The second set of the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” films appears to be starting with barely a whimper. First up, we have a twisted tale of homeless vampires and gentrification of the Projects in Maritte Lee Go’s Black as Night. Next, Bingo Hell deals with a different side of gentrification, as well as consuming bingo balls. It is basically Stephen King’s Needful Things, featuring an appealingly weird stranger, Mr. Big (Richard Brake), as he takes over the barrio’s local bingo hall. Both films bring the gore, but lack in characters, unique style, and narrative thrust. Slight, forgettable horror that feels like it belongs in the dollar bin at Walmart is not the type of criteria I expect when diving into a Blumhouse feature. Yet, this was the energy both movies were giving me. Bingo Hell is slightly better than Black as Night, though that is not saying much.
Vampires may not be my favorite subgenre of horror, but when done right, their brand of bloody delights can serve to quench one’s thirst. Black As Night is too content with checking off every cliche in the book to remember that it needs to be able to stand on its own. Set in New Orleans (which should have been an automatic home run), we follow Shawna (Asjha Cooper) during a tumultuous summer where she must come face-to-face with vampiric horrors. Using Shawna’s narration falls victim to the same trappings as many films using this technique. It is clunky, and adds not a single iota of insight. It feels thrown in as an afterthought when realizing how flat our lead character actually is written on the page.
Shoehorning in a cheesy love story seems out of left field. A random love story no one cares about was just not the way to win me over. Keith David playing the big bad vampire supremacist, who builds an evil vampire army to turn into soldiers, does not even come into the fray until late in the game. The poof of dust each time a vamp gets staked has been executed better elsewhere. Played for laughs or not, there is nothing scary at all when it comes to the vampires of Black As Night. The ridiculous line near the end about Shawna having survived “the summer I got breasts and fought vampires,” feels lifted from a different movie entirely. Bordello of Blood is a far stronger vampire story, even with significantly less of a social commentary.
Bingo Hell seems conversely constructed mainly to tackle the themes of gentrification, as well as the poor being addicted to the lottery. Richard Brake makes for a great villain—his “big winner” license plate, speeches about unfulfilled desires, and opening up Mr. Big Bingo “under new management” mold Mr. Big into a fully-realized character that deserves a better film to back him. He wants to make all one’s dreams come true! If we had been more focused on Mr. Big and less on a group of uninteresting elderly folks, I am confident this would be a stronger movie all around. It is nice to see someone like Adriana Barraza running the show with her badass attitude and talents she carries to Lupita.
Melodramatic music does Bingo Hell no favors. I found it more distracting than anything, and it left me even further confused about the ultimate tone they were attempting here. It certainly was not scary in the slightest. As Lupita grows more entangled in the twisted bingo world, she notices her friends and neighbors are being taken from her, even if she didn’t particularly love any of them in the first place. There is a moment where Lupita bumps a random hipster with coffee on purpose, and wildly cackles when they spill the hot beverage. The final act elevates it slightly; I can only wish that Bingo Hell had a stronger script that did not leave me feeling as if I was in hell myself for watching it.
I cannot remember the last time I was as disappointed with two movies as these, the first in Blumhouse’s horror-centric Welcome to the Blumhouse films for Amazon Prime. Black As Night gave me dull vampire action, whilst Bingo Hell was a straightforward Stephen King ripoff that only goes halfway in on its bonkers premise. Bubbling frustrations and floundering, simplistic characterization take the tragedy of disappointment to a new level. These are not only poorly made films; they also are terrible horror movies. With a cast as good as this, the “bury your gays” trope and CGI-blood feel done on purpose to add fuel to the fire. Both are thematically similar, so in this way I suppose it is a blessing they dropped together on Amazon Prime. Maybe next time, Blumhouse can return to the roots of quality pictures, because Black as Night and Bingo Hell are not cutting it.
Black as Night
Black as Night and Bingo Hell are both streaming now, exclusively as part of the Welcome to the Blumhouse film series, on Amazon Prime.