(On Cable TV, April 2017) If anyone ever wonders what Martin Scorsese’s version of a comedy would look like, remind them of After Hours’ existence. It starts on a note familiar to countless teenage sex romp, as a young man heads to a strange woman’s apartment in hope of, well, you know. But the odds are against our hero as he loses his money, meets increasingly hostile people, suffers the worst luck imaginable and seemingly can’t manage to get himself out of trouble. It may be a comedy, but it’s shot like a horror thriller and written even more darkly. There are a number of deaths in the film, to the point where it’s the kind of film where you can comment “the murder was funnier than the suicide” and not feel like a complete psychopath. After Hours is a very strange film, compelling on the sole basis of seeing how bad things will get for the protagonist, yet repellent in content and unsatisfying in its abrupt conclusion. (To be clear: the last shot of the conclusion is just about perfect, but what leads to it seems arbitrary and far too quickly resolved to feel right.) Griffin Dunne is oddly sympathetic as the justifiably paranoid protagonist; meanwhile, Linda Fiorentino shows up in an early role as a kinky artist, Teri Garr is amusing as a vengeful waitress and Roseanna Arquette as a young woman with an entire newsstand of issues. (New York City also plays itself in its most alarming state, as a dark labyrinth in which everyone is out to get you.) If After Hours is Martin Scorsese goofing off, they maybe we should be thankful that he hasn’t made more pure comedies … or that his far funnier films usually belong to other genres.
(On TV, March 2017) It’s a good thing that director John Landis knows how to have fun, because otherwise there really isn’t much to An American Werewolf in London in terms of plotting. Young man gets bitten; young man contemplates the horrors of turning into a werewolf; young man dies. There’s the plot right there, but don’t get angry at the spoilers because this is not a movie about plot. Thanks to jolting dream sequences, sympathetic characters, a good dose of off-beat humour and the kind of why-the-hell-not filmmaking that disappeared after the eighties, An American Werewolf in London is an experience more than a story. The pacing picks up considerably after the first half-hour, if only because the main character gets hallucinations and dream sequences that allow for Nazi werewolves and sustained conversations with a dead decomposing friend (Griffin Dunne, far more interesting than the rather dull protagonist). Jenny Agutter is cute as a British nurse with a thing for lost American tourists, but the true nature of her role is looking sad in the film’s last moments. Otherwise, An American Werewolf in London is about the kind of genre horror practised so joyously in the early eighties. The humour of the film is undercut by the downbeat (but inevitable) ending. The pre-CGI transformation effects remain mildly impressive even today, while the soundtrack has a not-so-sly succession of “Moon”-titled songs. The abrupt ending does feel unsatisfying, but so does the end of a roller-coaster—it’s not the point of the experience.