Ricardo Islas brings back classic horror in ‘The Last Matinee’

Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures & Bloody Disgusting
Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures & Bloody Disgusting

Emmy Award winning TV producer and horror director Ricardo Islas is back in front of the camera in The Last Matinee. Ricardo plays Asesino Comeojos and I got the chance to speak with him about his villainous role.

Directed by Maxi Contenti (Muñeco viviente V, Neptunia) from a script by Manuel Facal (High Five, Fiesta Nibiru) and Contenti, The Last Matinee also stars Luciana Grasso (El Secreto de Julia), Julieta Spinelli, Franco Duran and Pedro Duarte.

 Synopsis: The audience attending the last showing of a horror film in a small downtown cinema are terrorized by a murderer who begins to pick them off, one by one. The only person to notice that something strange is going on is the projectionist’s daughter.

How did you get involved with this project?

Ricardo: Maxi Contenti invited me to participate. He had met me at a festival years before, when I went to take one of my movies to our country. He and I are from the same country, Uruguay. And then, now, about 10 years later, he proposed this project and he sent me the script and a contract. He sent me a presentation and to my surprise, the storyboard had my face drawn on it. According to (Contenti), when he read the script, he said this is him, this is Ricardo. I don’t know that that’s a compliment, considering he is a killer but he sent me the script and I read the script. I loved it and the rest is history. 

What did you love about the script?

Ricardo: Well, I’m a horror filmmaker myself, and I love the whole genre but what I really really liked is the fact that it was an homage to the movies I grew up watching. It was an homage to the Giallos from the 70s. The script was mostly referencing Giallos then evolved into a slasher which is another genre that I like and I thought it was very interesting and very inventive to read those two genres in one movie. I thought it was very well written, very well crafted. For me, as an actor playing the villain, I really really liked the fact that it was a visual character. Not defined by line of dialogue, but by just whatever I could do with my face and my body. I always thought that the best monsters are the monsters that don’t talk. So, all of that really attracted me to this project. 

Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures & Bloody Disgusting
What was it like playing the villain? 

Ricardo: It was a lot of fun. It was challenging because it’s very physical and I am not a spring chicken. I’m 52 years old and knowing that I had to do most of the fighting and stunts myself was something that I wasn’t completely prepared for, to be honest, but it was probably what made the whole experience even more vivid and more interesting. So it was great, it was really good. I was, all the time, very confident in the team, not only the director but also the director of photography had access to the dailies (unedited footage). One of the main assets of this movie is the look and the photography, it’s spectacular. So, when you’ve seen the dailies and you see that what you’re doing is being packaged so well, and being photographed so beautifully, it gives you the confidence to do it better and better each day that goes by. And then the special effects, the fact that they were physical onset, it adds so much to the experience of making the movie because you’re not just an actor reacting to a green screen, you are physically there. You are all full of tubes pumping blood all over and everything becomes extremely real so it was really great. The actors, especially the two actresses, Luciana and Julieta, who played the two heroes of the movie, it was delightful to work with them. It was really like a family.

Because it felt like a family, how did you get in the mindset to try to kill them?

Ricardo: Well, I could be all brainy and say, ‘oh it was the method. I was just trying to evoke my inner demons and emotions,’ but that wouldn’t be true. For me, it was like, put on my cap and just pretend that I am someone else exactly at the voice of action and make sure that I cut when they say cut. Sometimes I would just stand behind them, waiting for action, especially when it is a chase scene and try to really get into someone else’s skin for that particular moment. It was a very physical thing, like I said before, mostly because it’s a visual character. It was almost like training my muscles to do something completely detached from me as a person. We didn’t have any kind of rehearsal preparation time because I live in Chicago and I flew specifically to start shooting. I was shooting for two weeks and then I came back. No Time for pre production meetings or rehearsals, so we, the two girls and I, talked about how we’re going to do this, what can I do to help you, what can you do to help me, and we made it work.

Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures & Bloody Disgusting
We have to talk about the eyeball. First off, how did you film getting stabbed in the eye?

Ricardo: Maxi is a very good director and he understands the genre. Sometimes, because of technology and because they can rely on technology, young directors just get coverage, and then they see what they can do in post. That’s not how Maxi films. He has a very meticulous storyboard and he has very precise ideas of what he wants to shoot. When you see the final result, it creates that effect that it created in you as a spectator. I was never even close to being stabbed in the eye. It’s a combination of fake faces, hands in the air, splatters on an exit sign. Christian Gruaz, the special effects guru, he’s great, I mean he is one of the most sought out special effects artists in South America. So for him creating this illusion of an eye being pulled out and my own surgery trying to take it out was just all his genius. It was all done on set, all physical effects, a lot of pumping blood and tubes and everything. And that helps the acting. The acting sells the idea that it is real but it was easy. I was soaked in blood.

And it doesn’t stop! Was all of that scripted or did you get to do some improv?

Ricardo: Mostly it was scripted and this goes back to the origin of the script, being an homage to Italian Giallos from the 60s of the 70s. The eyes and taking eyes out of sockets somehow seems to be a lay motif in those movies. For this movie, in particular, if you want to get a little esoteric and start examining the fact that I am killing spectators in a movie theater, it has a lot to do with removing eyes, which is a way to remove that experience of watching a movie. And so the eyes were definitely part of the script and the initial pre production posters. You saw the scene with the little kid that drops the candies in the beginning, and they dropped down the staircase, at the same staircase, you will see eyes rolling down. It definitely was part of the story I didn’t get to, to ad lib match to it I just had to eat a few eyes here and there. But that was quite an experience too. But other than that it was all part of the story from the beginning.

I’m assuming you didn’t have to eat an actual eyeball, so, what did you actually eat?

Ricardo: Yeah, I can send you the recipe (laughs). It was totally tomatoes coated with some kind of white sugary coating. The first couple of them were actually delicious. After a while they became a little too sweet, but it wasn’t too terrible.

Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures & Bloody Disgusting
Were there any parts of the film where you scared yourself with your performance?

Ricardo: I didn’t scare myself, but I did think that when I was watching it, that everything was so well done around the acting, and that it was part of it, of course, but everything was so well like. The lights were right on target, and in any horror movie, the villain is as good as the fear of the victims, and my fellow actors Julieta and Luciana, but also Franco, the little kid, were spot on. I think what you perceive as a scary situation is a combination of whatever I did, but most importantly what they did.

Do you have any advice for people who are a little bit apprehensive or maybe reluctant to go see a horror movie with subtitles?

Ricardo: It’s the fact that this movie is more visual than dialogue driven. I mean, the dialogue is pretty much anecdotal and it just illustrates the relationships between the characters. It’s not a movie that you have to follow through line by line to understand what’s going on. You can pretty much lower the volume and follow it because it’s a very visual movie and after the killer shows up in the scene and starts doing his thing, the dialogue is reduced to ‘Shut that door. Do we call the police?’ It’s not like a Woody Allen movie where if you lose something, you lose everything.

How important is dialogue for the horror genre?

Ricardo: I think it depends because the horror genre is very vast and there are many sub genres to it. So, if we’re talking about a movie, like for example, Silence of the Lambs, where the conversations between Dr. Lecter and Clarice are the ones that drive the whole story, dialogue is essential. In a movie like this, which is more like a slasher, dialogue is just there for you to know that you’re not watching a silent movie. Everything is visual. So it all depends really on what you’re going for as a filmmaker, in this case the filmmakers clearly were going for a lot of fun entertainment in a visual manner.

Is there anything else you would like to say about The Last Matinee?

Ricardo: I think people are gonna love it. People who like horror are gonna love it, but also people who like movies because it’s a movie within a movie. People are watching a movie inside the theater, so it’s an experience that old timers will remember, and for young people it’s going to be completely new to see those movies in those huge theaters that are completely dark. I didn’t see the movie in the movie theater, unfortunately, because of the pandemic, I had to watch it here at home in Chicago. For people who have seen it in the theater and festivals, they tell me that it is a very cool experience. It’s like a continuation of the theater, inside the screen. So, I think, for all those reasons people should take a look at it, because it’s really beyond horror and is a great experience.

Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures & Bloody Disgusting
The Last Matinee is now available on VOD, Digital and DVD