MOVIE REVIEW: BINGO HELL & BLACK AS NIGHT serve up social commentary with scares in WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE


The first 2 entries of Amazon’s WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE for 2021 address the issue of gentrification through different lenses of Faustian bargains and vampiric encroachment in BINGO HELL and BLACK AS NIGHT

One of the big surprises from last year in horror was the collaboration between horror hitmaker Blumhouse and Amazon Studios in their series of films for Prime Video called WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE. An anthology of films released for the Halloween holiday, it served as a sort of spiritual successor to Blumhouse’s INTO THE DARK series for seasonal made for streaming horror films. Both serve as a way for Blumhouse to break in new voices in horror storytelling who have interesting things to say using genre filmmaking as a milieu. The first 2 entries in 2021’s WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE, BINGO HELL by Gigi Saul Guerrero and BLACK AS NIGHT by Maritte Lee Go, both speak on the issue of gentrification in different ways but both speak to the minority experience and incursion by a more powerful element trying to drive out people from their neighborhoods and take over in a way that relates to all audiences regardless of background.

In BLACK AS NIGHT, we meet Shawna (Ashja Cooper) a teenage girl growing up in New Orleans. Setting up a vampire take in New Orleans already brings the tropes of Anne Rice vampire novels to mind, but to Go’s credit it doesn’t go in that easy direction. BLACK AS NIGHT has more of a coming of age, Lost Boys by way of Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe to it. Shawna comes from a broken home and her mother has left the family due to issues with drug addiction; which manifest more so when she is a target of vampires roaming her neighborhood who make a target out of Shawna, her mother, as well as other easily forgettable members of the community like the indigent, who are proportionately people of color, in a bid to ‘take over.’ The symbolism and allusion to gentrification by using the trope of vampirism is a really clever take and as such is one of the shining bits of screenwriter Sherman Payne’s script. While the voiceover narration positing this as having already happened by the time we hear it does take away some element of immersion by the viewer, the performances and NOLA atmosphere add a lot and make the film a compelling watch.

Similarly, Gigi Saul Guerrero’s BINGO HELL is also saying something more on the nose about gentrification in this story about a Faustian takeover of an older working-class Latino neighborhood by diabolic fortunes. BINGO HELL follows Lupita (Adriana Barraza from Penny Dreadful City of Angels), who runs a bingo hall amongst a small community of senior citizens all struggling to make their way. One day, Lupita is blindsided to find that the management of the bingo hall has changed and is now run by Mr. Big (Richard Brake), a figure right out of Stephen King’s Needful Things by way of Wishmaster. He offers to make each of his player’s dreams come true but at the price of their souls. Guerrero’s art direction and effects give the whole proceeding a very CREEPSHOW kind of vibe to it and in many ways, this feels like a missing Creepshow vignette. But Barraza’s performance as well as Brake, coupled with that of L. Scott Caldwell as a grandmother struggling to connect with her daughter-in-law and grandson, really made this work for me. The social commentary is a little heavy-handed but it makes its point about the devilish man with resources wanting what a small community has persevered for just to make himself a profit.

WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE has 2 more entries on the way this coming week, MADRES and THE MANOR, but if these 2 are a barometer of the quality, then we have a lot to look forward to in seeing different voices in genre storytelling delivering powerful statements using horror as their bullhorn. Check out WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE for more interesting voices being given a spotlight to tell their tale under this umbrella.