By MICHAEL GINGOLD
In 2019, director Gigi Saul Guerrero’s CULTURE SHOCK became one of the highlights of Blumhouse and Hulu’s INTO THE DARK series. Now, she and the former company are back with BINGO HELL, debuting on Amazon Prime as part of the WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE franchise, and continuing her mission to tell uniquely Latinx tales of terror.
BINGO HELL, which Guerrero also scripted with Shane McKenzie and Perry Blackshear, is set in Oak Springs, a barrio where elderly Lupita (Adriana Barraza) resents the creeping gentrification of her neighborhood. When the local bingo hall is taken over and given a hi-tech upgrade by a Mephistophelean character named Mr. Big (Rob Zombie regular Richard Brake), it’s the last straw for Lupita and her friends. What they don’t know at first is that Mr. Big represents a threat much greater than the area simply losing its cultural identity, and much blood will be spilled and black-humored laughs had as Lupita and co. fight to save it. Guerrero took some time to discuss her movie, her cast, all that gore and the importance of representation in horror with RUE MORGUE.
This is the first time you’ve worked with a cast of largely older actors. Was that something you specifically wanted to try with BINGO HELL?
Definitely. It was so exciting to have senior citizens be the heroes of this film. I think the last time I saw that was in COCOON or *BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED, way back in the day. So why not put those kinds of characters in a Rob Zombie-like universe [laughs]? That definitely was the plan, but also, as a filmmaker, working with such seasoned actors was a dream come true.
Speaking of Rob Zombie, Richard Brake is terrific as your villain. Was he your only choice, or did you go through a selection process for that role?
We did do auditions, but before his tape came in, I actually used a lot of Richard’s face in my look books for Mr. Big, without actually thinking we would get him. He was all over my reference board, and suddenly, during casting, his audition tape popped up, and I was like, “Oh my gosh!” It just goes to show, you’ve gotta listen to your gut. He said some beautiful words to me: “I always have a blast on Rob’s sets, and you remind me a lot of him. He’s a big fan of the genre and so are you, and you guys share the exact same passion on set.” I just fainted when he said that.
Where did the initial inspiration for BINGO HELL come from?
I was talking with my longtime friend Shane McKenzie, just catching up on the phone, and he told me he had been to a bingo hall, and said, “Gigi, I have never seen seniors be so crazy at bingo. I was a little afraid being there!” And I said, “Dude, you should see my grandma play bingo!” From there, we got excited just thinking what would happen if you took bingo away from them. As you see in the film, they get pretty defensive [laughs]. So it all started there, and the character of Lupita is very much inspired by and dedicated to my grandma.
Barraza is an acting legend; how did you secure her for BINGO HELL?
She was that actor who, since the beginning of writing this movie, it was her. It was like, “Who is your dream star?” and it was always, “Adriana Barraza.” Little did I think she would actually do this movie! I wrote her a letter, and she said yes. It was so easy [laughs]. But for her it was exciting, because she is one of those actors who loves to give new filmmakers a chance, and loves taking risks. She said, “I’ve never done a role like this. I’ve been in a lot of movies, and a lot of horror movies, but never have I done a part where I can be funny, I can be charming, I can be stubborn, and oh boy, I can be crazy!” It was also a character where she could embrace her accent, so for her, it was a dream come true, as well as mine.
Had she ever previously played around in the blood as much as she does here?
I don’t think so! She said to me, “This is definitely a lot!” [Laughs] But she was having fun. She was a little scary with that shotgun, though; we kept telling her to point it in a different direction. She was just so happy, pointing it all over the place!
Did any of the cast have any problems with all the blood on set?
Not at all. When our heroes are kicking so much butt, they weren’t acting! They were actually that crazy and excited, to the point where I was like, “Cut! Pace yourselves, guys, pace yourselves!” They were all having tons of fun, especially Grover Coulson, who plays Clarence from the auto shop. This was his first time in his history of acting to ever have fake blood on him, and I said, “Well, hate to tell you, all those years of no blood are about to end now!”
On this script, you collaborated with Perry Blackshear (director of THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE and THE SIREN) for the first time. How did you two hook up for this project?
Perry was so much fun to work with. He came in later on, when we needed help to get this script done in time, and he definitely brought such fresh ideas. He had a great knack for how to make things smaller, so we could shoot during the pandemic. Making this movie during COVID changed a lot of things technically too, so he was amazing at helping Shane and I fit this script into today’s unfortunate events so we could film it.
What was the process of getting Blumhouse involved with BINGO HELL?
I wish it was some crazy story, but after CULTURE SHOCK, they were very excited by how it turned out, and just asked me, “What else have you got?” It just so happened I’d had that conversation I told you about earlier with Shane about the bingo idea, where we were like, “Maybe his could be something they’d like.” Little did I think that they would say, “That one sounds awesome!” It’s so cool that Blumhouse was so open to such a wild idea. In this series of WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE, all the movies are so different, and BINGO HELL is definitely not on the dramatic side; it’s very wacky and out-there, so it’s great that both Blumhouse and Amazon liked it from when it was one sentence long, when we pitched it to them for the first time.
Having previously made CULTURE SHOCK for Blumhouse, was the BINGO HELL process easier?
Yes, definitely. The experience of working with Blumhouse before, knowing the fast turnaround, the lower budget–I was ready, I was expecting it. Also, my past experience of making so many short films really helped me know how to shoot things creatively and fast.
One impressive quality of all the WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE movies I’ve seen is that they have theatrical-film-level production values.
You know, they really let us choose our crews, so for BINGO HELL, I had to bring on my good friend Byron Werner as my cinematographer again. Both he and I really understand indie-scale projects; we get it. However, these movies are treated like true feature films, because they have an amazing platform as a home.
Have you talked to Blumhouse about doing a theatrical feature for them as well?
I would love to have that conversation! You know, we will continue our working relationship, and it’s great to have that with Blumhouse, and hopefully, the next few projects I’ll present to them will be the ones that lead to theatrical release. But let’s be honest: The demand for in-home screening content is where it’s at right now.
You’ve also done some acting in horror movies that are not your own, like PUPPET KILLER and FUNHOUSE. How does that inform your approach to filmmaking?
For me, it’s great because I get to learn how other directors work. I get to observe how they direct, how they tell stories. It helps me as well to always remember where an actor is coming from, what they have to do, what their perspective is, how it feels to be in their shoes. And actors love how I communicate with them, because I fully understand where they’re coming from. It’s also a great way to stay in the community and the horror world I love so much, and if I don’t get to kill somebody on screen, I hope somebody kills me on screen! That balance is fun; it keeps me creative and it passionate to tell stories; it doesn’t matter in what department.
You’ve done a lot for representation in horror films, which has changed significantly just in the several years since you started becoming active on the genre scene. Can you speak about that side of your experience?
I think we are in such an exciting time in the movie industry. Not just for genre, but the whole film world in general. We are being so open to authentic voices, underrepresented voices, and breaking borders of showing authenticity on screen. Diversity is so recognized now in film that it’s the right time to make movies and tell stories that represent who you are. I even think of my parents’ generation: They would hide that they could speak Spanish when they were in the States. They would hide their accents as much as they could. And I’m very fortunate to be in a time when it’s like, be who you are, all accents welcome, all borders open, all voices welcome. It’s a great time to be a filmmaker because your work will be seen, and if you’re in the horror world, genre fans are the most welcoming of them all, to the point where movies like PARASITE are winning Oscars. So we need to continue to challenge audiences to be open to new ideas.
To that end, do you have a dream project in terms of both genre and inclusivity?
Oh man, my dream project has always been to make EL GIGANTE [her 2014 short film about a murderous luchador] a feature, to have that Mexican villain take over the world. That would be the craziest, most incredible thing. But if in all my projects to come, I can continue, even if it’s a little bit, to have elements of my background, such as in the lead character or a different character or the setting, or anything where I can throw sprinkles of who I am and where I’m from, I will continue to do so, because that will only encourage the next generation to also be proud of who they are.