Review: ‘Bingo Hell,’ starring Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell, Richard Brake, Clayton Landey, Jonathan Medina, Bertila Damas and Grover Coulson

December 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Richard Brake in “Bingo Hell” (Photo by Brian Roedel/Amazon Content Services)

“Bingo Hell”

Directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Oak Springs, the horror film “Bingo Hell” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latino, white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A working-class city affected by gentrification gets targeted by a sinister gambling mogul, who promises to make people rich by playing bingo. 

Culture Audience: “Bingo Hell” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies that put more emphasis on campiness than being scary.

Clayton Landey, Bertila Damas, Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell and Grover Coulson in “Bingo Hell” (Photo by Brian Roedel/Amazon Content Services)

“Bingo Hell” takes a good concept for a horror movie and squanders it on a cheap-looking flick that’s short on scares and too heavy on campiness. It’s like a very inferior episode of “Tales From the Crypt” but made into a movie. Not even the charismatic talent of “Babel” Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza can save this misguided and monotonous film, because the “Bingo Hell” filmmakers make her protagonist character into a simplistic and annoying parody of a busybody senior citizen.

“Bingo Hell” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. The movie touches on issues that many underprivileged people of color face when they are priced out of neighborhoods that become gentrified. However, this social issue is flung by the wayside when the movie devolves into a predictable and dull story about a demon taking over a community, culminating in a badly staged showdown with no surprises.

Gigi Saul Guerrero directed “Bingo Hell” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Shane McKenzie and Perry Blackshear. For Hulu’s “Into the Dark” horror anthology series (another Blumhouse production), Guerrero directed and co-wrote 2019’s “Culture Shock,” which did a much better job of combining horror with socioeconomic issues of race and privilege in America. One of the worst aspects of “Bingo Hell” is the movie’s musical score, which sounds like irritating sitcom music. The score music (by Chase Horseman) is very ill-suited for a horror movie that’s supposed to be terrifying.

In “Bingo Hell,” Barraza plays a widow named Lupita, a feisty, longtime resident of the fictional U.S. city called Oak Springs. Most of Oak Springs’ residents are low-income, working-class people. Senior citizens and people of color are a large percentage of the city’s population. Lupita, who lives by herself, has been getting letters in the mail from real-estate developers asking her to sell her home, but she refuses.

As an example of how she feels about being unwilling to sell her home, an early scene in the movie shows Lupita getting one of these letters, from a company called Torregano Real Estate. She takes a lit cigar and stubs it on the letter. Lupita rants to anyone who listens that no amount of money can make her sell her home. She also doesn’t like that some of her friends have taken offers to sell their homes, and she fears that more of her neighborhood friends will also sell their homes and move away.

And if it isn’t made clear enough that Lupita hates that her neighborhood is being gentrified, when she walks down a street and sees a young hipster woman drinking coffee, Lupita deliberately bumps into the woman so that she spills the coffee. Lupita pretends to be sorry for this “accident,” but she really isn’t sorry. She has a smug grin on her face, as if she’s glad that that she caused this mishap. Lupita is a senior citizen in her 60s, but she has the emotional maturity of a 16-year-old.

Lupita is a stereotypical nosy old lady who has to be in everybody else’s business because she has too much time on her hands. One by one, she visits her four closest confidants. Yolanda (played by Bertila Demas) is a friendly owner of a hair salon, where gossipy grandmother Dolores (played by L. Scott Caldwell) is a regular customer. Just like Lupita, Dolores says she doesn’t want to sell her house.

Clarence (played by Grover Coulson) is a laid-back mechanic who’s been working on one of his vintage cars for years. He’s been working on it for so long, it’s become an inside joke among these friends. Morris (played by Clayton Landey) is a “regular guy” plumber who comes into the hair salon one day to do some pipe repairs. Morris has a crush on Yolanda. Since they are both single, there’s some flirtation between them that’s not very interesting.

The community has been talking about the mysterious death of a widower named Mario (played by David Jensen), who is shown dying in the movie’s opening scene. He is sitting at a table in his home with a crazed look on his face, as he says: “I sold the house to him. I love him.”

A sinister-sounding male voice in the distance can be heard saying, “She would be so proud,” in reference to Mario’s late wife Patricia. Mario suddenly begins gorging on bingo balls until he chokes and dies. Meanwhile, a suitcase of cash is seen nearby in the room where Mario has died. All of these are obvious clues about what’s to come later in the story.

Meanwhile, Dolores has been having some family drama at home. Her rebellious teenage grandson Caleb (played by Joshua Caleb Johnson) and Caleb’s single mother Raquel (played by Kelly Murtagh) have come to stay with Dolores because Raquel has been having financial problems. Dolores’ son is Caleb’s father, who is described in the movie as a deadbeat dad who is not involved in raising Caleb.

Raquel and Dolores frequently clash because Dolores thinks that Raquel is a terrible mother who’s too lenient with Caleb (who’s about 15 or 16), while Raquel thinks Dolores is too strict and a failure as a mother because Dolores’ son turned out to be an irresponsible person. The movie wastes a lot of time with this family squabbling. The only purpose is to show that Raquel is money-hungry but she’s too lazy to want to find a job, which is an attitude that affects her decisions later in the movie.

It’s also problematic that the one character in the movie who’s a young African American male is portrayed as someone who commits crimes. Caleb’s misdeeds include breaking into cars. It’s such a lazy and unnecessary negative stereotype that is over-used in movies and TV. This gross stereotype doesn’t accurately represent the reality that most African American teens are not troublemaking criminals.

Dolores spends a lot of time at Oak Springs Community Center East, where she and some of her friends like to play bingo. The community center is also a place for support-group meetings. Eric (played by Jonathan Medina) is a local man in his 30s who leads a support group meeting.

Lupita invites Eric to the next bingo game, but he declines, by saying: “Bingo is not my thing. Maybe in 50 years, when I’m your age.” Eric isn’t disrespectful to Lupita, because he calls Lupita and Dolores “legends” of Oak Springs. Lupita feels good enough about the community center that when she finds a $100 bill on the street (the bill is covered with a mysterious white gummy substance), she donates the $100 to the community center by dropping the bill in a donation box.

Not long after this act of generosity, a big black Cadillac shows up in town. The driver calls himself Mr. Big (played by Richard Brake), a gambling mogul who speaks in an exaggerated Southern drawl and has an evil smirk. Mr. Big has come to town because he’s opening Mr. Big’s Bingo, a gambling hall specifically for bingo games.

Mr. Big talks in the type of grandiose clichés that you might expect from a carnival huckster or an infomercial hawker. He shouts to a crowd in Oak Springs: “They say that money can’t buy happiness! I disagree! You know what kinds of people believe this nonsense? Losers! Now tell me, Oak Springs, are you losers?”

Mr. Big makes a big splash in the community by showing off his wealth and with a flashy ad campaign where he promises that people can win thousands of dollars per game at Mr. Big’s Bingo. After this bingo hall opens, people in the community who play at Mr. Big’s Bingo inevitably get greedy and competitive. Because it’s a horror movie, you know where this is going, of course.

The horror part of “Bingo Hell” is frustratingly undercut by hammy acting from Brake and the aforementioned sitcom-like musical score. Meanwhile, the characters in the movie act increasingly like caricatures, as the cast members give average or subpar performances. What started out as a promising portrait of how gentrification and greed can cause horror in a community turns into a silly gorefest with ultimately nothing meaningful to say and nothing truly frightening to show.

Prime Video premiered “Bingo Hell” on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Funhouse’ (2021), starring Valter Skarsgård, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Khamisa Wilsher, Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield, Amanda Howells and Jerome Velinsky

June 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Amanda Howells, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Mathias Retamal, Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield and Valter Skarsgård in “Funhouse” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Funhouse” (2021)

Directed by Jason William Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed North American city, the horror flick “Funhouse” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with two Latinos, one African American and one Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A twisted multimillionaire chooses eight strangers to live in a murder house, where they are contestants on a “Big Brother” type of reality show that awards $5 million to the last contestant who can stay alive.

Culture Audience: “Funhouse” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that pander to the lowest common denominator with atrocious screenwriting, acting and directing.

Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield, Khamisa Wilsher and Dayleigh Nelson in “Funhouse” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Funhouse” is the epitome of everything that people despise about bad horror movies. Even die-hard horror fans will be disgusted by the abyss of stupidity and awful filmmaking in “Funhouse.” There are trash dumps and toilets that have more redeeming qualities than “Funhouse.”

In addition to being sexist, dull and horribly acted, “Funhouse” has a very misleading title because it’s no fun to watch this movie at all. All of the characters are self-absorbed dolts, while the entire movie (written and directed by Jason William Lee) is built on the loathsome concept that people around the world would love to watch a “Big Brother”-styled reality show where the contestants are murdered in cruel, bloody and gruesome ways. The last contestant standing will get a $5 million prize.

This gimmick concept isn’t shocking for a horror movie. What’s offensive is how shockingly bad “Funhouse” is in executing this concept in the movie. There’s a plot twist at the end that viewers are going to hate because it makes absolutely no sense. And leading up to that idiotic final scene, it’s a tedious and repetitive slog of horrendously bad dialogue and airheaded young people getting slaughtered. What also makes “Funhouse” so insufferable is that it’s obvious that the filmmakers thought they were making a good movie, so there’s the stink of pretension to this film too.

The opening scene of “Funhouse” is an indication of the dreck to come. A gory murder has just taken place in a living room of a mansion somewhere in North America. (“Funhouse” was actually filmed in Canada.) The smirking lout who owns the mansion looks on sadistically, as a pretty young blonde has been using a baseball bat to beat to death another young woman, whose bloody body is lying on the floor and is probably dead already. Much later in the movie, it’s revealed that this creepy psycho is a multimillionaire named Nero Alexander (woodenly played by Jerome Velinsky), a tech entrepreneur who hates people who find fame through reality TV or social media.

The woman who committed this vicious murder is not identified by name in the movie, but in the film’s credits, she’s listed as Gilda “The Mad” Batter (played by Debs Howard), and it soon becomes clear that she’s become a murderer for money. Nero sneers at Gilda, “You’re not finished. You still have one final obligation.” And so, after Gilda finishes with her baseball bat beatdown, she stabs the murder victim, carves out the heart, and serves the heart to Nero on a silver platter.

Nero curtly says to some bodyguards nearby: “Clean her up, give her the money, and get her the fuck out of here.” An exhausted and bloodied Gilda, who seems on the verge of collapsing, is given a suitcase full of cash. Nero’s thugs grab her and practically push her out of the room. Now that it’s been established that Nero gets pleasure from watching people murder, the rest of this sordid story shows how he’s the secret mastermind behind a new “Big Brother”-styled reality show where the contestants want a chance to win a $5 million cash prize, but the show is really a setup to massacre people.

The contestants are all in their 20s or 30s, and they arrive from around the world. At first, the contestants think that it’s a legitimate show. They soon find out that they will be imprisoned and forced to commit murder in “survival of the fittest” challenges. The last contestant who manages to stay alive is the grand prize winner. All of the contestants were chosen because they found fame on social media or reality TV.

And only in a dumb movie like “Funhouse,” this livestreamed show becomes a global sensation. There are several cutaway shots throughout the movie depicting people around the world (including some children) watching the show, as if they’re watching a harmless soap opera. In some of these viewer scenes, they’re essentially rooting for which contestants will live or die. It’s just all so moronic.

The eight strangers picked to live in this torture house are:

  • Kasper Nordin (played by Valter Skarsgård), a reality star originally from Sweden who found fame in America as a backup singer of a famous American diva named Darla Drake (played by Kylee Bush). Kasper and Darla fell in love, got married, and starred in their own reality show together called “Darla and Kasper: Back-Up Love,” before the marriage crumbled and his popularity declined.
  • Lonnie Byrne (played by Khamisa Wilsher), an American whose claim to fame is starring on a show similar to “The Bachelorette,” getting engaged twice, and being dumped by both fiancés.
  • James “Headstone” Malone (played by Christopher Gerard), a disgraced mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighter/reality TV star who’s originally from Ireland and the most aggressively obnoxious out of all the contestants.
  • Ula La More (played by Karolina Benefield), an Instagram model from an unnamed European country. Ula is famous for her sexy image, but she looks like she’s stuck in 2005 and trying to be like how Paris Hilton was back then.
  • Ximena Torres (played by Gigi Saul Guerrero), a celebrity gossip blogger from Mexico. Ximena is cynical, likes to talk tough, and doesn’t hesitate to start a jealous catfight with anyone she thinks is a bimbo. In other words, you can almost have a countdown to the battle that Ximena and Ula will inevitably have.
  • Dex “El Shocker” Souza (played by Mathias Retamal), a reality star/rapper, who seems to have an instant connection with Ximena when they first arrive in the house.
  • Nevin Evinsmith (played by Dayleigh Nelson), a fidgety Brit who’s famous for having some kind of entertainment/extreme stunt YouTube channel.
  • Cat Zim (played by Amanda Howells), originally from the Philippines and a quiet former chess champ who found fame on a reality TV show called “The Real Witches of Westchester.”

Kasper, who has no real talent at anything, has been trying to cling to fame by being on reality shows, but he’s gotten tired of it and wants to be known as a legitimate entertainer and is trying to break into acting. There’s a brief scene early on in the film of Kasper talking to his agent by phone and telling his agent that he doesn’t want to do this “Big Brother” type of reality show, which is called “Furcas’ House of Fun.” His agent insists that the show will boost Kasper’s sagging popularity, because Kasper was made to look like a gold-digging villain in his divorce from Darla. “It’s redemption time,” the agent tells Kasper.

It’s the closest thing that “Funhouse” has to a backstory for any of the characters, since Kasper is portrayed as the main protagonist. MMA jerk Headstone, who has a ridiculous-looking green Mohawk, is cocky, rude and absolutely annoying. Viewers might be shocked to know that the actor portraying Headstone is Irish in real life, because his acting is so bad that it sounds like he has a fake Irish accent. What isn’t surprising is that Headstone and Ula hook up at some point in the movie.

The contestants have been brought to a mansion, where in the main living room, they are greeted on a big video screen by their “host” Furcas, a computer-generated avatar made to look like a talking panda. Furcas is really Nero in a back room somewhere with his voice in disguise and wearing some type of computer headset so that he can control Furcas’ physical motions. The disguised voice has that distorted computer sound that makes Furcas sound genderless, but Furcas makes it clear early on that a man is controlling the Furcas avatar and all the mayhem that ensues.

The contestants are told that because there are cameras in every single room of the house, if a contestant has any nudity on camera, the contestant can choose whether or not the cameras will blur out the nudity. It’s the only control these contestants really have while they’re in the house. Everything else is dictated to them and decided for them.

The contestants are warned that if try to leave the house, they will be disqualified. Later, they find out they can’t leave the house anyway because they’re being held as prisoners. They are also told that they’re required to give a five-minute confessional interview every day.

Just like the viewer-based voting on “Big Brother,” viewers of “Furcas’ House of Fun” vote on which contestants they want to stay in the house. The two contestants with the lowest percentage of votes have to face off against each other in a challenge that’s really a battle for their lives. The challenges are predictably heinous.

There’s one called Piñata Party, where a contestant is blindfolded and told to hit a piñata with a baseball bat, but the piñata is really a bound-and-gagged contestant who ends up being beaten to death. And when the blindfold comes off, the person holding the bat is horrified to find out that they’ve just committed murder. “Funhouse” wants viewers to believe the absurdity that a blindfolded person wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between hitting a piñata and hitting a human body.

Another challenge is called the Blind Rage Challenge, where two contestants go after each other with axes in a pitch-dark room. And the challenges get worse. In the Forget Me Not Challenge, a contestant fails a memory test and is then tied up and stretched to death. It’s not an original way to die in a horror movie, because it’s been done before in other horror flicks, but you get the idea of how low “Funhouse” will go for murder scenes.

Furcas has anonymous and disguised male assistants interacting with the contestants to do things like bring them meals and monitor the activities during the deadly challenges. These assistants, who do not speak, dress in dark business suits and wear panda helmet-sized masks that look like they’re made out of papier-mâché. The production design for the house is as tacky as this movie. The house’s main room, where Furcas gives instructions by video, has nude female mannequins on display in glass cases.

It doesn’t take long for this misogynistic movie to objectify women. The only people who have nudity in the film’s male-female sex scenes are the women. And it should come as no surprise that there’s a scene where Instagram model Ula bares her breasts on camera in a desperate bid to get enough viewer votes to stay in the house.

Later, Cat masturbates on camera for the same reason. While she’s masturbating, Cat looks at the camera and makes a knife-slitting gesture across her throat, as a way to tell the sicko behind this show that she’s going to get revenge. It’s all so cheesy and ridiculous.

As the body count piles up, “Furcas’ House of Fun” gets some criticism from the public, including Kasper’s ex-wife Darla, who does a TV interview pleading for the remaining contestants to be set free. The movie has several cutaway shots to a snarky YouTuber called Pete Sake (played by Bradley Duffy), who constantly mocks and ridicules “Furcas’ House of Fun.” Law enforcement is trying to track down the culprit behind the show, but Nero has covered his tracks by making his computer identity untraceable and setting up wild goose chases for anyone trying to find out the location of the house.

Nero is so confident that he won’t get caught that he gives a TV interview where he disparages the “famewhore” mentality of wanting to becoming famous for being on reality TV or social media. His rants sound a lot like the rants that Furcas spews on “Furcas’ Fun House.” He rails against “the Kardashianization of humanity.” Nero having the same speech pattern as Farcas’ speech pattern would be a big clue to Farcas’ identity in the real world, but not in this movie. Nero’s TV interview is just another dumb plot development in an idiotic story.

Just when you think “Funhouse” couldn’t get any worse, the last 15 minutes prove that this movie is utterly revolting and worthless. And there’s nothing scary about this so-called horror movie. The only fear that “Funhouse” might generate is the fear that some misguided filmmakers will think that this abominable movie deserves a sequel.

Magnet Releasing released “Funhouse” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on May 28, 2021.

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