New York Comic Con is back, and with it, a hellish host of high-def horrors. This year, the good folks at Blumhouse joined a virtual NYCC to talk about the four newest films in the Welcome to the Blumhouse series. Specifically, horror fans got to hear from the directors of that latest batch of flicks; from Bingo Hell there was Gigi Saul Guerrero, from Black as Night came Mariette Lee Go, Ryan Zaragoza joined us from the Madres team, and last but not least, The Manor‘s Axelle Carolyn rounded out the panel of some of horror’s most innovative voices.
Joining the call from the set of American Horror Story (an episode of which she is directing), Axelle Carolyn spoke on the terror that drives her film The Manor, that is, the terror of aging. Having seen several loved ones go into a nursing home, Carolyn was acutely aware of society’s tendency to underestimate and even forget about the elderly. But it wasn’t until a chilling experience in her father’s nursing home that the idea for The Manor sparked. According to the director, she was having a conversation with her father when he claimed to see someone in the doorway… someone that wasn’t there. Carolyn reflected that, no matter if what he was seeing was real, no one would have believed his story. It was then that she had the idea for residents of a nursing home that, faced with an experience no one will believe, must deal with a supernatural threat.
From then on, the panel continued diving into not just the spooky inspirations for the films, but the impact that they, and the horror genre in general, can make on society. Next up to the chat was Gigi Saul Guerrero, whose film Bingo Hell also deals with senior heroes, but puts them up against a different social horror: gentrification. In Bingo Hell, someone with more power than just money is invading the lives of a group of seniors, and when their bingo hall is taken, they decide to fight back. Guerrero said the inspiration for the film came from the real bingo players she knew, people who were (to put it lightly) intense about their game and would go to extreme lengths to protect it.
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It’s a plot anyone can enjoy, which is one of Guerrero’s favorite things about horror in general: it’s an accessible genre. According to her, horror invites “a wide variety of audience […] squirmers, people closing their eyes, laughing, paying attention, crazy people like us (the people on the panel) cheering for gore.” It’s this accessibility, she says, that allows for horror to tackle big social issues, to become metaphors for or downright call out the things that are wrong with society.
Ryan Zaragoza, whose film Madres deals with a rural commune that holds a supernatural threat for pregnant women, agrees about horror’s accessibility. A horror audience, he even suggests, might be more receptive to a message, as the real world problems that we turn into vampires, curses, and ghosts are already what that audience is seeking out.
Last to chat about the subject was Mariette Lee Go. Go’s film, Black as Night, follows a little Black girl ridding her community of bloodthirsty vampires. And though Go is Filipino, she says that the biggest influence for the film was her own life. Growing up looking different than her neighbors, Go was always having to battle her way through obstacles. Even getting into horror, which was a love of hers since she was very young, felt like a massive hurdle, as the directors of the movies she loved were predominantly a different race and gender than her.
Still, in Go’s opinion, horror has always been something of an equalizer. “Horror,” she says, “Can be understood in every language in every culture. There are genres that don’t translate such as comedy, because certain cultures that have certain ways of understanding jokes. But when it comes to fear, we all understand. So even when you have a protagonist that doesn’t look like you, but feels the same fear as you […] it puts everybody on the same levels.”
As footage from the movies played silently in the back of the virtual event, the panelists closed out their time by celebrating the fact that not only are filmmakers like them able to do more in the horror space, but that society at large is starting to see its impact. “Social horror has been around forever,” said Gigi Saul Guerrero, “we just now are finally giving it its own subgenre for us to really recognize.”
All four of the aforementioned entires to Welcome to the Blumhouse are streaming on Amazon Prime now. Check them out and let us know what you think! Which is your favorite? Which is the most terrifying? Tell us on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter. And for all the best horror content online, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.