Gentrification is cultural vampirism, and no film represents that better than Osmany Rodriguez’s Vampires vs. The Bronx (2020). The film begins with a sunset overview of New York City followed by a sign that reads “Welcome to the Bronx: Your New Home.” The sign morphs into a taxicab announcement for “Murnau Properties,” the gentrifying force that is about to sweep the neighborhood.
Cue the opening scene. The street is ominously illuminated by a classic deep red lighting that foreshadows what’s to come, reminiscent of Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987) opening scene, dark and spooky. We’re briefly introduced to Zoe Saldaña as a blonde woman makes her way into Becky’s (Saldaña) Beauty Salon for a manicure. They discuss gentrification and Becky brags that Murnau Properties offered her “a stupid amount of money” for her shop. She shall be a cuticle pusher no more. As the blonde lady takes her leave, a man enters ready to sign the final papers so Becky can be on her way to the suburbs, but, as the signing concludes, a vampire creeps up on Becky and takes her out cementing Saldaña’s cameo very much a la Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) with Drew Barrymore.
The culture within a community is the lifeblood of that neighborhood. Drain that, and you’re left with corporate entities that try to mimic what once was. They remake the food, but it lacks flavor. All the cultural happenings are turned into a soulless fad that lacks authenticity. It’s devoid of any of the original substance. It’s no secret that gentrification displaces what are clearly socially underprivileged communities when compared to those purchasing and overtaking their living and workspaces, spaces these communities have occupied for decades. What many don’t know is that gentrification has been an issue since the 1960s when Ruth Glass coined the term stating: “One by one, many of the working-class quarters have been invaded by the middle class – upper and lower … Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.” This process is portrayed in Vampires vs. The Bronx by having white vampires literary suck the life out of the Bronx, its businesses, and residents. Not only is the metaphor is spot on, but the vampire gentrifiers utter despicably honest lines to Bronx residents such as "We are going to wipe you out like the vermin you are" and "It's easier to live somewhere where no one cares when people disappear."
Many pop-culture texts have represented and commented on the social phenomenon of gentrification. Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent, John Well’s tv series Shameless, and Richard Donner’s highly popular and now cult classic The Goonies all have storylines and central conflicts that have to do with the main characters getting displaced thanks to the unstoppable capitalistic force that is gentrification. Vampires vs. The Bronx contains a particularly creative and engaging portrayal of the horrors of gentrification. Drawing from vampiric canon such as Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys and Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Vampires vs. The Bronx comments on gentrification by making the individuals buying and moving into the Bronx white, upper-class vampires who literally suck the life out of the people and the hood. Welcome to corporate vampirism.
We are introduced to the conflict of the film immediately through the opening scene with Saldaña; the neighborhood is slowly being bought out one business at a time. The protagonist, Miguel, portrayed by Jaden Michael, is on a mission to save the neighborhood and its most prominent bodega owned by Tony who is portrayed by The Kid Mero.
When Miguel realizes the people buying up the neighborhood are vampires, he works with his two best friends Luis and Bobby, portrayed by Gregory Diaz IV and Gerald Jones III respectively, to stop the vampire menace. Together, they have a dynamic reminiscent of that between The Lost Boy’s Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan Frog (Jamison Newlander), and Sam (Corey Haim). Just like in The Lost Boys, the trio engages in an epic weapons and preparation montage before the final showdown with the vamps. And I must say, the music is epic.
Also epic is the fact that the vampire look used in the film is a call back to the vintage vamp look established by The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This brings a sense of familiarity to older viewers while introducing the younger generation to cinematic vampire aesthetics of iconic past films and shows. Vampires vs. The Bronx thus does a fantastic job of alluding to the canon while also bringing something fresh to it through the corporate vampirism metaphor that makes the film unique.
In a rather Tarantino-esque move, Vampires vs. The Bronx reimagines an unfortunate socio-political reality by having the underprivileged characters successfully face off against the privileged and save the neighborhood. Tarantino has a penchant for rewriting history to suit the underprivileged; you need only think about Django (2012) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) to confirm this. The film’s creators communicate their distaste for this social reality by having the neighborhood come together and beat the vampires.
With its family-friendly yet dark and comedic style, the film can be enjoyed by many viewers, and the fact that the heroes are minority children from the Bronx is refreshing and indicative of more inclusive and socio-politically aware filmmaking. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I highly recommend you do. It’s fun and uplifting while focusing attention on a phenomenon that is displacing communities and changing neighborhoods. That’s what I call cinema with a purpose.