For many people, scary movies aren’t fun. Whether it’s because they get too scared or think it’s a low-brow genre, they just can’t get into it. I can’t personally relate to this, but I’d like to extend a recommendation for folks who might want to branch out and try something horror-adjacent without being too scary or too Scooby-Doo level.
If you like comedy-horrors like Beetlejuice or What We Do In The Shadows, Vampires Vs. The Bronx should be your next watch. This kid-friendly, comedy-heavy, satirical condemnation of gentrification is funny, full of heart, and represents the neighbourhood as a home filled with culture and community.
Our movie opens on a Bronx nail salon, where salon owner Becky, played by Zoe Saldana, is giving a manicure to bubbly and blonde Vivian, who tells Becky she’s moved here after being priced out of her old neighbourhood. Becky tells her the same is happening in the Bronx, in fact, she has been offered a ton of money for her salon, so she is excitedly selling and Vivian will be her last manicure.
After she finishes Vivian’s manicure, real estate developer Frank Pollidori comes into Becky’s salon to finalize the sale. After she finishes signing the papers, a dark figure emerges from the back of the salon and attacks Becky, biting down on her neck while Pollidori watches uninterestedly.
The next day, a young teen named Miguel is biking around the neighbourhood putting up signs promoting a block party he’s organizing to help save the local bodega, which is like a second home to Miguel and his friends.
Their group consists of Miguel, also known locally as Lil Mayor for his constant efforts to help save their neighbourhood, Bobby, and Luis. The bodega is owned by the warm and paternal Tony, played by The Kid Mero, who you may know from the Showtime show Desus and Mero.
The boys go to a local Catholic school run by Father Jackson, played by Method Man.
They notice the local courthouse is going to be changed into apartments by the same company that took over Becky’s salon, Murnau, which has a symbol that looks suspiciously like Vlad the Impaler.
Miguel wants to disperse flyers around the courthouse but his friends run ahead to go to play Xbox at Tony’s bodega. As Miguel is putting flyers up, he notices a thin, long-haired, pale guy staring at him and whistling creepily, so he get on his bike and rides away. A valid decision.
Encounter with a vampire
Speeding around a corner, Miguel crashes his bike directly into Slim, a gang member, knocking a drink out of his hand and spilling it all over himself. He chases Miguel to a parking garage where he hides, when they both start to hear the same whistling from before. Still hidden, Miguel watches as the man from earlier approaches the Slim confidently and casually. Slim pulls a gun on the man, but he begins to control his mind, immobilizing him. The man kills Slim and Miguel sees that he is a vampire.
At the bodega, Bobby, Luis and Tony are all playing Xbox when Miguel races in, shouting in fear about the vampire, who then arrives in the doorway of the bodega, lingering awkwardly. Being a friendly business owner, Tony says, “Welcome to Primo Bodega.” The vampire enters and he and Tony engage in a stiff, weird chat as the boys hide behind the display. When he eventually leaves, they notice he has no reflection in the circular anti-theft mirror above the door.
Tony remarks to the boys that nobody’s going to care if Slim disappeared. “Why, because he’s a gang banger?” Bobby asks. “No, because he’s from the Bronx, like us.”
Eventually, in an effort to arm themselves to defend against the vampires, the boys scour their homes for garlic and crosses, and steal holy water from Father Jackson.
We discover that Vivian is a vampire, and she and the rest are in The Bronx to find a new home. She says she doesn’t want The Bronx to change – it’s easier for them to live somewhere that people’s disappearances aren’t investigated. Worst of all, she killed Tony. In an attempt to defend himself from Vivian, he had broken his prized possession, a bat used by Sammy Sosa to hit 60 home runs in one season.
Protecting The Bronx
At the movie’s climax, all the other vampires have been killed and Miguel and Bobby are cornered by Vivian. Bobby is weakened lying on the floor and Vivian is hypnotizing Miguel, about to go in for the kill. She tells him The Bronx is a shithole. As she’s about to bite him, a shout interrupts her – it’s dozens of Miguel’s neighbours and community members coming out of the woodwork, infuriated that she had the audacity to call their neighbourhood a shithole. They are immediately ready to throw down to defend the neighbourhood from her insults and vampiric gentrification. Miguel and Bobby’s moms, Luis’s auntie, Father Jackson in a really cute sweater, and the rest of the neighbourhood are all in attendance and armed for battle.
As they’re all squaring up against Vivian, they’re interrupted by two teen girls who casually stroll through the no-mans-land between them. They’re scrolling through Instagram and gossiping about an acquaintance’s shitty weave before they notice what’s going on around them.
“Who’s this bitch?”
“Iuno, but she ugly.”
Vivian attacks the girls but their neighbours intervene, defending the girls and the neighbourhood. They fight Vivian with little success, until Gloria throws one of her Timberlands at her, smacking her in the face.
Vivian grabs Bobby and holds him midair, threatening to break his neck if anyone approaches. She is about to bite Bobby and turn him into a vampire when Miguel charges towards her, riding his bike with Tony’s broken Sammy Sosa bat on the front like a jousting lance. He impales Vivian and she dies. The Bronx is saved, and Miguel quietly thanks Tony for the bat as the vampire crumbles into ash.
The Bronx is finally free of vampires
Days later, the kids and the whole neighbourhood are at the block party having a good time and we see a graffiti mural honouring Tony and the Primo Bodega. Gloria closes out the movie telling us that the neighbourhood is back to normal and safe again, and warning invaders not to try it in The BX.
So, yeah, I loved this movie. It’s not perfect of course – it offers a very simplified understanding of gentrification and its process, but it’s meant to be enjoyed by everyone, kids included. An in-depth explanation of the phenomenon may be better suited to a documentary or drama or something.
A love letter to a hometown
This film is a family-friendly, funny and sweet tribute to the culture in The Bronx while also being a damnation of the gentrification plaguing in the borough. One of the most beautiful things about this movie is that it depicts The Bronx as a tight-knit, culturally rich, vibrant place to live.
I’ve never lived in The Bronx, so I can’t personally vouch for the accuracy of this depiction, but it seems authentic, albeit a little sunnier than reality, perhaps. But isn’t that something we all want – to see our neighbourhoods, communities and selves illustrated in all our glory and authenticity?
If you haven’t already seen it, Vampires vs. The Bronx is available on Netflix. If you have seen it, let me know what you think with a comment!