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


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.