Sunday, July 31, 2016


Fun, polished, and very well-produced horror/thriller TV show set in 1983, with terrific performances from all involved (especially Winona Ryder as a mother trying to find her missing son, and Millie Bobby Brown as the psychic, Eleven) and spot on characterization.

What is surprising, however, is how unoriginal the plot is, as it borrows wholesale from Stephen King's It and Firestarter and plenty of Steven Spielberg's movies from the early 80's. I get the idea of paying tribute to what you loved watching growing up, but the show hasn't a single fresh idea under its sleeve.

It is true that the well-written characters and the filmmakers' masterful grasp of atmosphere make this an entertaining and compelling show, but considering the hype, and the quality of all other aspects of the show, one would expect a little bit more effort to have been put into the plotting (there are plot holes galore), while the final episode is probably the weakest installment of the whole series, with an ending that fails to give a satisfying, emotionally resonant conclusion to the story.

Still, flaws aside, this is quality TV, with plenty to offer, and one of the most entertaining dark fantasies to air on TV in a long, long time. Recommended.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Quick Review: HUSH (2016)

Original Poster
Clever, intense, and inventive horror/suspense thriller. But the overly dark cinematography, dour tone, and an implausible final act prevent it from being great.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Quick Review: BURYING THE EX (2014)

A disappointing, minor effort from master filmmaker Joe Dante (Gremlins, The 'Burbs), with earnest performances and a few laugh-out-loud moments. Overall, this is a forgettable horror-comedy, with little to recommend it.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Quick Review: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980): Director's Cut

Cold, endlessly sleazy exploitation film - about a disturbed Vietnam vet turned vigilante - with lifeless performances and a general mood of unpleasantness. Surprisingly, it has achieved cult status and was followed by a sequel produced by Cannon Films in 1984. The opening sequence set in the battlefields of Vietnam is great, though.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Quick Review: THE FINAL GIRLS (2015)

Terrific horror-comedy/80's slasher tribute that fires on all cylinders. Benefits greatly from a sharp script, endearing performances, and tons of energy and originality. One of the few movies of the past 25 years that manages to be simultaneously scary, funny, and touching. A must for horror fans, this is bound to become a classic.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Book Review: THE CLEWISTON TEST by Kate Wilhelm

Original Paperback Cover
Dark, astute psychological thriller focusing on an experiment to test a new drug that would revolutionize pain management, and the experiment's effect on every member of the team of scientists involved. It is sharply written and features some terrific characterization. Marred only by some stilted dialogue and a complete lack of humor.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Flashback Review: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and GHOSTBUSTERS 2 (1989)

Once a thing becomes a crucial part of global pop culture, it's easy to dismiss it as a fun, silly, harmless piece of entertainment that we take for granted. But Ghostbusters (1984) deserves more credit than that. To my mind, it is still one of the riskiest, strangest, most original blockbusters ever made, with a story that is beyond categorizing, and a mood that is impossible to replicate. Basically the brainchild of Dan Aykroyd, one of the most eccentric comedians of the past century, Ghostbusters is part horror film, part comedy, and part special-effects extravaganza, which doesn't miss a beat. It has, surprisingly, aged very well. Yes, the effects are primitive by today's standards, but the jokes and the scares still work, while the undeniable chemistry between the entire cast is still magic on screen.

It is interesting to note that Ghostbusters was a film that was considered a huge risk by Columbia Pictures, since its mixture of horror and comedy had never been done that way before, and the producers worried that a cast of actors mostly known for their TV work (the cast is made up almost entirely of Saturday Night Live and Second City cast members), wouldn't prove to be box-office gold.

A sequel and hundreds of millions of dollars later, all doubters were proven wrong.


It was inevitable that, after the mega success of the original, a sequel was going to be made. Reportedly, all involved were reluctant to make a sequel, feeling that they wouldn't be able to top what they achieved with the original. But pressure from the studio and barrels of money thrown at them changed their minds, resulting in what many consider to be a disappointment.

Almost twenty years after it was made, and upon watching it for the first time in more than a decade, I found Ghostbusters II to be less of a disappointment than I remembered, but it still is a disappointment. It lacks the energy and the incomparable zaniness of the original, and Bill Murray seems a bit on auto-pilot this time around. But writers Aykroyd and Ramis still have many tricks up their sleeves, with the film having some terrifically inventive ideas and gags. The effects here are also better than in the original. Overall, Ghostbusters II holds up much better than I remembered, and is a worthy if flawed successor to the the groundbreaking original.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Book Review: THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin

Overhyped and a critics' darling, Justin Cronin's The Passage is an epic, if overlong thriller, with plenty to offer. Marketed as a "literary" vampire thriller, The Passage is not a vampire novel in the traditional sense, as Cronin is more interested in the characters' relationship dynamics and the myriad cliffhangers than in bloodsuckers and vampire killers. The vampires, for the most part, are used as a "mcguffin" to weave the strands of a gargantuan tale of survival, good vs. evil, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

It doesn't always work, as Cronin bites off more than he can chew, as the genre-hopping nature of the book (from melodrama, to thriller, to horror, to post-apocalyptic drama) is occasionally more dizzying than thrilling, and the large tapestry of characters and Cronin's penchant for sentimentality all get in the way of the storytelling.

But, overall, this is grand storytelling, addictive and entertaining, even if it's a bit overcooked and about a hundred pages too long (it clocks in at over 870 pages).

The first part of a trilogy that continues with The Twelve, and concludes with the 2016 release of The City of Mirrors.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.