Friday, October 1, 2021

Weekend Screen Scene: Black As Night, Bingo Hell

Last October, Amazon Prime premiered four horror films under the banner Welcome to the Blumhouse, and they're back this year with four more, with two premiering today, and two more next Friday.

While last year's films didn't exactly rise above that of "straight-to-streaming" fare, what I appreciated most about those I saw was how they told multicultural stories with diverse casts. This year seems to be following suit.

Black As Night follows Shawna (Asjha Cooper), a New Orleans teenager who can't quite shake an inferiority complex fueled by her troubled, drug addicted mother, and a brother who can't resist pointing out that the boy she has a crush on prefers lighter-skinned "Creole girls." When she's attacked and bitten one night returning from a party, she discovers the city's homeless are being turned into a vampire army, and she enlists the help of her friends to find and kill the leader.

It doesn't go without comment even within the film that this set-up is similar to another story centered on a teenage vampire slayer, and Black As Night is at times equally humorous and irreverent; I especially enjoyed the kids' ingenious use of garlic powder as chemical weapon. But it also manages to address some serious topics, like the lingering effects Hurricane Katrina continues to have on the city, and deep rooted colorism within the Black community. All that and the presence of horror movie veteran Keith David can almost make me forget the film's completely unnecessary coda.

Bingo Hell takes place in a town that bears a striking resemblance to New Orleans, but is called Oak Springs. And like post-Katrina NOLA, Oak Springs is losing its soul to hipster-fueled gentrification and vampiric developers. Lupita (Adriana Barraza), the neighborhood abuela, refuses to give up without a fight, facing each day with anger despite her aching feet and creaking back.

When the local bingo hall (bingo hall, bingo hell, get it?), is taken over by a creepy outsider and transformed into a neon filled nightmare straight from the Vegas strip, the neighborhood is initially wary--until they start to learn about the cash prizes they could win. And we all know what those kinds of winnings lead to, right?

Bingo Hell covers some of the same ground as Black As Night, though I think the latter is ultimately the better of the two. Neither is telling entirely original tales, but Black As Night holds a few more surprises