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Monday, Oct 15, 2007


In the world of horror, you either “get” Lucio Fulci or you don’t. After starting his career in Italian cinema as a genre jack-of-all-trades (moving from comedies to westerns to musicals), he found himself hated by his homeland when he made the scathingly anti-Catholic Don’t Torture a Duckling (which hinted at the whole “priest-pedophile” issue years before it was acceptable). It took almost a decade before Zombi 2 (or as we here in the States known it, Zombie) refurbished his box office clout, turning Lucio into one of the most recognizable international brand names for excessive gore epics.


Zombie was followed by The City of the Living Dead (AKA Gates of Hell), a notorious bloodbath featuring young women vomiting up their internal organs and a man getting an industrial drill thrust through his head (all witnessed in loving close-up). Toward the end of his career, he was accused of repeating himself (The House by the Cemetery) or creating low budget, incoherent junk (House of Clocks, Cat in the Brain). Right in the middle of it all was the film that many consider to be his masterpiece, the often misunderstood and named The Beyond (or The Seven Doors of Death or And You Will Live in Terror: The Afterlife). It combined the guts and grue of Fulci’s newfound fondness for flesh rendering with a hyper-stylized visual flair and somber, sullied Southern Gothic overtones.


Over the twenty-five or so years since its release, The Beyond has developed a loyal and loud cult that champions its artistry and voices frustration at the horrible hack job it is usually made available in. For a long time, the only way to see this Fulci flick was to rent or buy an abysmal, pan and scan full screen edit job with the strangely suggestive Seven Doors title. Missing most of its slaughter, a good five minutes of mood setting prologue, and rendering the already jumbled film into an even more disjointed collection of random cuts, it was the stunted remnant the rabid Fulci fan had to dig his or her claws into. Thanks to the efforts of the unlikely duo of Sage Stallone (Sly’s son), who oversaw a major restoration of the movie, and Quentin Tarantino, who distributed it through his Rolling Thunder prestige label, The Beyond got its comeback (sadly, Fulci died before the rediscovery was in full swing). The end result, however, may be a small swatch of disappointment.


Our story begins when Liza Merrill inherits a dilapidated hotel in Louisiana from a distant relative. Naturally, she moves from the big city to the Big Easy to start anew. When one of the workmen helping to refurbish the place has a horrible accident, it seems to portend terrible things to come. A plumber named Joe is attacked and killed in the basement, and a long dead corpse is discovered. Joe’s wife dies of an accidental acid bath to the face. Then Liza runs into a blind girl named Emily who warns her about the inn’s haunted past. More gory accidents occur.


Soon it is learned that sixty years before, a warlock named Schweick lived in the lodge and occupied Room 36. The hotel was apparently built over one of the seven gateways to hell, and the strange sorcerer was either working to keep it closed…or trying to find a way of opening it. With the help of a local doctor and an ancient book, Liza must discover the truth about the “doors of death” and face down evil before the dead walk the Earth and plunge the planet into a nightmare world of malevolence.


The Beyond is an incoherent, chaotic combination of Italian terror and monster movie grave robbing that is almost saved by its bleak, atmospheric ending. It is a wretched gore fest sprinkled with wonderfully evocative touches. It has more potential than dozens of past and present Hollywood horror films, yet finds ways to squander and squelch each and every golden gruesome opportunity. It’s a movie that gets better with multiple viewings, familiarity lessening the startling goofiness of some of the dialogue and dubbing. It is a film that is far more effective in recollection than it is as an actual viewing experience. It would probably work best as a silent movie, stripped of the illogical scripting, stupendously redundant Goblin-in-training soundtrack drones, and obtuse aural cues.


Fulci is more than capable of creating stark and moving visuals, and there is nothing wrong with linking them together to form a dreamlike state of ambiguousness, but the problem with The Beyond is that the stream of consciousness style fails to build into an effective state of dread. Instead of being mortified at what’s around the corner, or what waits in darkened Room 36, we are pitched about like Tilt-a-Whirl patrons, the film hoping we are pleased with a less than smooth suspense ride.



The Beyond also suffers from the drawbacks of its ethnic heritage, a mishmash of ogre overkill that could be called the Pasta Eater’s Prerequisites to Heavy-Handed Horror. First and foremost in any Sicilian scare-a-thon, there must be a blank-eyed woman who seems determined and empowered in one scene, but that can also become completely useless and scatterbrained the next. She must radiate innocent virginity as she embarks on soul blackening escapades. There must be strange entities materializing from the ether, ghouls, ghosts, or spirits hanging out in the material world to warn or haunt us. There is always a pissed-off dog or monkey hanging around, some manner of mauling mammal to boost the beast factor.


And as with all pathways to a Roman roundelay, all Italian horror roads lead to zombies: slow, dull-witted, seemingly nonchalant members of the living dead who are more sedate than scary. Indeed, Fulci is not out to make his flesh eaters visions of cannibalistic evil. In some ways, the reanimated corpses in The Beyond are like plot point speed bumps, ambulatory path blockers that mandate the characters maneuver around or circumvent them in order to advance the storyline. They are never menacing, never seen munching on arms or even breaking a sweat. About the most macabre thing any of the clamoring cadavers do occurs when Joe, a plumber turned pus bucket, forces a wall spike through the back of the head (and up through the eye socket) of an unwitting victim.


The ocular issues of Italian filmmakers are another concern altogether. Speaking of peepers, Fulci does have his own unique fixations, fear fetishes if you will, that get overplayed and exaggerated in The Beyond. He must have had some blunt trauma to the eyeball at some point in his life, or a desire to deliver said, since he is absolutely obsessed with removing the gooey sight orbs from out of their slushy sockets. Ghouls poke them out, spiders chew them up, and random acts of fire burn and blind them. When we’re not witnessing the purposeful removal of the soul’s windows via cruel and unusual punishment, we are compositionally close up on them, director and cameraman filling their frame with bloodshot or baby blue marbles emoting to beat the band. Fulci is a director who takes the description of cinema as a “visual” medium both figuratively and literally.


Still, the focusing on one’s corneas is not the only thing obsessing this Mediterranean maniac. Lucio also likes to place his characters and action underground, usually in a filthy, body-strewn catacomb or water filled basement. Doesn’t make any difference if logic and location renders the setting stupid or impossible, if he can bury it beneath the Earth, Fulci is placing his plot in it. This means lots of darkened shots of people standing around, wet and dirty, just as confused as the audience about where they are and what lies ahead. Of course, this should all be incredibly moody and spine chilling, right? Sure, and tiramisu was Julius Caesar’s favorite food. Unfortunately, these fascinations are more monotonous than affecting. The choices are all obvious, the symbolism as rote and routine as a grad student’s short story. Yet without them, the film would be missing one of its main selling points. It just wouldn’t be a bit of Lucio lunacy without them.


And then there’s the gore. Italians in general (and Fulci specifically) love to ladle on the red sauce, and we ain’t talking about Mama’s homemade manicotti gravy here. If there is a chance to feature the inner workings of the human body in all their claret giving grisliness, Fulci will provide untold moments of chests bursting open, guts flowing like Vesuvius, and wounds gaping like waterless goldfish. A gash is not just a cut; it’s an open pipeline to the human circulatory system. When something bites or bashes someone, it causes untold internal hemorrhaging that always finds some way to spray out and spill all over the surfaces.


Blood is poured like syrup over dry IHOP pancakes and the camera is always moving in to capture the viscera and cartilage as it’s folded, spindled, and mutilated. Unlike the surgeon’s precision of Tom Savini or a warped weirdness of Rob Bottin, the Roman and Tuscan tongue gouger enjoy languishing over the mayhem their makeup creates and even muck it up a bit more to increase its lunch loosening. They can produce some truly spectacular and disturbing imagery, but they are also capable of constructing everything to look as fake as the forehead on an Irwin Allen alien. Imagination and malignancy are not attributes missing from their latex and greasepaint gross out kit, but occasionally, things can really look more or less mannequin.



So, with all these potentially nauseating engrossments in hand, it’s hard to understand why The Beyond is not a better movie. There are boatloads of body parts and blood. There are incredibly atmospheric settings and sequences. We get excellent shock value out of seeing a little girl’s heads explode in two and a dog rip huge chunks out of its master’s throat. Rotting corpses rise from filthy bathtubs and acid melts the faces (and most of the rest of the head) of random characters. So why aren’t we cheering in cheesy delight or mortified beyond our own moral tolerance? One answer could be overkill. After all, even a movie like Day of the Dead knew to throw a little politicizing in with its vivisection.


All The Beyond (or City of the Living Dead, or Zombi 2 for that matter) wants to do is wallow in lurid disgust until the organs offend you with their over-the-top gore and then add a scene or two of inspired visual poetry to offset the smell. Fulci is going to beat you over the head with the clots and sideswipe you with the sinew. Now fellow foreigner Dario Argento creates dream imagery we can relate to, attaching the nightmares of childhood into the real world reality of adults to disturb and unarm us. His hallucinations may seem as intangible as Lucio’s, but somehow he manages to fuse tone and texture together to create a truly unnerving experience. Fulci is all about the fester, the feel and pong of rotting flesh. Once you’ve sampled the repulsive stew, he kicks back and regroups until it’s time to serve another heaping helping.


Or maybe it’s the fact that gothic horror is just a hard sell in today’s short attention span marketplace, where werewolves battle vampires in Matrix inspired fight scenes filled with hectic stunts and CGI cartoon creatures - and yet the game playing fanboy still screams for more. Something as languid and repugnant as The Beyond just can’t register. Perhaps at an even slower pace, with more stunning images and settings, this movie would really spook. As it stands, its startlingly short running time and slapdash cinematic approach to story and scenes guarantees that once Fulci looses his audience, it’s going to be hard as hell to win them back…that is, until the ending.


It’s one of the few times where Lucio understands what he’s actually got going for him. The setting is remarkable, the acting pitch perfect, and the overall effect engrossing and yet incredibly disconcerting. It almost single handedly makes up for the previous exercise in jigsawed juvenilia. If the entire film had been handled like the last five minutes, fulfilling the prophecy the previous ninety minutes had all but mucked up, The Beyond would be a stellar work of breathtaking cinematic scope and power. As it stands, it’s just an above-average offering from a director gripped by heart juice, sewers, and tearing out tear ducts. The Beyond may be a celebrated work of forgotten genius, but why it is held in such high regard may just be “outside” your comprehension.


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Sunday, Oct 14, 2007


For dedicated horror fans, it’s the hideous Holy Grail, a cup runneth over with as much minced body parts and juiced marrow as possible. It’s the icing on a particularly nasty cake, a filling so foul in a pastry so vile that simply sampling its entrails-laced spice will send your palette to purgatory – forever! Since its popularity as a means of pushing the exploitation film into a new, non-nude dynamic, to its post-millennial pose as a redefining hardcore homage, gore has given the movie macabre its surreal, sacrilegious fascination. It’s also elevated the craftsmen behind the scenes – the make-up artists and effects technicians – to the level of Gods, beings given over to unbelievably realistic interpretations of human death and dismemberment.


For those of us who love dread, splatter is often viewed as the demon drug of the otherwise subtle and subjective spookshow, the next step in our genre appreciation, that uneasy leap from bone rattling to bone breaking. Some cinematic categories couldn’t survive without it. Imagine, a zombie epic without some flesh feasting, or a slasher film where the killer’s injurious intent is illustrated by a simple fade to black. For those who like to think of horror as a disease, a blight on movies comparable to tawdry XXX fare, gore is like the pop shot at the end of a rather aggressive sex scene. It’s the raison d’etra, the punchline at the completion of a jaundiced joke, a way of rewarding audience patience and solving narrative incompleteness with severed limbs and missing heads.


And yet, for some in the fear faction, gore isn’t groovy. It’s a cheap date that puts out, even when you don’t want it to, a shortcut scapegoat that argues for aesthetic sloppiness and a lack of true imagination. It’s the fart joke in the family comedy, the terminal disease that makes an already overdone drama more saccharine. While there are bigger abominations in horror – the continued Euro-trashing of vampires, the purposeful PG-13ing of content – many view the excess of blood to be indicative of what’s wrong with the contemporary creepfest. Citing old school scares like the Universal monsters and Haunting style ghost stories, they reject grue’s carnival barker bravado and cheap shot sentiments.


Of course, DVD has only broadened the debate, studios and their hired hands using the format’s ability to manipulate and reconfigure footage to produce dozens of unrated and unedited director’s/collector’s cuts. While there are rare cases when the new, MPAA-less version offers nothing new except extended dialogue and expositional material, that the vast majority of the updates are nothing more than moments of sluice originally rejected as inappropriate. Purists tend to balk at such an unnecessary reworking, while the more aggressive in the gorehound community argue that all censored scenes should arrive on home video in contradiction to their previous violated state.



But beyond the “us vs. them”, the classicist’s clash with the craven, the question remains – why is gore so satisfying? Why does it sicken some and excite others? Is there a psychological basis for such a dichotomy, or does it all just boil down to some manner of cinematic constitution. After all, there are awarding-winning dramas (Saving Private Ryan) and celebrated satires (anything by Monty Python) that uses blood and its excessive letting as a means to a much more viable ends. And while there would be some who’d actually enjoy the experience, no one is suggesting that actual autopsies be filmed and featured as the latest horror trend. No, somewhere between realism and revulsion lies the gruesome’s gonzo appeal. Tracing a path to its current controversial acceptance may lend some insight into what is, notoriously, a rather contentious creative predisposition.


For many, gore came to the fore after old school exploiteers Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman decided that the nudist colony film was fading. Always looking for a new way of bringing gratuity to the grindhouse, they decided that violence was the next great unexplored option. Now, substituting terror for titillation may not seem like the soundest business model, but the duo knew that their outsider status mandated moving the film medium beyond the simple and safe. It was their purpose to tweak cinematic taboos, and since sex and brutality had been longstanding Hays Code no-no’s, what better subjects to celebrate. But by 1963, everyone and their ballyhooing brother were filming strippers for cash. Lewis and Friedman saw the wanton writing on the wall, and decided to delve into gratuity’s dark side.


The one-two punch of Blood Feast (1963) and 2000 Maniacs (1964) proved to be intensely profitable. While they may not have started the horror subsect (it is up to others to argue over and determine the first true gore film), their success fueled a fiscal belief that terror could use a little redrum redirection. Initially, few picked up on the pair’s slice and dice dictum. It just didn’t seem like the proper paradigm for a softcore smut peddler to play in. Then the MPAA arrived, its “parental guidance” ideals putting a kibosh on everything that exploitation experts were pushing. While many spent the next few years battling First Amendment court cases, splatter gravitated underground. Aside from the occasional appearance in a high minded Hollywood effort (Bonnie and Clyde and The Exorcist, for example), it was film’s fringe dwellers who kept the claret flowing.


For many, the next great wave in motion picture pus came from Europe – and the Italians, in particular. Names like Argento, Fulci, and Bava brought the long dormant death dream back to prominence, mixing artistry with atrocity (or in some cases, just plain evil) to forge a kind of graphic Gothic approach. Movies like Suspiria delivered Grand Guignol grotesqueries back to the fore. By the end of the ‘70s, Zombi 2 and Cannibal Holocaust were pushing the boundaries of acceptability.  American filmmakers were also doing something similar. George Romero reinvented the living dead movie with his organ-caked offering Dawn of the Dead, while Friday the 13th combined slaughter with inventive make-up work to popularize the soon to be omnipresent slasher film. 


By the mid-part of the ‘80s, the genre had come into its own, with big name F/X men like Tom Savini, Rick Baker, and Rob Bottin ruling the medium’s cutting edge. Films like The Thing, The Evil Dead, and A Nightmare on Elm Street illustrated that outrageous and excessive violence could be used in undeniably compelling ways, while a landslide of direct-to-video efforts established that – sans intellectualizing or originality – splatter was destined to cannibalize itself. Sure enough, by the ‘90s, fright fans were looking for something new to tweak their tired interests. CGI gave imaginary creatures a well-deserved reprieve, while foreign fear factors – especially those from Japan and other Far East nations – offered a sly, more supernatural means of macabre. It wasn’t until the torture porn efforts of the early ‘00s that gore regained its footing. Today, it’s viewed as a necessary part of the overall horror story.



Yet none of this addresses why ample arterial spray remains so enjoyable. History has a habit of contextualizing something to the point of passivity, yet new grue mavens arrive on the scene everyday. As a matter of fact, technology has helped many of them crawl out of their fanboy basements and realize their own repugnant visions. So there is obviously something universal in the fetid format’s appeal. Yet even armchair psychologists and legitimate professionals can’t agree on a reason why. Some point to the adolescent need to rebel (citing that most blood lovers derive from the standard misspent and misunderstood youth movement) while others view it as merely a technique for experimenting with one’s own internal tolerances.


Indeed, the whole double-dare and/or water cooler nature of the set-up could explain its unusual appeal. Since, by its very nature, our social order is tied to competition, being the first on your block to see the latest gross out spectacle – and better yet, thriving on it – could be interpreted as a blatant badge of obsessive dishonor. It’s a calculated cool to be sure, but in a dynamic that tends to reward such unusual accomplishments, being able to tolerate a torso ripping isn’t the worst reward one can seek. Then, of course, there’s the standard human attribute known as morbid curiosity. Tied directly to the above-stated starvation for attention, people are notorious for wanting to stare disgust directly in the face. In addition, such sentiments are usually linked to mortality and a fear of death. Gore, therefore, may provide the panacea that allows the looky-loo a chance to feel more secure as part of this tenuous metaphysical terrain.


Yet the most obvious reason for gore’s continued interest is reflected in its execution. Filmmakers have gotten exceptionally good at such “gags”, while companies like KNB and Digital Domain transformed the terrifying into a viable art. When a throat is cut in your standard scary movie, wound gaping while rivers of blood pour from the slit, it’s not the crime that’s compelling. No, what lovers of such degradation are responding to is the tiny technical elements – the momentary pause before the skin stretches and parts, the realistic look of the flowing fluid, the actor or actresses’ performance and response, the manner in which the director frames and composes the shot. Because it can easily look like the fakest of filmic propositions, horror fans are particular about their putrescence. In fact, part of the appeal is the very “compare and contrast” nature of such appreciation.


Then there is imagination. Fear fans love to see things they’ve never witnessed before. They enjoy being treated as motion picture archivists, using the past as a means of measuring the present. The splatter specialists understand this, and strive to bring something different and exciting to each new project. Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof contains one of the most disturbing car crashes ever, the effect of the wreck on everyone involved examined and highlighted in horrific detail. Similarly, Saw III contained a sequence of brain surgery so sickening that many wondered if such a procedure was medically sound (to everyone’s surprise, it was/is). When Eli Roth offered up various power tools in his amazing Hostel, they didn’t shy away from their murderous mechanical mayhem, and in the Michael Bay produced Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Leatherface got to wield his weapon in ways original auteur Tobe Hooper could only imagine.


So maybe it is the need to stare death squarely in the face. Perhaps it stands as a cruel desire to see others suffer for the sake of a thrill. Maybe, like the canvases of Francis Bacon, devotees locate the mastery inside these massacres. Or it could just be the new age equivalent of The Depression’s desire for happy, sappy musicals. In a recent interview, Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon suggested that horror is cyclical, ebbing and flowing based on the political signs of the times. Naturally, his argument took a more liberal bent when he points out that Reagan and Bush have been responsible for the most aggressive of redolent renaissances. But he may have a point. Gore is an escape, a vision of unreality in a world overdosing on actual information. It stands as a connection to our corporeal being, a way of helping us manage our fading humanity.


And besides, it’s a great deal of illicit fun. Like discovering your Dad’s stash of Playboys when you were young, the shady, antisocial nature of such disturbing imagery represents the heavy metal equivalent of movies, the raised fist anarchy that many horror fans long to embrace. After all, the genre itself stands in direct defiance of everything that makes the artform attractive – the stories are sordid and the images brutal and disturbing. So, in retrospect, perhaps the reason that gore is good stands as part of a more common individual attribute. There will always be those who follow the flock. In contrast, certain individuals will challenge such a corrosion of conformity. For them, the battle flag is soaked in corpse-grinding suet, blood caking every facet of this rage against the mainstream machine. This is one revolution that is frequently televised – and the images are always a deep, dark red. That’s why gore is so grand. It’s also why it’s so good.


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Sunday, Oct 14, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Ani DiFranco —"Both Hands (brand new studio version)"
From Canon on Righteous Babe
Ani DiFranco to release first ever career retrospective studio album Canon,  on Righteous Babe Records. Experience the evolution of a true original over two discs hand-picked by Ani, including songs from her first album to her 19th, as well as five newly recorded classics.


His Name Is Alive —"Go To Hell Mountain"
From XMMER on Silver Mountain
His Name is Alive is well known for their ethereal, late night moods but on this new album the band picks straight up where last year’s Detrola left off and fires up an army of homemade electronics and freaked out songs that are equal parts organic and mysterious. David Bowie put Detrola in his top ten recommendations for 2006 and said it has “an early ‘70s singer/songwriter vibe plus it comes on like Karen Carpenter.” This year’s XMMER album is all that plus way more. His Name is Alive continues to create an astounding body of work that is exclusively their own.


   Shout Out Louds —"Tonight I Have To Leave It"
From Our Ill Wills on Merge
“Tonight I Have to Leave It” is the first single from Stockholm’s Shout Out Louds upcoming Merge debut full-length, Our Ill Wills. With a video for the title track, two remixes and two non-LP “b-sides” this is a great reintroduction to a Swedish band whose extraordinary 2005 debut, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (Capitol) garnered worldwide critical acclaim and placed them squarely in the middle of the current Swedish pop explosion.


Carolyn Mark —"The 1 That Got Away (with it)"
From Nothing Is Free on Mint
Nothing Is Free is a woodsy and introspective album. The recording brings an immediacy to the music that conjures up a Sunday evening spent playing instruments and singing songs on the back porch of the cabin. You know, one of those days where everything seems all Emily Carr… and, although the city seems miles away for the moment, it still looms in the corner of your mind, nodding and smirking and saying, “you’ll be back”. Carolyn knows… not even a carefree getaway to the back woods is free, it comes with the price of eventually having to leave. Fortunately for the listener, her introspection finds many other things too, not the least of which is a (sometimes dark) sense of humour and a willingness to throw caution under the truck, have all the fun humanly possible.


C.O.C.O. —"You Think But You Don’t/Tamara Dobson"
From Play Drums + Bass on K
Up from the swamps of the death disco comes a new offering from the minimalist soul group all the heads call C.O.C.O. Olivia Ness (bass, drums, vocals) and Chris Sutton (drums, bass, vocals) have been tapping the primal groove for a while now using only the most basic of instrumentation, but this time our explorers have decided to travel to the outer limits of the beat. C.O.C.O.‘s mission is simple: “Play Drums + Bass” and that credo was the inspiration for their third – without a doubt their best - record. The musical spectrum continues to expand into the nether regions of dub reggae (for a tribute to the late great Tamara Dobson) all the way to the sunny side of surf rock (the album’s closer, aptly titled “The End”).


Seabear —"I Sing I Swim"
From The Ghost That Carried Us Away on Morr Music
This album doesn’t blurt it out: There is no loud “Ta-Dah!”, no exclamation mark. The Ghost That Carried Us Away flatters in a rather unobtrusive way. However, it has encircled you after the third song at the latest. Fragile hymns of nonchalant casualness, created by the 24-year-old Sindri Már Sigfússon. Guitars, piano, his almost bashful and yet so present voice. “Nature, mortality, love”, these are the topics of his debut album.


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Sunday, Oct 14, 2007
by Frances Robles and Andres Viglucci

By Frances Robles and Andres Viglucci
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

MIAMI—As the deputy managing editor of Colombia’s newspaper La Patria, Orlando Sierra used his reporting to slam crooked politicians in Colombia’s coffee region, until the January 2002 morning when a hit man shot and killed him on the front steps of his newsroom.


When gunman Luis Fernando Soto Zapasta was quickly caught and convicted, his 29-year prison sentence came to illustrate the first signs of a growing movement: No longer do killers of Latin American journalists go scot free, as they routinely did just a few years ago.


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Sunday, Oct 14, 2007
by Liz Sly

By Liz Sly
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

CAIRO, Egypt—When rumors that President Hosni Mubarak was sick began circulating in Cairo in late August, editor Ibrahim Eissa weighed in with some of the biting commentaries that have earned his Al-Dustour newspaper a devoted readership.


“The president in Egypt is a god and the gods don’t get sick,” he wrote in a front-page editorial Aug. 30, questioning why no one in the government would address the 79-year-old president’s reported illness. “Mubarak’s state wants to present the President as someone who is sanctified, who makes no mistakes and who no one questions and no one competes against.”


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