $14.98) touted the cinematic breakthrough Emergo — actually a plastic skeleton dangling above audience members’ heads. The movie itself, featuring one of Vincent Price’s hammiest turns, is good fun, albeit the sort of thing that plays better if stumbled upon on cable.

”13 Ghosts” (1960, GoodTimes, unrated, $7.99) was in Illusion-O, a process similar to 3-D, which utilized a ”ghost viewer,” with one lens that revealed on-screen specters, and another (for scaredy-cats) that removed them. Video viewers haven’t much choice; the unconvincing wraiths appear whether you like it or not in this good-for-a-few-laughs feature.

Theatergoers flocking to the surprisingly effective ”Strait-Jacket” (1964, Columbia TriStar, unrated, $59.95), a Joan Crawford vehicle about the worries of a recently freed ax murderess, were given bloody axes made from cardboard. Pretty flimsy stuff, but Crawford mavens and horror buffs will love it.

”The Night Walker” (1965, MCA/Universal, unrated, $14.98) had no gimmick, unless you count the idea of casting a Golden Age leading lady in an is-she-or-isn’t-she-a-psycho role. In this snoozer, Barbara Stanwyck plays a wealthy widow tormented by nightmares that seem to spill over into real life. Just like the ones Castle used to dream up.

”Matinee”: B+; ”House on Haunted Hill”: B; ”13 Ghosts”: B-; ”Strait-Jacket”: B; ”The Night Walker”: C-

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