Panic in Year 2021!

So, Panic Fest happened without a lot of fanfare from yours truly – sorry about that. I did get out to a (very) few movies, for my first excursion to a (socially distanced) movie theater since October. Call it a celebration of my also getting the first jab of the vaccine (Pfizer, if it matters) with no discernable ill-effects save a marked absence of any eyeballs in my shoulder, more’s the pity.

I saw three whole movies this year, which is down considerably from last year, when I saw something like thirteen in a single weekend. But also it’s virtually impossible to imagine that last year was only last year. It feels like a lifetime ago.

Of those three, only one was a miss for me, and the other two were movies about watching movies, which I obviously love. Censor was my first night out at the Fest – a feverish flick about a film censor working during the “Video Nasty” era in Britain, who stumbles upon a film that mirrors the disappearance of her sister. It performs several impressive conjuring tricks, including successfully lulling you into some misplaced identification, before delivering a last act coup de grace that serves as a cautionary reminder to be wary of even the best intentions of those who wish to protect us from ourselves.

The highlight of the Fest, though, I saved for last – The Last Matinee, in point of fact, a giallo-throwback set in 1993 about a killer menacing a mostly-empty screening of a crappy Frankenstein flick at an aging Italian movie theater. The gore and stalking are all handled well, but what really sells the movie is the heart that it puts into its sense of place. I said on Letterboxd that I could have just watched these people watch a crappy Frankenstein movie for 90 minutes and been happy, and I wasn’t kidding.

The Last Matinee was also a reminder that the magic of Panic Fest – especially this year – isn’t really the movies at all. It was getting to see some of my Screenland family again, both those who so often go to movies there with me, and those who work behind the bar. As movie theaters themselves have experienced a new constriction in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pathos of a film like Last Matinee, that is, as much as anything, a love letter to going to the movies, has a special resonance.

Here in Kansas City, our local Alamo Drafthouse has closed down (and good riddance to it, honestly, as it was apparently a wretched hive of scum and worker exploitation) and I’m sure even the bigger chain theaters are feeling the pinch. So far, though, the Screenland has managed to … not thrive, but at least drag itself on. I hope it will continue, because honestly, when it dies, a part of me truly will die with it.

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