Bingo Hell Director Gigi Saul Guerrero Dishes On Slime And Senior Citizens [Interview]

The "Welcome to the Blumhouse" streaming anthology series is coming back to Amazon Prime this October with four more brand new horror movies just in time for spooky season. One of those movies is "Bingo Hell" from director Gigi Saul Guerrero, a hilarious and horrifying story about a small town bingo hall where winning can be deadly. In "Bingo Hell," Lupita (Adriana Barraza) discovers that her local bingo hall has been taken over by a mysterious businessman named Mr. Big ("Mandy" actor Richard Brake). She doesn't trust Mr. Big or his fabulous prizes, and when her neighbors start showing up dead, she knows exactly who to blame. 

I got the chance to chat via Zoom with co-writer and director Guerrero about the movie, which she holds close to her heart. After all, she based the main character on her own feisty grandmother!

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

A Movie Where Grandma can be the Hero

Oak Springs feels like so many small towns in suburban America. Were there any movies or TV shows that helped inspire that feel of Oak Springs, from gentrification to the run-down parts of town, or was it really just more from life?

We didn't want to be too specific that it took place anywhere. We wanted it to just feel like just outside of any city. But we definitely loved the closeness of the communities and movies such as "Needful Things." We wanted that vibe of a smaller town or a smaller area outside of a city. So I'm so excited that you liked that part of the film.

Yeah, absolutely, because it feels so relatable. It's one of those things you can just pick yourself up and put yourself in the movie.

Yeah, exactly.

There aren't very many movies about senior citizens, and there's even fewer where they get to fight the forces of evil. I can only pretty much think of this and "Bubba Ho-Tep" with Bruce Campbell. So what inspired you and your co-screenwriters to feature older women in these heroic roles?

Oh man, that part was to me the most exciting part of this whole thing. My grandma is my best friend, I love her to pieces. And I wanted just to make a movie that she can see herself in as the hero. I think one of the last ones I saw was "Batteries Not Included" or "Cocoon," which was so long ago. So definitely all of us talking, it really felt right to have this age group as the heroes in the film. Because organically and naturally they're so funny, charming, stubborn, and wacky in their own ways that I don't think anybody young is like. We're so different and their perspective in life is so unique that those kinds of heroes in "Bingo Hell" really fit the mood and the tone of the story as well.

The Coolest Little Old Ladies

Lupita rules, so I have to ask what inspired that character.

My grandma. If you meet my grandma, you are meeting Lupita. 100% it's her. So working with the wonderful actress Adriana Barazza, she was watching home videos of my grandma, I was showing her Snapchats of my grandma, I was showing her as many things of my grandma as I possibly could. And she understood to a T what that consisted of, even the noises that she makes in the movie, "Nyah," that's 100% her. It's so cool and it's so much fun. And we wanted that cranky, stubborn, cute grandma that everyone can be like, "I know somebody like that." And Lupita and her best friend Dolores really bring that charm that older ladies have.

That leads right into my next question... The relationship between Lupita and Dolores is the glue that really holds the movie together, and it holds the town together too. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about writing that back and forth dialogue and just bringing that relationship to life.

Oh, thank you so much. We wanted this friendship to be so prominent, because though in the movie the theme that is very prominent, not just gentrification, it's greed. Money can change people. Money can not just change people but break people as well, but not even money can break a true strong friendship and community apart. So it was important for us to write a friendship that has lasted for years, years, that you know in the history of these two ladies they've gone through hell and back but they're still standing strong. And they're that representation of a strong community and of the community that is still standing and hasn't left. So that banter between the two really feels a lot like it's me when I'm older, and in Dolores it's my co-writer Shane McKenzie. Him and I had so much fun writing that banter, and Perry Blackshear really helped us out to bring the whole script together in a contained setting. So it was a total beautiful process of collaboration with the three of us, but the friendship was always from the very beginning one of the most important elements to bring.

Comedy and Horror Go Hand-in-Hand

Can you tell me a little bit about how you used horror to highlight gentrification and greed and the problems that face these marginalized communities? Because that seems to sort of be a thread through this grouping of "Welcome to the Blumhouse."

Yeah. Well, genre in general, it's the best type of genre out there, horror, to talk about such topical subjects, any kind of social commentary or very relatable harsh subject matter. That it allows you to not just be entertained but escape the actual, real horrors of the world. I think since the '70s or earlier horror movies have been talking about social commentary for a long time. It allows us to escape and have fun and be entertained.

I think that's also why comedy and horror goes so well hand in hand and can be mixed, because you can have a good time, you can laugh. It's okay to put some humor in our lives. We need it more now than ever, especially with everything going on. So while writing this during the pandemic, we all felt we needed a fun film. We all felt it was time to bring those fun elements of laughter and humor, with of course blood and slime, but everything together just gives you the perfect combination of fun. So yeah.

All About that Sweet, Sweet Slime

How did you design that slime? It's disgusting. Tell me a little bit about coming up with the slime on the money in particular, because it's just wild.

Well, I was that weird child that wanted to be on the Nickelodeon show covered in slime. I was that kid that wanted to be covered in green goo. So this movie not only presented that opportunity, but the slime was, not just for its color green to represent the money, we wanted something that was a perfect metaphor to show that money isn't real, that money is not going to solve your problems. It really is a gross solution to our problems. So we wanted that feeling with the slime. And more on the technical side, it was probably my most favorite time during the making of this movie, because the props master came up to me during prep and said, "Here you go, Gigi, here is a bag of 10 different slimes, all different consistencies. Take it to your hotel, play with all of them, and let me know which one you like."

Oh boy, did it feel like Christmas. I just took this big bag of slime back to the hotel, made a big mess. And I feel really bad for whoever had to clean it the next day. And I just went to his office the next day and I'm like, "Hi. Yes, I like number 10. Thank you." I just walked away. But that was so much fun that I will work with slime again. I don't think a lot of that crew will, but I definitely will.

Designing the Bingo Hall from Hell

So tell me a little bit about what inspired the differences between the bingo hall when we first see it and then when it becomes Mr. Big's Bingo Hall and it's this insane Las Vegas looking thing that's so out of place in this town. 

I definitely kept saying out loud, "What is the thing that will throw off my grandma?" What is a place that she just walks in and she just does not belong? So it was a wonderful collaboration with not just the production designer Owl and his team, but also with our cinematographer Byron. For the three of us, we felt so strong that color was going to be Mr. Big's influence. Color was going to be the evil of this film. We started out with very saturated, warm colors that didn't really make the town stand out, Oak Springs. So having indoors this bingo hall that just does not at all feel like part of Lupita's world was a lot of fun to do. And the more color we kept adding to the movie, the more you could tell that Mr. Big's strength was getting more and more powerful. So definitely creating and designing that bingo hall was a blast. We were like, "I wonder, what would Willy Wonka's bingo hall look like?" So definitely we got really inspired with that.

"Bingo Hell" is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.