[Fantastic Fest Review] 'Bingo Hell' Champions Unlikely Heroes in Splatstick Horror-Comedy With Heart – Bloody Disgusting

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Lupita (Adriana Barraza) isn’t your average horror heroine. She’s a firecracker, for sure, but she’s also someone whose hot-tempered reputation precedes her. Lupita’s pissed off about encroaching gentrification, but beneath this abuelita’s abrasive exterior lies a passionate woman desperate to hold onto her dying community. Lupita is the precise type of heroine you want in your corner when a Faustian figure rolls into town, leaving a goopy trail of carnage in his wake. In other words, Bingo Hell grounds its gory excess with humor, heart, and a collection of unlikely heroes.
Mr. Big (Richard Brake) rolls into town, buys out Oak Springs’ old bingo hall, and transforms it into a flashy Casino-like place. The prize winnings are instantly life-changing, seducing new faces. Money can indeed buy happiness, but only in the briefest sense. Lupita, along with her long-time best friend Dolores (L. Scott Caldwell), realizes their little ramshackle community is at stake- and so are their lives.
Director Gigi Saul Guerrero, who co-wrote the script with Perry Blackshear and Shane McKenzie, uses greed and gentrification as the driving force behind this horror comedy. Guerrero gets us acclimated to the lives of Oak Springs and the ways the dying community hinders their lives before layering in horror. Lupita’s social circle is already tiny, and age means the constant threat of shrinking the circle even further. It’s the unique characters that pull you in before the arrival of Mr. Big.

Brake is a perpetual scene-stealer, and giving him the role of the central villain lets him shine. Mr. Big is charismatic yet slimy and sinister, a role that allows Brake to cut loose. With such a larger-than-life performance, the potential for Brake to steal the entire film exists. But Barraza and Caldwell’s take no prisoners attitude and grit never let him. The pair of elderly heroines match Brake’s energy with ferocity.
Where Guerrero shows surprising restraint is in the horror in the third act. There’s plenty of slime, goo, and bloodletting, but it never entirely goes for broke in the way Bingo Hell consistently teases. Guerrero peppers in plenty of gore-soaked kills or gruesome body horror moments along the path to a final confrontation, but when that moment comes, it fizzles, and the core threat can’t match the power of the buildup. Perhaps because Guerrero focuses instead on the character’s losses and triumphs over the horror, but the finale loses some energy all the same.
Bingo Hell introduces a surprising cast of characters that rarely if ever, get to shine in a horror movie. Even with all the muck of greed and gore, Lupita’s journey of discovering what a community truly means is heartwarming, but her fighting spirit brings the laughs. Brake may make for a compelling horror antagonist, reliably so, but this is Lupita’s turf, and it’s Barraza’s movie. That Bingo Hell approaches its fiery heroine and her friends with such tenderness does undermine the splatstick horror elements in part, especially in the climax. Even still, Guerrero gives a familiar Faustian bargain premise a new goopy, gory, and often entertaining coat of paint.
Bingo Hell releases on Amazon Prime on October 1, 2021.

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If there was ever a day of the year that deserved the horror movie treatment, Black Friday is the one. We’ve all seen the news footage of angry, zombie-like shoppers storming retail stores, desperate to get their hands on the latest deals with absolutely no regard for the overworked staffers. While this has been less of a common occurrence in the age of online retailers, it doesn’t make the true accounts of some of these violent incidents any less horrifying. Casey Tebo‘s Black Friday turns the metaphorical zombies into literal ones, making for a horror comedy rife with potential that it doesn’t fully capitalize on.
Ken (Devon Sawa, Final Destination) is a down-on-his-luck father in the midst of a divorce, lamenting his job as a low-level toy store employee at We ♥ Toys. He is prepared for a typically exhausting Black Friday with his fellow overworked crew of staffers, including potential love interest Marnie (Ivana Baquero, Pan’s Labyrinth), overachieving Christopher (Ryan LeeSuper 8), handy Archie (Michael Jai White, Spawn, Black Dynamite) perfect employee of the month Anita and new guy Emmett (Louie Kurtzman). Lorded over by their opportunistic manager Jonathan (Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead) and his acerbic assistant Brian (Stephen Peck), the workers initially struggle with unpaid breaks, a lack of holiday bonuses and the looming danger of trampling-by-shoppers. Unfortunately, they soon find themselves in a cosmic battle for the planet as pink, blob-like aliens begin infecting the shoppers and mutating them into vicious creatures.
Working off of a script written by Andy Greskoviak, Tebo wastes no time getting right to the carnage. Character introductions and dynamics are handled swiftly before the attacks begin. It’s in these early moments that the film is at its best, with characters feeling lived-in and the humor feeling fresh. It turns stale rather quickly, however, with the film repeating the same types of jokes over and over. There are a few quiet moments between sequences of mayhem, with one shared Thanksgiving meal between the survivors offering some nice insight into their relationships and life situations. It’s one of the few genuine moments of pathos in the film that threatens to expand these characters beyond one-dimensional stereotypes, but it’s a threat that goes unfulfilled. 
Similarly disappointing is the misuse of the toy store as a setting.  This is a fun, colorful locale with plenty of opportunities for creativity when it comes to horror movie set pieces, but Black Friday seems content to treat it as any other drab warehouse. Nowhere to be seen are cleverly shot cat-and-mouse sequences between the aisles and we rarely see the creative use of toys as weapons. It’s all played loud and dumb, which makes for a perfectly acceptable (if not particularly memorable) viewing experience. It’s just unfortunate that you’ll find more bizarre hijinks and better kills in the all-too-brief climax of 2019’s Child’s Play remake.
Bruce Campbell
Black Friday opts to go the surface-level route in its social critique, with a few lines about corporate greed and American consumerism thrown in for good measure. It’s just disappointing that the film refuses to dig any deeper than that, especially when George A. Romero did it so well over 40 years ago in Dawn of the Dead. The lack of wit becomes more and more apparent as the film trucks along. Not every joke is a dud (an elderly employee casually mentioning how they separated shoppers by race during the first Black Friday she ever worked earns a mean-spirited laugh), but they’re all crammed into the first act. This sadly means the rest of the film is filled with a bunch of groaners.
Special makeup effects are provided by the always-outstanding Robert Kurtzman, who gives the infected Black Friday shoppers an appropriately ferocious design, complete with long, sharp teeth a protruding white goo tongue that they use to infect others. It’s appropriately gnarly, but most of the budget seems to have been saved for the admittedly bananas kaiju-esque climax, leaving little room for the eye-popping gore effects we’ve come to know and love from the makeup maestro. Outside of a few arterial sprays, there’s little else here in the way of gore.
Both Sawa and Campbell look like they’re having a lot of fun, with Campbell getting to play the sleazy store manager who cares more about earning the corporate-demanded six figures than the safety of his employees in a monster apocalypse. Sawa has to play the straight man against a diverse cast of likable characters, but none of them do much to stand out with the exception of Peck’s Brian, who quickly becomes the character you love to hate and can’t wait to see die.
There’s a moment late in the film when Ken laments one of his dad jokes, but Black Friday turns out to be a dad joke of a movie: obvious, predictable and corny. It’s unclear how you squander a setting as rife with potential as a toy store, but Black Friday manages to do just that. This isn’t to say that it’s without merit, as anyone who wants to see Campbell and Sawa go toe-to-toe against Black Friday alien mutants will find something to enjoy here. It just won’t blow your socks off.

Copyright © 2021 Bloody Disgusting, LLC

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