Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Quick Review: FROM BEYOND (1986)

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Original, influential, unforgettable horror/dark-fantasy film from genre favorite Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). Loosely based on a story by Lovecraft, this an ambitious, visually stylish horror film, with earnest performances by all involved (especially the always reliable Jeffrey Combs and a superb Barbara Crampton), and some truly imaginative visual effects. Even if it's a little dodgy and rough around the edges - a Stuart Gordon trademark, as his movies always seem a dash slipshod in terms of technique - this is a must-see for horror fans and deserves its cult classic status. Highly recommended.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quick Review: NEIGHBORS (1981)

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One of the most original and bizarre dark comedies of all-time, Neighbors (1981), based on the Thomas Berger novel of the same name, is an unforgettable, disturbing viewing experience, that takes the "neighbors from hell" concept and runs with it, to create a mind-boggling, unique film. 

Comedy superstars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are at their best here, with Aykroyd, in particular, giving a performance that is scary and funny, while director John G. Avildsen gives the film a strange, dream-like feel that is off-setting and compelling at the same time.

So if you are a fan of the late, great John Belushi, and the bizarre genius of Dan Aykroyd, don't miss this obscure, fascinating film. It's truly a one of a kind experience.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Quick Book Review: THE BEETLE (1897) by Richard Marsh

Published in the same year as Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Beetle (1897) by Richard Marsh is a Victorian Gothic horror novel that, at one point, outsold Stoker's masterpiece! After reading it, I have to wonder why. Though it has some creepy passages, they are few and far between, with the majority of the book consisting of repetitive prose, a cartoonish villain, and an ending that is immensely anti-climactic. Might be interesting to horror buffs and historians, but for the rest of humanity, this is a dated, superficial piece of horror fiction, which doesn't represent the best of its genre or its era.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Flashback Review: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

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One of Carpenter's most ambitious projects to date, Escape From New York (1981) is the auteur at his best. Visually, this is Carpenter firing on all cylinders, creating shot after shot of atmospheric, shadow-laden visuals and a world that feels ugly and spellbinding at the same time. It is also Carpenter's coldest, most cynical film, with nary a character that can be considered a "hero". Here, all characters - including Snake Plissken - are selfish, violent, nihilistic people, looking out for themselves and themselves alone, resulting in a bleak, yet darkly humorous film.

With Escape From New York, Carpenter delivered a hit that looked and felt big, despite costing only $5 million dollars, proving that he was ready for the big leagues. This led to him making what many consider his best film, The Thing (1982), a ferocious, bleak masterpiece of Lovecraftian proportions.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Flashback Review: CHRISTINE (1983)

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Made after the cold reception to his masterpiece The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), based on the hit novel by Stephen King, is John Carpenter as a hired hand. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, as Carpenter is a master of his craft, and Christine, despite its faults, is a compelling, atmospheric horror movie, with plenty to offer in terms of visuals, mood, sound design, and performances.

Where Christine falters is in its abrupt pacing and an under-polished script, especially when it comes to characterization. It also suffers from being one of Carpenter's least ambitious and personal films, with a particularly underwhelming climax. It does feature one of Carpenter's best soundtracks, a hypnotic, eerie score, with disturbing washes of synthesizers and thumping arpeggios. And despite all its faults, Christine is a film that begs for repeated viewings, as, ultimately, this is John Carpenter we are talking about here, and even with a flawed script, his mastery of the medium and his skills as a storyteller ensure that Christine is never boring and always gorgeous to look at.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.


More than two decades since it first appeared on the air, and 14 years after its final, frustrating episode, "The Truth", The X-Files returned to TV in January 2016, with creator Chris Carter, and stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, back on board. Expectations were high, which is understandable, as The X-Files is one of the finest shows to ever air on TV, with its emphasis on quality writing, stylized and disturbing visuals, and a dense, paranoid mythology. Yes, its last couple of seasons were extremely uneven, and it ended more with a whimper than with a bang. But the 2008 feature film, X-Files: I Want To Believe, was a return to form, promising good things to come from Carter and co.

Eight years later, here we are, with the new season now out, with six episodes that, more or less, showcase everything that is great about The X-Files.

Starting with the deliciously paranoid opener, "My Struggle: Part 1", written and directed by Chris Carter, the series kicks off with a bang, with Mulder and Scully dragged into a new conspiracy involving shadow governments, alien technology, and the possibility of Scully being part alien herself! The opening episode is a bit slow to get going and a little rough around the edges, with Duchovny and Anderson a bit on the chilly side in terms of their portrayals of the iconic characters. But the last third of the episode is frantic, paranoid fun, with Carter writing and directing one of the best season openers of the entire run of the series.

The second episode, "Founder's Mutation", written and directed by James Wong (who with Glenn Morgan made up one of the best writing teams to ever grace the X-Files staff) is an entertaining, if uneven and incoherent. episode, with a half-baked story of gene tampering and teens with psychic abilities. It has some intriguing visuals and a couple of good moments for Mulder and Scully, but, overall, an average episode.

The third episode, "Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster", written and directed by Darin Morgan (who makes his return to the show as writer after leaving in the third season) is a funny, witty, visually compelling episode, with a large dose of Morgan's brand of offbeat humor. It has some great scenes, and Duchovny and Anderson seem to be enjoying the hell out of the whole thing. But it needed a stronger director than Morgan to bring it to life, as one gets the feeling that under the direction of someone like the late, great Kim Manners (who directed Humbug, another great episode written by Darin Morgan) it would have been an even better episode; maybe even a classic. As it is, it's a very good episode, full of wit and energy, but something about the pacing is off, and it isn't as funny as it could have been. Astute viewers will catch a number of easter eggs that Morgan put in the episode.

The fourth episode, "Home Again", written and directed by Glenn Morgan, is one of the best episodes of this season, harking back to those great stand-alone horror stories that the series did so well on the first three seasons of the show. It's tightly directed, creepy, layered, and gives Scully a meaty storyline that Anderson can sink her teeth into. It's also a touching episode, and a gift for die-hard fans of the show. A winner all around.

The fifth, and arguably best episode of the season, is Chris Carter's "Babylon",  a controversial story about Islamist terrorists, the afterlife, and the power of the human mind. It's a stunningly original episode, with Carter once again tackling one of the themes essential to The X-Files: the search for God. It's a cleverly written episode that, despite being a bit heavy-handed in places, delivers on all fronts, with terrific performances from all involved, haunting visuals, and a great final scene. A classic.

The sixth and final episode of the season, "My Struggle: Part 2", again written and directed by Carter, is, without a doubt, one of the most effective season finales in the history of The X-Files, with a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers. It's superbly paranoid, with Carter throwing everything but the kitchen sink in terms of hitting all of our fear buttons (contagions, government conspiracies, Armageddon, loved ones falling terminally ill). It's too talky for its own good, with long scenes filled with exposition, and the direction seems a bit rushed at some points. But, ultimately, this is a terrifically entertaining episode, with a break-neck pace, and a deliciously evil performance by William B. Davis as Cancer Man.

Carter has already stated that this is not the end of The X-Files. And how could it be? It would be cruel to end it all with the fates of Mulder and Scully hanging in the balance like that. But that's the future. For now, fans can rest assured that The X-Files is back. This is not the confused and confusing X-Files of season 6-9. This is The X-Files of the first five seasons, with style, compelling stories, and terrific visuals.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.