Interview by Sean Boelman
A partnership between Amazon Studios and Blumhouse, Welcome to the Blumhouse is a horror anthology containing four feature-length seasons each class, all made by underrepresented filmmakers. One of the films in this year’s batch is Bingo Hell, a Latina-led horror film about a group of senior citizens banding together against a mysterious outsider who takes over their beloved bingo hall. We at disappointment media had the chance to speak with the co-writer and director of the film, Gigi Saul Guerrero, about her influences and working with some of the greatest people in the business. Check out our interview below and be sure to watch Bingo Hell and the rest of the Welcome to the Blumhouse films!
On Concocting Bingo Hell
disappointment media: In Bingo Hell, there are messages about a community being torn apart by gentrification, but they're also coming together to fight back. What do you think is important about this message?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: You know, I think, definitely we wanted to break that stereotype of the weak and the old. So it was important for us to have the senior citizens be the leads and the heroes of this story. We've seen that many times that older people get gentrified, and it's not in their control. And that's really heartbreaking. But not only do we talk about gentrification, we also talk about greed. So no matter how much money it is, no matter how much money can change you, the true strength of a community and friendships, you can't break that apart. So we felt it was a wonderful combination of strong communities, strong friendships fighting against gentrification and greed.
disappointment: One of the one of my favorite parts about the film is its visual style. I thought that it was really interesting. What did you do to develop this visual style of the film?
Guerrero: Oh, man, thank you so much. You know, I was really inspired by older movies like The Frighteners, Goonies, Batteries Not Included. You know, they definitely had such a charm. And this vintage wash that is so nostalgic, that really fit these older characters. Now, if you almost put Grumpy Old Men in a Rob Zombie universe, it's a great combination. So definitely still keeping that gritty grindhouse vibe that I'm really into, but now mixing in and blending it with some old school genre pieces. It just felt really fun.
disappointment: So something that was really cool that you did in the film was that you kind of blend fantasy and nightmare. What intrigued you about this combination?
Guerrero: Yeah, you know, I think definitely what inspired me to go that direction was, we all have fantasies of what we want. We all dream of not just a better life, but our problems to be solved. We all just want what's the next best thing. And I think sometimes we're blinded by reality as well as with fantasies. So definitely, with the themes of greed, I wanted that balance of what people think is happening, but what you truly are doing to yourselves. It can be very self-destructive if you fall in the peril of greed. It's self-destructive. And people stay in denial of that a lot. It happens. We're only human so why not really literally show that so gruesomely with the death seems of you know, these people have bigger dreams, but they're really only hurting themselves.
disappointment: And you mentioned the really gruesome effects — they're very good. What was it like creating those effects?
Guerrero: So much fun. I think the thing I was saying on set every day was, "More blood, more slime!" Every day, everybody's shoes were going back home very dirty. So for me, you know, I love it. Ever since my short films and everything I've worked on, there's so much blood. So definitely, you know, if I wasn't allowed gore — that's not the same as blood — so why not add slime in it as well. So nobody seemed to stop me. So I just went for it. It's so much fun. I haven't seen so much slime since Nickelodeon days. So we needed more slime.
disappointment: So the film also combines horror and comedy. What do you like so much about the horror-comedy genre?
Guerrero: You know, they go so well, hand in hand. It's such a nice parallel, I think with horror, we are bending and twisting reality so much that adding humor fits. Because you can really exaggerate not just death scenes and characters, but you can really take important subjects, such as gentrification, such as greed, or even like Jordan Peele does it with social commentary. You can take any of these topical subjects and actually get people to sit and watch for the 90 minutes. If we don't put more humor in our world, in our horror world, we're only going to suffer like we do with the news, right? So I think it's a really nice combination for escapism in filmmaking. And who doesn't love laughing when people just get splattered with blood? Like, if that's me, I'm that person cheering on.
disappointment: So what do you think made a bingo hall the perfect setting for a horror movie?
Guerrero: I mean, I'd be very scared, very scared of a group of senior citizens attacking me. They're the strongest, most stubborn people, you will not change their mind for anything. But also, it makes a perfect setting because we haven't seen that before. We all know the world of bingo to be almost like a boring game, or a game for seniors. No one's really done it. So it's really fun and exciting to do a fresh take on a horror movie.
On Having the Perfect Collaborators
disappointment: So you were able to find a great heroine in the Academy Award-nominated actress Adriana Barraza. What about her stood out for you for this role?
Guerrero: Oh, man, she's so strong. She's so captivating. And, you know, she really has that authenticity that Mexican, older women bring. They have this charm, this stubbornness to them that you just can't help but shake them, like, listen to me. And she reminded me so much of my grandmother. And I wanted that feeling of somebody so charming, so cute and cranky. That will give everybody the same love and an excitement to see their own grandparents on the screen. And I think that strength and that just genuine personality that Adriana brings was perfect. And also for her, she really was so enthusiastic every day on set. And she said to me, "Gigi, I've done a lot of TV. I've done a lot of movies. I've done a lot of horror movies. But never have I played the lead in a genre film. A strong Mexican older woman in a horror movie. Never did I think that would happen." So to me, that means a lot that Bingo Hell was her first one and hopefully more. You know, we need more, more strong Latinas like that. She's so incredible.
disappointment: And one of the most important things about any horror film is obviously the villain. Sometimes the villains are remembered more than the heroes. How did you create such a great horror movie villain in Mr. Big?
Guerrero: Let me just start out: Richard Brake is crazy good. He is that iconic horror actor that you know fans just love. He has such a unique face. And he is such a well rounded and crafted actor that you can throw anything at him. Now just like what you said, we wanted a villain that people will cheer for in a weird way, a villain that people are like, I can't help but love this bad guy. That's always so much fun. But I think with Richard Brake, he brought such great human characteristics of somebody that is easily manipulative. Somebody that can gaslight you, somebody that is like, down the street, the next door car salesman that just convinces you to spend your money. He has that charm. And so if a villain can be charming, scary, and just overall, really mysterious, you have a great combination in your hands. And Mr. Big is definitely memorable, and has some great quotes, too.
disappointment: So you've collaborated with Blumhouse multiple times now, between this and Culture Shock. What do you like most about working with them?
Guerrero: Well, I just like that they're open to these crazy ideas. So I'm thankful. But they're very welcoming to underrepresented voices, such as myself as a Latinx female filmmaker, they really do open the doors and have a home for us, which is fantastic because right now it's a really exciting time in the industry, where diversity is being so welcomed and recognized. So working with Blumhouse, I love that they're open to these ideas. I'll never forget that they said yes to the idea of Bingo Hell.
Bingo Hell streams on Amazon Prime beginning October 1.