Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Quick Review: THE HUNGER (1983)

Original Theatrical Poster
Arguably, one of the most influential horror films of the 1980's - it basically introduced the 80's sheen of stylized lighting and quick cutting to the horror genre - The Hunger is a slow, moody, but ultimately disappointing effort. Visually, it's sumptuous and trend-setting, with director Tony Scott (making his feature film debut) and cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt paying laborious attention to each frame of film, creating imagery that is impossible to look away from. Sonically, the film also stands out, with an eerie score and terrific sound design. But other than the look and sound, and arresting performances by Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and a young Susan Sarandon, this is a hollow, cold film, with a claustrophobic, dreary feel, and a story that goes nowhere. The studio-forced ending, which doesn't make a lick of sense, doesn't help matters. Worth a look for it's originality, though. Based on Whitely Strieber's novel of the same name.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Quick Review: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981)

Unpleasant, incoherent slasher from the 80's, mainly remembered for its bizarre murder sequences. Director J. Lee Thompson gives the film some style and a tad of class absent from most slashers of the era, but the confused script, humorless tone, and bland performances make this a forgettable entry in the genre. The twist ending is beyond nonsensical.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Book Review: THE NIGHTRUNNERS (1987)

For me, any Joe R. Lansdale book or story is worth reading. He is a singular, stylish writer, with a voice all his own. The Nightrunners (1987) is early Lansdale, and so has its flaws. Its meshing of several genres (horror, crime, psychological thriller, splatterpunk) doesn't work as well as it should, and the characters aren't as well-defined as in his best work. But the book still has plenty to offer, with a couple of sequences (one of them a nightmare featuring a terrifying entity called "The God of The Razor") that are sure to haunt you for days. The pace is also super-fast and the prose immensely readable. It's a good read, but it doesn't showcase Lansdale at his best. If you're new to Lansdale, I'd suggest starting with one of his short story collections or his Drive-In books.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: THE GORGON (1964)

Original Theatrical Poster
Lesser Terence Fisher/Hammer film, with a predictable, one-note story, and uninspired performances by the usually dependable Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. The production design is sumptuous, though, and the climax thrilling.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Friday, February 12, 2016


Series 1 Promotional Art
Broadchurch (2013) burst onto ITV without much fanfare in 2013. It grabbed some media attention mainly because of David Tennant's (of Doctor Who fame) involvement, and a promotional campaign that tried to conjure up the dark mystique of Twin Peaks.

I started watching it mainly for Tennat, coming in with no expectations. Boy, was I surprised! The first series of Broadchurch is one of the finest TV shows I've seen in a long time, and arguably the finest mystery to air on TV in decades. Its deceptively simple premise of the murder of a young boy in a small coastal community and the investigation that follows, unravels slowly, expertly, revealing layer upon layer of evil, corruption, and deception, with every actor on the show (especially Tennant, Olivia Coleman, and David Bradley) delivering outstanding, heartfelt performances.

But it's all down to the writing. And creator/writer Chriss Chibnall delivers the goods, in spades. This is the best written dramatic series since Breaking Bad, almost flawless in every aspect (plot, character, dialogue, setting), while the picturesque locations are brilliantly shot by Matt Gray, giving the show an original, mesmerizing look.

But what really took me by surprise, was how humane and touching this story is. The conclusion is both shocking and gut-wrenching.


When it was announced that Broadchurch would return for a second series in 2015, I received the news with mixed feelings. Of course I was excited that one of the best TV shows I had ever seen was returning with another story to tell. But I was also wary of how creator Chibnall would top his previous effort.

Mostly, my fears were unjustified. Mostly. The second series of Broadchurch focuses on the trial of the killer apprehended at the end of the first series, and the effect of that trial on the community of Broadchurch. It adds more layers to the principal cast of characters, while introducing some new ones, most of them well-written and occasionally fascinating. There's also another mystery added to the broth: the Sandbrook case, which Tennant's character alluded to in the previous series, and which he tries to solve once and for all.

As with the first series, the writing is sharp, the characters feel real, and the suspense sometimes nerve-wracking. The photography by John Conroy is lush, and the performances by all involved almost flawless.

But unlike the first series, these eight episodes are not as touching and emotionally intense as the first series, while the Sandbrook case, though compelling, isn't as layered or darkly fascinating as the case of Danny Latimer, the boy who was murdered in the previous series. The plotting, also, seems a bit contrived this time, and lacks the smoothness and naturalistic precision of the first series.

That doesn't mean that series 2 is bad, or even mediocre. Chris Chibnall, arguably, is the finest writer now working in TV. It's just that the first series was such a strong, original, and hard-hitting story, taking the characters to some fascinating places, that nothing, really, could improve upon it.

Series 3 has now been announced. And I truly don't know how I feel about that.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Quick Review: THE OTHER (1972)

Original Theatrical Poster
Disturbing, but flatly directed psychological horror story. The script (by Thomas Tryon, who adapted his own novel) is tight , and the performances fine; but director Robert Mulligan fails to maximize the impact of a terrifically creepy plot. In the hands of a more stylish director, this could have been a masterpiece. For some reason, it has become a cult favorite and a critics' darling.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Quick Review: KILL, BABY, KILL (1966)

Considered by many (including Martin Scorsese) to be Mario Bava's best film, Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) is a visually gorgeous, hypnotic, Gothic/psychological ghost story, with tons of atmosphere and style. As with most of Bava's work, the story doesn't make a hell lot of sense. But you don't watch Bava for his plots, you watch him for his mastery of atmosphere and his ability to create true terror on screen. Highly recommended.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: ANGUISH (1987)

Original Theatrical Poster
Innovative, clever, and masterfully made horror film, with some witty things to say about movies and movie-going. It has true suspense in it, and is relentlessly compelling. A feast for the horror/suspense fan. Highly recommended.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.