‘Black as Night’ and ‘Bingo Hell’ Review: Marginalized Heroes

“The summer I got breasts, that was the same summer I fought vampires,” the feisty Shawna (Asjha Cooper) tells us at the beginning of Maritte Lee Go’s “Black as Night,” a hard-times-in-the-Big-Easy tale and one of a pair of horror-comedies that begin streaming this week on Amazon as part of the Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology. The other is Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “Bingo Hell”; and while the two are vastly different, they nevertheless share a sociopolitical sensibility that champions the downtrodden and makes heroes of the marginalized.

In “Black as Night” (the cooler, fleeter option), the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina dust a screenplay (by Sherman Payne) that sees the city’s homeless being transformed into a vampire army by a formerly enslaved über-bloodsucker (Keith David). As Shawna and her sidekick, a gay Mexican immigrant (Fabrizio Guido), fight to stop the slaughter the old-school way — with sunlight, garlic and holy water — Payne uses their quest to directly address colorism, addiction and the tension between the French Quarter and the projects. The special effects are fine, if unremarkable, but the actors are into it and the script manages to be thoughtful without dampening the fun.

Greed and gentrification are the twin curses that drive “Bingo Hell,” a warmhearted look at what happens when an evil entity co-opts a retirees’ bingo hall. People are going missing in the low-income community of Oak Springs, but Lupita (Adriana Barraza), the hipster-hating local busybody, is on the case. Inflamed by the changes to her beloved neighborhood, Lupita is further troubled by the sinister, toothy figure (Richard Brake) who has converted the bingo hall into a flashy, cash-spewing casino.

Taking a sly, metaphorical dig at homeowners abandoning their friends for fast buyouts, “Bingo Hell” sprinkles hardship and loss on a story of oldster gumption. When the action gets creaky, Byron Werner’s photography gooses things along: He’s especially effective with low-to-the-ground shots that add a creepy surreality to simple setups. The final third fizzles, but I enjoyed the droll musical choices and seriously gloopy special effects. (One scene in a motel bathroom should come with a warning to anyone suffering from even the mildest skin condition.)

Despite the generally humorous vibe, “Bingo Hell” quietly accumulates an unignorable pathos. However brave and resourceful, Lupita and her friends are battling to save a neighborhood that poverty and progress have already claimed.

Black as Night
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. Watch on Amazon.

Bingo Hell

Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. Watch on Amazon.

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