Gigi Saul Guerrero & Shane McKenzie Talk Horror-Comedy Bingo Hell
Amazon Prime Video’s Welcome to the Blumhouse is back with four new horror thrillers from Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television launching on the streamer next month. One of the movies from the anthological film series titled Bingo Hell, a highly entertaining horror-comedy centering around the community of Oak Springs and its senior citizens facing off against the charismatic and sinister Mr. Big, will release on Prime Video on October 1.
“After 60-something neighborhood activist Lupita (Adriana Barraza) discovers that her beloved local bingo hall has been taken over by a mysterious businessman named Mr. Big (Richard Brake), she rallies her elderly friends to fight back against the enigmatic entrepreneur,” reads the official synopsis. “But when her longtime neighbors begin turning up dead under grisly circumstances, Lupita suddenly discovers that gentrification is the least of her problems. Something terrifying has made itself at home in the quiet barrio of Oak Springs, and with each new cry of ‘Bingo!’ another victim falls prey to its diabolical presence. As the cash prizes increase and the body count steadily rises, Lupita must face the frightening realization that this game is truly winner-takes-all.”
The film premiered at this year’s Fantastic Fest, where ComingSoon’s Senior Movie & TV Editor Kylie Hemmert sat down with Bingo Hell director and co-writer Gigi Saul Guerrero and co-writer Shane McKenzie to discuss balancing horror with comedy, the mind-blowing Richard Brake as the movie’s villain, hand stamps of doom, and more.
*Warning: This interview contains spoilers for Bingo Hell*
Kylie Hemmert: I had a lot of fun watching the movie.
Gigi Saul Guerrero: Yeah! Thanks, Kylie.
I’m really glad it was one that I got to see.
Shane McKenzie: That makes me so happy.
Guerrero: Me, too. [laughs]
I wanted to ask — because it is such a fun escape movie and had a lot of humor — do you guys prefer or love horror movies that have that escape feeling to them where you can laugh along and kind of have fun with them?
Guerrero: I mean, I think this movie was definitely our personality.
McKenzie: Definitely, yeah.
Guerrero: I think it, it definitely was our kind of vibe. I watch all kinds. He’s really dark. Shane is messed up, you know, you think of the craziest things.
Guerrero: But, you know, I think with Bingo Hell as we were writing it during the pandemic, the pandemic was a rough time. I mean, still is. And definitely Shane’s goal, my goal, everyone involved, uh, was to create a film that is fun and lighthearted. I think it’s okay to just sometimes just … escape, you know, the real horrors of the world. And that was definitely the goal of this film.
McKenzie: Yeah. We’re still touching on like heavy subjects, you know, but they’ll have their moments. But, you know, just hang out with your grandparents for an hour and tell me you’re not laughing, you know? And it’s just like, these people would be hilarious, especially when they’ve all been friends for so long, just that, that history with each other. That’s how we talk, you know, like, when we hang out, we talk s— to each other the whole time and that’s the fun of it. And yeah, during the pandemic, we don’t want like some super serious– even though I do like to watch those sometimes. But it just felt … the timing of it … Plus, you know, it’s a crazy bingo hall movie.
Guerrero: Yeah. [laughs]
McKenzie: We can’t take that too seriously. But, uh, making sure there’s plenty of humor was really important to us. We talked about it a lot, and I think it was pretty well balanced. I think Gigi did a great job.
Guerrero: Thank you, man.
That’s what I was gonna bring up, is that it was very cohesive. From the more serious themes and issues like gentrification, loss of community, all those anxieties, and then having the fun [moments] and the humor blended so well together. How do you go about making sure you have that balance when creating a story like this?
Guerrero: I think it came down a lot to the kinds of characters. I think these guys right here [points at movie poster] are so naturally silly, uh, they just have those quirks and those qualities that, you know, it really did not take much to direct them to be cheesy or to be more serious. These guys really were organically like that. And they really understood the world and the characters. And I really think this film has that balance. Like Shane was saying, it’s in a bingo hall. It’s a crazy, slimy, bloody movie. It’s good to just not take it seriously. And I think with these beautiful, charismatic characters that we don’t usually see as the heroes is what makes that balance.
McKenzie: Yeah, and letting moments play out, you know, as they would. Like with horror-comedies, uh, sometimes what annoys me a little is there’s too much of a blend. And so it’s a horror-comedy through the whole thing. And for me it’s more like, you know, the horrific moments will be horrific, and then the moments where it’s the people hanging out, you know, there doesn’t have to be this dark tone. Those parts can be lighthearted and funny. And then when we get to a death scene, it gets super serious, you know, and it’s not like a silly death scene to match the tone that we were– so rather than blending it all, we just pick our moments. And I think the juxtaposition of those things make each other stronger.
It worked really well.
Guerrero: Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
I really did. And I know that you touched on this in the Q&A (following the premiere), but I would like to go over again the inspiration for making them the focal point and having these senior citizens as the heroes and the main characters of the story and what inspired that idea for the movie.
Guerrero: Well, when Shane told me that he went to bingo hall– ’cause your mother-in-law was there, right?
McKenzie: My mother-in-law, yeah.
Guerrero: I will never forget that phone call, how Shane was like, “Dude, they’re so competitive at bingo. They’re crazy!”
Guerrero: And he was telling me how they had lucky charms and everything.
McKenzie: Oh yeah.
Guerrero: And I said to Shane, “Listen, man, my abuela loves Lotería — which is Mexican bingo — and plays it religiously with her brothers and sisters.” So, Shane said the magical words: “Man, I wonder what would happen if we take this away from them?” [laughs] And look what he came up with. I was like, oh, they’d murder someone. And probably, yeah, grab a shotgun while at it.
Guerrero: Yeah. [laughs]
McKenzie: Yeah, it totally came from just our families. You know, the idea was sparked from going to bingo with my mother-in-law and seeing how insane it was. And then when I told [Gigi] about it, she was talking about her grandma and so Lupita was inspired by my mother-in-law, but the embodiment of that character is totally Gigi’s grandma.
I love that.
McKenzie: Yeah. And it was actually– when I originally came up with the idea, my idea was to do it through the point of view of the kids who have to go to bingo because their grandparents or their parents make them. And it was Gigi’s idea [that] we should do it from the point of view of the old folks. And as soon as she said that, I knew she was absolutely right. And it’s probably the best decision we made ’cause that’s like, what makes this movie.
Yeah, and I’m glad you brought up the kids, ’cause I was thinking about — especially Caleb (Joshua Caleb Johnson) and his story — obviously the seniors are the main characters, like Lupita and Dolores’s (L. Scott Caldwell) relationship, but he plays a significant role, especially towards the end. And I was wondering, how did you go about kind of fitting his character into this story and how he bonds with that older generation by the end and sort of starts to see them in that new light?
Guerrero: I love this question. Yeah, go.
McKenzie: Yeah, uh, to me it was very important to have Caleb in it and there were a lot of back and forths about it. But, I’m really glad he’s in there because, you know, the story behind Lupita and Dolores is that they, they built this community up. It used to be a really bad neighborhood full of, you know, gangs and crime. And they changed it and helped kids get over that, which is who Eric (Jonathan Medina) is.
McKenzie: So he’s the guy that they helped who, who fixed his life. And you know, now everything’s changing, but Caleb coming in kind of is like a reminder of why they did it in the first place, you know? And to see him kind of going down the wrong track and that’s something that they’re used to seeing, and Eric, too. That’s why he bonds with Caleb because he sees himself.
Um, and also, Caleb was important because he’s not infected by Mr. Big. He doesn’t play bingo. That’s everyone else. He gets infected by the idea that money will fix anything, you know? And to just have a character outside of the Mr. Big influence to just show it doesn’t have to be a monster to get into your head and totally, you know, f— with your values. So I thought he was crucial. And, you know, like we were saying about putting humor next to horror and how they elevate each other. It’s the same with, you know, we have all these kinds of older folks and they’re super fun to watch, but then you’d see this kid struggling. I mean, his mom left him, and it just felt like a really nice balance.
Speaking of infected, who came up with the idea for the dollar sign hand stamp sort of being the physical manifestation of that infection? Because I thought it was a brilliant idea.
Guerrero: [laughs] I did! I loved it. I loved it. I had so much fun. I remember telling these guys, “Yo, stamps, like, what do we think?” And you know, [co-writer Perry Blackshear] helped us out with the idea of like, oh, it should be the dollar sign and all, and it just became this great collaboration.
Guerrero: I was pretty excited that they were into the idea, like, “Why don’t we just stamp their hands?” It was just, it had this like vintage vibe to it. It just felt more like, not a carnival, but like, what if Willy Wonka owned a bingo hall? What would he do? [laughs] It just felt like that wackiness of stamping somebody and as well just that vibe of a flashy casino, I feel like you get your hand stamped, you know, to go to the nightclub and all that. So it just felt so out of place from Oak Springs. Uh, so it was fun.
McKenzie: Yeah. And then, uh, once that idea was there, then I was like, okay, how do I make it disgusting? [laughs]
McKenzie: And so I thought it would be cool as they progressively get more, uh, you know, Mr. Big’s claws get deeper into them, it just gets infected, you know, and starts like running up their arm and they’re like, scratching it. When you see it in the movie and they’re like scratching it, it’s so gross. It’s just so nasty.
Yeah, it was a nice effect. And speaking about Mr. Big, I wanna talk to you about how you felt about how Richard Brake brought that character to life. He has like that perfect villain grin-
McKenzie: It’s so amazing.
Guerrero: Yeah, I think with a character like Mr. Big, you know, sometimes people say, oh, like, you can be that stereotypical villain. But I think with a character like Mr. Big, all traits work of big smile, big laugh. Just those wacky personalities that just suit him. I think Mr. Big, it’s like that down the street, car salesman that is manipulative and charming, and you just can’t help but definitely fall into his trap. I think Richard Brake brought so much, like human characteristics, too. Not so devilish or demonic. Like, he brought … he just humanized Mr. Big, which I think worked really well. And then progressively gets more and more disgusting to show his true colors.
McKenzie: Yeah, I mean, there was a version of the script where toward the end he gets like sharp teeth and his smile was so great, we were like-
Guerrero: Don’t touch anything.
McKenzie: Don’t touch anything, yeah. It’s too perfect. Just leave it alone. I mean, I was already a Richard Brake fan. So when we found out that he was Mr. Big, I mean, I can’t think of anyone more perfect. Like you couldn’t draw a better Mr. Big than what Richard Brake did, you know? And we’re really lucky to have gotten him. I’m gonna see that smile for the rest of my life. Every time I close my eyes, I see that smile. [laughs]
Guerrero: He had a blast.
You can tell he was having fun.
Guerrero: He had so much fun every day. He was the one actor I would never call cut on. He would just elevate and elevate and climax, climax until he’s like, “Okay, I think I’m done.” [laughs] And I’m like, “Okay, cut. Let’s use that whole take.”
McKenzie: Oh, watching the dailies of Richard Brake was great. [laughs]
I guess for my final question, uh, towards the end, one of my favorite parts was when Lupita’s talking about how she learns that community is about the people and not so much about the place. I was wondering if you had a favorite, like, piece of dialogue or moment in the movie?
Guerrero: Oh, man.
Or a message.
Guerrero: Yeah, I mean, to me it really is what you said. I loved working on the end with Shane, uh, when we were just like, Lupita should just say the message at the end, how she says, you know, “As long as we’re together, it doesn’t matter where we go.” I was like, wow. To me, it’s such a simple message that we should all just follow, and, unfortunately, we get so caught up on many things in life. I loved it when Shane told me that ending, I was like, that’s the one. We’re just gonna get her to turn around and just take that moment in. And of course, Dolores [says], “Can we put Oak Springs by the beach?” [laughs]
That’s a nice touch, yeah.
McKenzie: I really love when, uh, Mr. Big tells Lupita how they’re the same.
Guerrero: Yes, that’s awesome.
McKenzie: I really love it. I was proud of it when I wrote it, but then when Richard Brake said it, and you know, he does the line about the leash and he’s like, “Ooh, keep ’em close.”
Guerrero: “Keep ’em close, Lupita, keep ’em close.”
McKenzie: Like, I can’t write that, to say it that way. And just the way he performed that, it blows my mind.