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.


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.


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.


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.