Saturday, December 24, 2016

THE BEST OF 2016: The Best Movies, TV Shows, Books, and Music I Discovered in 2016

Here it is, a listing of the best books, movies, and music I've come across this year. Most of them were not released in 2016, but I discovered or re-discovered them in 2016, and did my best to review and write about them, in an attempt to bring them to your attention, or, if you already know about them, re-kindle your interest and inspire you to reassess them in a new light.

For me, it was a great year to fall in love with these books, movies, and albums, and I look forward to new discoveries or rediscoveries in 2017. Enjoy.



Movie and TV Reviews:

Blood Work (2002)

Shadow Man (2006)

The Night of The Demons Franchise (1988- 2009)

Fright Night Part 2 (1988)

The Superman Special (featuring reviews of books and films about the Man of Steel)

A Good Man (2014)

The Path: Season 1 (2016)

Belly of The Beast (2003)

Dominion Vs. Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

Twixt (2011)

Out For Justice (1991)

Outcast : Season 1 (2016)

Poltergeist III (1988)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

The Final Girls (2015)

Kindergarten Cop 2 (2016)

Ash Vs. Evil Dead: Season 1 (2016)

Neighbors (1981)

Christine (1983)

Broadchurch: Seasons 1 and 2 (2013- 2015)

Kill, Baby, Kill (1966)

Tourist Trap (1979)

Forever Knight: The Complete Series (1992-1996)

Pale Rider (1985)

The Beguiled (1971)

Book Reviews:

Cell by Stephen King

Running With The Demon by Terry Brooks

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Films of John Carpenter by John Kenneth Muir

October by Al Sarrantonio

The Nightrunners by Joe R. Lansdale

Music Reviews:

Prince: Hit 'n' Run: Phase 2 (2015)

Remembering Prince

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Flashback Review: HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

Co-produced, co-written (uncredited), and scored by John Carpenter, this one-off sequel to the classic chiller is a quirky, original supernatural thriller with plenty to offer, including a compelling mood and some truly scary visuals. Director/co-writer Tommy Lee Wallace channels Carpenter's style with surprising efficiency, and the cast, headed by an earnest Tom Atkins, is good. The ending is deliciously tense and disturbing. A must-see for horror fans.  Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Review: THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

Entertaining sequel about the further adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren, real life demonologists and ghost hunters. This time the focus is on the "Enfiled Poltergeist", a sensational true story that took place in England in the late 70s. Director/co-writer James Wan lays out his usual stack of tricks, which include spooky visuals and some truly frightening moments. While Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson do their best to portray the Warrens as a likable, ordinary couple whose life's work happens to be fighting evil in all its forms.

But Wan's technique is getting repetitive at this point, becoming effective rather than inventive, and the way the Warrens are portrayed makes them bland, too good to be believable characters without much color. While the tone of the film, which wavers between hokey and portentous, doesn't work as well as it did in the original.

That's not to say that the movie doesn't work, because it does. But there's nothing really new here; just a polished, watchable mainstream horror movie with a few memorable sequences. Directed by James Wan.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Quick Review: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 (1993)

Ambitious, somber, and well-written sequel. But it lingers on repulsive details and has a slapdash, messy quality that makes it tough to watch. The effects are mostly poor. The weakest part of the trilogy.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 2 (1987)

Uneven sequel to the cult classic. It lacks focus and features some truly unfunny gags. But it's slickly made, with a fine cast and plenty of energy. A fun if forgettable watch. Written and directed by Ken Weiderhorn.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

Overrated horror-comedy; lacks style and memorable characters. But it has enough innovative touches and quirky humor to make it a memorable addition to the zombie genre. Highlight: James Karen's hilarious performance. A parody of/unofficial sequel to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). Based on a story by Night of the Living Dead writer John A. Russo. Directed by Dan O'Bannon.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Quick Review: BLOOD WORK (2002)

Compelling, smooth mystery/thriller, with Eastwood in fine form as actor and director. The performances are top-notch across the board, the story intriguing, and the pacing just right. A throwback to Eastwood's efficient, tightly directed films from the 70's and early 80's. They sure don't make them like this any more.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: PUMPKINHEAD (1988)

Visually alluring, poignant, and haunting dark fantasy/horror movie, with a riveting central performance by Lance Henriksen as a bereaved father who summons an ancient demon to hunt down those responsible for his son's death. But the unsteady direction and lack of a clear protagonist make this more of an interesting failure than a winner. The directorial debut of effects wizard Stan Winston.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Quick Review: SHADOW MAN (2006)

One of Seagal's better direct-to-video efforts, Shadow Man (2006) has plenty to offer for 80's/90's action fans: from impressive fights, to gun battles, to an involved Seagal. It's all pretty nonsensical, but it's superbly entertaining.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (2009)

Fun, energetic remake of the cult favorite, with a twisted sense of humor and a likable cast. It moves like lightning and revels in its silly excesses. The hurried ending is the only disappointment. Arguably better than the original. Directed by Adam Gierasch.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 3 (a.k.a DEMON HOUSE) (1997)

Lamely directed entry in the horror/comedy franchise. The script is better than expected, but the direction is slipshod and the scares non-existent. The weakest part of the trilogy. Written by Kevin S. Tenney, the director of the original, and directed by Jimmy Kaufman.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2 (1994)

Superior sequel to the cult horror/comedy, features terrific make-up effects and a fast pace. It isn't as scary or funny as it thinks it is, but the tight direction and earnest performances make this is an entertaining watch. Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988)

After a slow start, this turns into a fun, energetic little horror/comedy, with impressive make-up effects and an enjoyable atmosphere. The climax is surprisingly tense. Followed by two sequels and a remake. Directed by Kevin S. Tenney.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Review: FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 (1988)

Fright Night (1985) is one of my favorite movies of all time. It has everything I love about the 80's: the music; the flashy lighting; optical special effects; latex monsters. With a good script and tight direction by writer/director Tom Holland, Fright Night has stood the test of time and proved to be a minor masterpiece wrapped in the guise of a lover letter to Gothic horror movies.

Following such a commercial and artistic success was never going to be easy, but with Fright Night Part 2 (1988) co-writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace and co. sure gave it their best shot.

William Ragsdale is back as Charlie Brewster, and so is the ever charming Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, the "fearless" vampire killer, and their performances are as good and lively as they were in the original Fright Night.

The problem with Fright Night 2 mainly lie with its script and budget. Reportedly produced on an even smaller budget than its predecessor, the sequel suffers from a script that is functional enough, even occasionally inventive, but one which lacks the punch and effective characterization of the original. Add to that the feeling that the film is somehow smaller in scope than the original, with slightly less action - probably because of the reduced budget - and you have a sequel at a disadvantage.

But that's not the whole story, as Fright Night 2, despite its faults, is a tremendously entertaining and stylish horror film, with gorgeous cinematography by Mark Irwin, and tight, kinetic direction by Tommy Lee Wallace. The pacing is a bit problematic, and the humor-horror mix doesn't work as well as it did in the original. But Ragsdale, and especially McDowall, are in top form, giving the movie an energy and liveliness that lift it above its faults.

The special effects are uneven, with fantastic matte paintings but less than stellar optical effects, while the make-up effects are mostly inventive and impressive. But, to me, the film's main power lies in its hypnotic atmosphere, bolstered by a terrific, ageless score by Brad Fiedel. Simply put, this is one of those movies that you just don't want to end. It's that entertaining. And the climax, though a little rushed, is more than satisfying.

All in all, Fright Night 2 is a horror sequel that works on many levels, even if it stumbles on a few, and is one of the most memorable horror sequels to come out of the 80's.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: TERROR TRAIN (1980)

Entertaining if slow-going slasher from the 80's, with a strong climax and capable performances. But it hasn't aged well. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review: PHENOMENA [a.k.a Creepers] (1985)

One of writer/director Dario Argento's weirdest efforts (and that's saying something!), Phenomena (1985) is an odd mishmash of genres (Gothic horror, Dark Fantasy, Fairy Tale) that doesn't quite gel. It has moments of haunting power and the atmosphere is unique, but apart from a couple of terrific suspense sequences, this is a stilted, incoherent film, with stiff performances and poor dialogue. The score by Goblins is fantastic, though.

* Released in an 82 minute version as Creepers.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: THE HORROR SHOW [a.k.a House III] (1989)

Lame, silly supernatural thriller about a psychic killer who comes back from the dead to torment the cop who caught him. Poorly directed and boring. Avoid.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: DRIVE ANGRY (2011)

Wild, kinetic, and immensely entertaining supernatural thriller, with game performances by all involved. The plot is thin, and co-writer/director Patrick Lussier sometimes pushes things past their welcome, but this is one quirky, muscular grindhouse movie!

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: TO DIE FOR (1989) and SON OF DARKNESS: TO DIE FOR II (1991)

Poorly scripted and blandly performed, To Die For (1989) is a passable horror/romantic thriller from the late 80's, notable for its failed attempt to update the Dracula myth to modern times, pitting Vlad Tepes, masquerading in Los Angeles as a wealthy bachelor, against his evil brother Tom(!), who wants to kill Vlad's latest lover, Karyn. Sloppy direction and terrible dialogue make this a slow-going watch, but some of the make-up effects are impressive.

For some reason To Die For garnered a sequel, which is surprising, since it barely registered at the box-office upon release and is hardly considered a cult classic. The sequel, Son of Darkness (1991), fares a little better, with genre veteran Michae Praed (Nightflyers, Robin of Sherwood) replacing Brendan Hughes as Vlad Tepes. Son of Darkness benefits from adequate direction by David F. Price and stylish cinematography by Gerry Lively (Waxwork, Warlock: The Armageddon), and the first half of the movie is fast-paced and atmospheric. The movie stumbles in the second half, as the emphasis shifts from horror to romance, and the plot becomes incoherent. Still this is a better movie than its predecessor, and a diverting 90 minutes for a rainy night.


Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: SUPERMAN by Larry Tye

A love letter to all things Superman, Superman by Larry Tye is essential reading for fans of the character, DC, and comic books. Covering everything from the creation of the character, to the lives of its creators (which is quite a tale in itself), to the evolution of the comic books across 70 years of publishing, to the radio shows and numerous TV shows and movies based on the character, and with tons of quotes from almost every person who's had a hand in shaping or interpreting the character, this is a must read, and one of the best books ever written about comic books and their impact.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987)

Well-intentioned but bland and poorly made Superman movie, with unremarkable performances, a weak plot, and lackluster special effects. It had a notoriously troubled production, and it shows. A sad end to a a groundbreaking franchise.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Quick Review: SUPERMAN III (1983)

Uneven, bizarrely incoherent movie, which treats the material with annoying irreverence. Director Richard Lester seems more interested in campy humor and over-the-top gags than Superman, while Richard Pryor, who accepted the role purely for the money, does his best with sub par material. Only Christopher Reeve's wonderfully earnest performance and a terrific showdown between Clark Kent and Bizarro Superman, save the film from becoming unwatchable.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Review: SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT (1980 - 2006)

After being summarily fired as soon as he completed work on Superman (1978), Richard Donner left behind 75-80% of Superman II (1980) in the can. The footage was re-tooled and augmented by new footage from replacement director Richard Lester, who delivered an entertaining sequel to Donner's original, but a disappointing one nonetheless, mainly due to his conventional direction and obvious lack of passion towards the material.

Almost 30 years later, Warner Bros. and producer/editor Michael Thau tracked down Donner's original footage, and with Donner's input and supervision, reconstructed Donner's original vision for Superman II. The result is a vast improvement over the theatrically released version, which restores the tone and quality Donner established with the original. Mostly gone is the campy humor, the sloppy dialogue, and the dated feel of the Richard Lester version. What we now have is a movie that is faster, subtler, more powerful, and technically better. The major plus, of course, is the restored Marlon Brando footage, the terrific opening, and a better ending,

For fans of Superman, his mythology, and the first film, this is a treasure trove.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978)

An immortal classic, Superman (1978) still packs a punch decades after it was released, mainly due to director Richard Donner's meticulous direction and a cast that is pitch perfect. Yes, the effects have aged, and some of the comedic touches don't work. But this is one awe-inspiring, groundbreaking, terrifically entertaining movie for the wide-eyed child in all of us.

* The 35th anniversary edition, with some amazing restored footage, is the one to watch. *

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

Designed as a sequel/tribute to Richard Donner's 1978 masterpiece, Superman Returns (2006) is a strangely glum movie, with little action, and forgettable performances by all involved. The effects are great, and the climax impressive, but the film's tone and Brandon Routh's subdued performance as the man of steel, combined with Bryan Singer's conventional direction, make this a surprisingly somber Superman movie that fails on the most important level of all when it comes to a Superman movie: to rouse and entertain. Then again, with his dour handling of X-Men, Singer was never the right choice for this material, since Superman is a character that symbolizes hope and faith in humanity, and Singer is a cynical filmmaker whose interest seems to be in the darker aspects of humanity [The Usual Suspects (1995), Apt Pupil (1998)].

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Quick Review: LISA (1990)

Well-written, well-crafted thriller from writer/director Gary Sherman (Poltergeist III, Dead and Buried), with strong characterization and good performances. One of the most underrated horror-thrillers of the 90's.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Book Review: HELLRAISER: THE FILMS AND THEIR LEGACY by Paul Kane

Essential Reading for fans of the series and genre, filled to the brim with detailed information on all aspects of the franchise, and written with energy and passion.

Tex © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: JILL THE RIPPER (a.k.a JILL RIPS) (2000)

Disturbing, slow-going psycho-sexual thriller, with Dolph Lundgren - as an alcoholic ex-cop - in an against-type role that provides him a good opportunity to stretch his acting muscles. The rest of the cast all deliver good performances, but the lethargic pace and overly portentous tone are major drawbacks.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Quick Review: A GOOD MAN (2014)

Superbly entertaining action pic, with Seagal in fine form as a relentless vigilante out to destroy an old nemesis. The story is simple but fun, the action fast and impressive, and Seagal and his co-stars seem to be giving it their all. One of Seagal's best DTV efforts.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Book Review: THE MOTH DIARIES by Rachel Klein

Disturbing, astute, psychological/Gothic thriller about a teenage girl's descent into madness while attending boarding school. Features memorable characters and some haunting imagery, but suffers from being monotonous and predictable.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book Review: THE MAGICIANS by Lev Grossman

Endlessly inventive, compelling coming-of-age fantasy, filled to the brim with fascinating details and a hypnotic, elegiac atmosphere. But the aloof, snobbish characters and an unappealing cynical streak mar it significantly. Followed by two sequels.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: PSYCHO COP (1989)

Surprisingly watchable micro-budget slasher/horror movie, with amateurish performances and one of the goofiest serial killers in the history of film. Followed by a sleazy, jokey sequel, Psycho Cop 2 (1993), that is fun but arguably inferior.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book Review: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984): The Novelization: By Richard Mueller

Fun, energetic novelization of the comedy classic, with lots of extra tidbits for fans, including some fascinating background info on some of the main characters, especially Venkman (Bill Murray) and Stantz (Dan Aykroyd). It is also interesting to note the myriad difference between this version of the story and the final shooting script, as many of the jokes featured in the film are funnier and more polished. The writing feels a little rushed towards the end, but overall this is guaranteed to provide hours of entertainment for “Ghostheads”.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Book Review: SACRIFICIAL GROUND by Thomas H. Cook

I accidentally found a used paperback copy of this hugely impressive novel in a bargain bin and decided to take a chance on it. I am glad I did. Sacrificial Ground by Thomas H. Cook is an original, haunting, compelling mystery/police procedural that is high on style and atmosphere.

Cook's writing is, for the most part, impressively stylish, giving the tired genre a startling dose of energy and originality, with a unique, darkly psychological spin. Despite a tendency to over-stylize the dialogue - most characters speak in a mannered, wistful way that is far from realistic - Cook manages to imbue his plot and characters with enough life, scars, and quirks to make them memorable, while the whole novel is drenched in hypnotically poetic atmospherics. Highly recommended for fans of mystery/thrillers who are looking for something a little different.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Quick Review: MOST LIKELY TO DIE (2015)

Watchable, average slasher, slowly paced and with subpar performances. The make-up effects and kills are gruesomely impressive, though.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Review: GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

As a die-hard fan of the original Ghostbusters (1984), I started watching this movie with a lot on my mind: Is it going to ruin the original for me? Is it going to suck? Was it even necessary to reboot the whole franchise?

A few minutes into it, I began to loosen up and have fun. And fun is the operative word here. The chemistry between the leads is infectious, the jokes are more hit than miss, and the effects are impressive without being too overwhelming. This is a movie that is designed to give you a good time, and it does.

But that's not the whole story. Ghostbusters (2016) is also a film that works less than it should, considering the talent involved (director Paul Feig, Melissa McCarthy, and a number of SNL stalwarts), with everybody either trying too hard or not hard enough. The script, while having some truly hilarious moments, is weak on plot, with a cartoonish, forgettable villain.

But the film's biggest fault is simply this: the filmmakers behind Ghostbusters (2016) can't seem to make up their minds whether the movie is supposed to be a bold reboot with its own identity, or a timid homage to a timeless comedy classic, with the cameos, which are for the most part uninspired, not helping matters. Add to that the lack of any serious involvement from Dan Aykroyd, the quirky genius behind the whole franchise and the man who gave the original most of its ideas, and you have a movie that it isn't as quirky or atmospheric as the original.

Which leaves us with a movie that is fun, diverting, and has its moments, but, on the whole, unremarkable. And for fans like myself who have been waiting for a new Ghotsbusters movie for almost thirty years, it isn't exactly what we were hoping for. But we will take it.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Flashback Review: DEEP RED (1994)

Original VHS Cover
Glum Sci-Fi thriller with a murky script. But an endearing cast led by an intense Michael Biehn, and energetic, stylish direction by Craig R. Baxley [Dark Angel (1990), Stephen King's Storm of The Century (1999)] keep things afloat. A watchable curiosity from the 90's TV/Cable movie craze.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Quick Review: NINJA (2009)

Weakly written but fast-paced and energetic martial arts/action film. Benefits from tight direction and an impressive visual style. Scott Adkins is stiff as usual, but he's an impressive action man. And it's always fun to see Sensei Fumio Demura - who helped choreograph the fights - in action. Recommended for fans of ninja/martial arts pics.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review: THE PATH: SEASON 1

There is no easy way to describe the first season of The Path (2016). It's so original, daring, and unique that words utterly fail me. It is part mystery, part epistemological/mystical thriller, part domestic drama, part love story, and a helluva story.

The main plot: a member of a religious movement known as "Meyerism" is beset by strange visions that lead him to have doubts about his faith, setting in motion a chain of events that soon spiral out of control. Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to most of the movement, the founder of "Meyerism", Stephen Meyer, is dying of cancer in a secluded room in Peru, and his disciple, a charismatic sociopath, pounces on the chance to take the reins. Telling any more would be unfair to first time viewers, as this is a great, sinuous tale, terrifically told, with a cast of characters brought to perfect life by an endearing and capable cast, headed by the ever impressive Aaron Paul (who also co-produces). And thanks to nuanced, sharp writing by creator Jessica Goldberg and her team, The Path becomes one of the greatest TV/web series (and first seasons) to ever grace our screens.

This is a heartbreaking, addictive, touching, disturbing series, which is best experienced slowly and with rapt attention. Unmissable.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: CELL by Stephen King

One of King's darkest novels in a long time, Cell is a compelling, tense, unsettling read. While apocalyptic novels have been done to death (with King himself penning a few prior to this one), Cell sets itself apart by its unflinching focus on its characters' plights, tragedies, and tenacity. Despite a central premise that is conceptually and scientifically wobbly (a cell phone-transmitted pulse that turns people into violent, senseless beasts), the book works because of the characters, a bunch of superbly drawn, if not always likable, individuals, whose actions are almost always believable and whose fates we truly care about. Cell is also one of King's bleakest and most daring novels since Pet Semetary, with King at his most brutal and graphic. A haunting, disturbing read. Highly recommended.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Review: Z NATION: SEASON 1

The complete first season of Z Nation, a low-budget show about a zombie apocalypse, starts with a bang, only to lose steam halfway through and never really recover. The entire season of 13 episodes reportedly cost a third of what most cable shows cost nowadays, with each episode coming in under a million dollars. And that's the best and worst thing about the first season of Z Nation: its low budget forces the writers to do the best with what they got, creating stories that don't require a huge cast or multiple locations, and what the writers come up with is occasionally impressive. But trying to do the best with what you got is a very challenging task if what you got is very little, and that's the case here. As by the second half of the season it's clear that the writers are panting for breath, trying to outrun the limitations of their budget, with stories becoming repetitive and the action slowing down considerably.

What saves the show is a likable cast, led by the charismatic Kellita Smith and the quirky Keith Allan. The season finale tries its best to be exciting and suspenseful, and it succeeds to some extent. But one can't help but wonder how the show can improve if the budget doesn't. Time will  tell.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Flashback Review: THE GLIMMER MAN (1996)

Seagal's first foray into mystery/thriller territory, and his first film after his first box-office failure On Deadly Ground (1994), is a fast-paced, endlessly entertaining hodgepodge of genres, with Seagal in fine form as a Buddhist cop after a serial killer targeting families and with a penchant for Catholic imagery. The film finds Seagal (who also co-produced) relaxed, apparently having lots of fun with the role, while his on-screen chemistry with co-star Keenan Ivory Wayans is fun to watch. As for the fight sequences, they are thrilling and show Seagal at his best. The only fault the film has is a plot that is nigh incomprehensible, but strangely it doesn't take away from the fun of the whole thing. Recommended.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Quick Review: SLASHER: SEASON 1 (2016)

Despite having one of the coolest posters I have seen in a while, Slasher: Season 1 (2016) proves to be a disappointment. After a disturbing, tense and violent opening scene, Slasher quickly devolves into a glum, unevenly paced, and overplotted mess. Its main faults are unimpressive leads, a heavy handed approach, and an overly nihilist streak that makes it a dull watch. When you watch something called Slasher, you expect a smattering of that genre's main ingredients, namely a fun, fast, and violent story with likable characters and a memorable villain. The makers of Slasher fail to include any of the above. Forgettable and unpleasant.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Book Review: RUNNING WITH THE DEMON (1997) by Terry Brooks

Brook's finest work, Running With The Demon is the best dark fantasy/horror novel you've never read. The prose is lean, the autumnal atmosphere hypnotic, and the evil strange and frightening. This is a grand tale of good versus evil, with terrific characters and a whopper of an ending. Unmissable.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2015-2016.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Quick Review: BELLY OF THE BEAST (2003)

Proof positive that Steven Seagal made some good movies in his direct-to-video (DTV) era, Belly of The Beast (2003) is one wild ride full of action and extravagant stunt-work. Directed by Honk-Kong cinema master Ching Siu Ting, Belly of the Beast is visually stylish, moody, with some ridiculously fun action and fight sequences, and Seagal seems to be having loads of fun delivering one-liner after another and some truly impressive fight moves. This is also one of Seagal's higher-budgeted DTV efforts, resulting in some fierce action set-pieces and shoot-outs and some dazzling wire-work. The story even has some intriguing mystical undertones, with magic battles, sorcerers and powerful monks!

Conclusion: If you are looking for some mindless, stylish, fast-paced action fare, look no further than this. This is vintage Seagal.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Review: DOMINION: Prequel to THE EXORCIST: The Truth Behind The Scary Production of A Unique Horror Film

The Exorcist series has proven to be fascinating over the past 30 years or so. The original, released in 1973 changed cinema and horror movies forever. The sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic, released in 1977, was a polarizing, controversial film, while Exorcist III: Legion, released in 1990, was a flawed masterpiece that took the series in a different direction.

And now we come to the prequels Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist, both produced in 2004.

But the making of both of these prequels is a tremendous story in itself. Dominion was supposed to be directed by John Frankenheimer, who actually started to helm the picture, when he fell gravely ill and left the production. Paul Schrader, the brilliant, always controversial filmmaker stepped in to complete the film, only to be fired after submitting his final cut to producers. The producers then hired Renny Harlin to re-shoot almost the entire film with the same crew and basically the same cast, and the result was Exorcist: The Beginning, released in 2004.

But Exorcist: The Beginning was a critical and financial failure, and Morgan Creek, the production company behind the whole debacle, decided to bring back Schrader to finish editing his version, giving him very little money to complete the post-production process. Schrader’s version finally saw the light of day in 2005 as Dominion.

So, after all this trouble, which version of the film is better? Surprisingly, the answer to that question isn’t that easy to come by. On the one hand, Renny Harlin’s Exorcist: The Beginning is seemingly much more commercial, with a lot more bells and whistles, and the cinematography by Vittorio Storaro is nothing short of sumptuous. One goes in expecting a crass, mind-numbing commercial horror movie, and what one gets (with the exception of the hysterical exorcism sequence near the end of the film) is a relatively subdued, polished and compelling supernatural thriller.

Paul Schrader’s Dominion is a completely different creation. It is not a horror film by any means, there are no bells and whistles (which is understandable, since Schrader was given very little time and money to complete post-production) and the special effects are kept to a minimum. But these are the same factors that make Dominion such a compelling film. With emphasis on mood, long master shots, and nuanced performances, this is a slow, hypnotic and strange psychological thriller.

In terms of how it fares compared to the other films in the series, Dominion is somewhere between an art film and the metaphysical musings of Exorcist II.

So, which version is better? Arguably, both versions, Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion, have merit. But Dominion is much more haunting, and, therefore, more memorable.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2014- 2016.

* This article originally appeared on Bitlanders.