1 November 2010

Halloween at Writers' Block North East

I'm in the unusual position of having reviewed all of last week's new releases last week, with the exception of The Kids Are All Right (come back on Wednesday or go over to Den of Geek around about... now), so it's as good a time as any to talk about the work of Writers' Block North East.

For Halloween last night, they held their monthly(ish) film discussion group, and in a makeshift and very off-hand kind of way, I programmed the double bill horror screening. I rave about films on here and how they need to be better, so it obviously had to be something from the paragon of great horror movies. Did I pair Onibaba and The Haunting? Or go for a John Carpenter twofer with The Thing and Halloween? Fuck no, I plumped for Trick 'r' Treat and Burning Bright.

First off, let me catch you up. Writers' Block North East is a group for creative stuff and a drop-in centre for all manner of writers, centred in Middlesbrough and organised by the wonderful team of Laura Degnan and James Harris. I say "wonderful team" because in the week that Let Me In comes out, I'm aware of my own presumption that people who criticise actual creative work on the Internet have to be invited into dwellings where actual constructive work is occurring, and they're kind enough to allow me on the premises.

More than that, they got my first produced script all finished when I won their competition to write a Potter Puppet Pals style parody, complete with actual puppets. Doctor Who and the Inky Doom is currently in need of a follow-up, in which I'll surely manage to avoid sticking my head and/or shoulder in the back of the shot when operating the Matt Smith puppet. While work continues on the sequel, Inky Doom is presented on YouTube below, for your enjoyment.

So, to the business of Halloween. Having neglected to turn up in costume, I was a bit taken aback by the full-on face paint stand operated by John Noble, one of our resident actors/directors/ridiculously creative people. Someone else brought a carved pumpkin. I brought a perennial Halloween film that's only three years old, and a film where a tiger chases an autistic kid around a house.

So first off, we watched Trick 'r Treat. For those unfamiliar, it's the Bryan Singer-produced anthology horror homage, in which four interlinking stories unfold over one Halloween night. Crossing between stories is Sam, ostensibly a little kid dressed up as a scarecrow, but actually a vicious little bastard who doesn't like it when people don't get into the spirit of the evening.

I saw this film earlier this year, and decided right then that I would watch it every Halloween. It may not have the iconic status of those films I mentioned earlier on, but it perfectly captures the spirit of the event with a grim sense of humour and a surprisingly high youth mortality rate. The acting is great, with particularly great performances by the newly-cuckolded Lizard from the Spider-Man sequels, Dylan Baker, and a deliciously cantankerous turn by Brian Cox.

The reaction from the Writers' Block patrons was pretty positive. It's a great start to any Halloween marathon, so naturally, we moved onto the combo-breaking killer animal flick Burning Bright. This one plays out a little like one of those Lemony Snicket books, not only in the central idea of an unscrupulous guardian trying to kill off orphans, but in how the blurb connects disparate elements like a tiger, a hurricane, a scholarship and a cameo by Meat Loaf as a tiger dealer.

It's obviously got a higher budget than the usual direct-to-DVD schlock with this kind of premise. They bothered to wrangle real tigers rather than attempt hokey CGI. While it's cheesy, and slow to get moving even at a mere 70 minutes in length, it eventually got the desired reaction out of the audience. They laughed their arses off. All the same, it's extremely well-intentioned. Its cast, aside from Mr. Loaf, are mostly on the cusp of renown for acting in other, more prestigious films, but none of them are snidey or ironic in their presence. In particular, Briana Evigan proves a tough as nails horror heroine- who would have expected it of that one lass from Step Up?

The direct-to-DVD double bill went down a treat, and I'm sure I'll blog about other film discussion groups at Writers' Block as and when they occur- I think the next one is Christmas-themed, so even though I'm not programming it, I'm lobbying for The Muppet Christmas Carol and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Don't hold your breath for that festive twofer though- it's time for me to be quiet and write something new for the Doctor and Amy Pond...

Writers' Block North East is currently situated in the We Are Open space on Albert Road, Middlesbrough- add them on Facebook and Twitter. Trick 'r Treat and Burning Bright are both currently available on DVD.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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