The Welcome to the Blumhouse Halloween horror series is back—airing on Prime and featuring emerging, diverse voices in the genre. In keeping with last year’s general feel, this year’s first two films are light on the scares and heavy on the social commentary.
‘Bingo Hell’—No Jackpot
First up is Bingo Hell, a flick focusing on elderly neighborhood activist Lupita (Academy Award nominee Adriana Barraza), as she grapples with the gentrification of her beloved barrio and the hostile takeover of her favorite hangout, the bingo hall. The once-fun senior citizen sanctuary’s new owner is Mr. Big (Richard Brake, 3 From Hell), and while the mysterious stranger is stimulating the economy, he’s also creating more business than ever for the local mortuary… bingo’s biggest winners are ultimately losing their lives, and Lupita is determined to find out why.
Money is truly the root of evil in picturesque Oak Springs—each player who receives a dollar-sign stamp on the back of their hand finds that the mark is poison. But they don’t care; they’re too addicted to the game to turn back. It burns its way into their bloodstreams, turning them into greedy creatures that ultimately dissolve into puddles of greenish goo. Only Lupita is unaffected, and her warnings fall of deaf ears as her friends and neighbors become slaves to the almighty dollar.
Director Gigi Saul Guerrero (Blumhouse’s Into the Dark: Culture Shock) keeps things lively with cartoonish colors and over-the-top performances. Her work here is reminiscent of a watered-down John Waters—Bingo Hell rolls out a horror-lite carnival of creeps because these made-for-TV movies are meant to be more fun than scary. It is fun at first—Lupita is a dynamic character, and Barraza plays her perfectly—but there are far too many long, heavy-handed, static conversations about the socio-economical situation.
Unfortunately, the premise wears thin long before the end credits roll, and nuance is nowhere to be found. Worse, the messages are mixed. Yes, previous generations paved the way for better lives for their children; no, they don’t want the wealthy whippersnappers moving into their neighborhood. No, the oldsters will not go down without a fight; yes, they will gladly move away when all is said and done.
‘Black As Night’—Could Have Been Darker
Black As Night is another flick focused on a group of underdogs defending their neighborhood—but now it’s the teens’ turn to kick some supernatural ass. Basically, it’s an old After-School Special clashing with classic Candyman vibes.
Fifteen-year-old French Quarter-adjacent resident Shawna (Asjha Cooper, There’s Someone Inside Your House) vows to even the score when local vampires suck the blood of her drug-addicted mom. These creepy creatures have been slipping into the projects to drain the lives of the disenfranchised, and Shawna will stop at nothing to drive them out. She forms a posse with her best friend, her would-be boyfriend, and a nerdy horror book fan, but the teen soon finds herself in over her head (and throat) when she’s caught in a centuries-old conflict between warring vampire families, each determined to claim New Orleans as their permanent home.
Once again, Blumhouse has messages to deliver, and it’s none too subtle about it… I really miss intelligent, allegorical horror films that invite the viewer to think for themselves. Perhaps today’s short attention spans are to blame. What’s more, the characters are constantly referring to their race and sexuality in all of their conversations—Pedro (Fabrizio Guido) is particularly grating. Yay for diversity and inclusion, but we get it already!
Director Maritte Lee Go keeps things moving along well—the visuals and music are fantastic—until she runs out of gas toward the middle of the third act. Cooper saves the day (or night, as the case may be) as actor and narrator. She’s extremely likable, and she does a great job of portraying Shawna’s quick journey from shy and awkward girl to scrappy, take-charge young woman. David Keith, who plays the main vampire, is always sublime. While he chews as much scenery as necks, his onscreen presence is more than welcome.