“Vampires Vs. the Bronx,” a “Goonies” style coming-of-age Halloween flick now playing on Netflix, is a throwback to the good old days when horror for kids had fun and an edge. That it also has a timely message is simply the icing on the cake, or in this case, the blood on the stake.
The story centers around Miguel (Jaden Michael), Luis (Gregory Diaz IV), and Bobby (Gerald W. Jones III), three Bronx teens trying to arrange a block party to raise money to save their second home, a bodega operated by Tony (The Kid Mero), from being forced out by a rent hike.
Meanwhile, a new business is buying up all the local businesses, bringing with them gentrification and outsiders to the neighborhood. “White people with canvas bags. That’s always the first sign!” Among the newcomers are Frank (Shea Whigham), the tough guy whose throwing all the money around under the name Murnau Properties and Vivian (Sarah Gadon), a well-meaning newbie who always seems to be nearby whenever the kids are outside.
When people begin to disappear Miguel, the neighborhood’s beating heart and soul, realizes the obvious, that vampires have come north of 120th street. “Sleep with one eye open and don’t get got,” says live-streamer Gloria (Imani Lewis). When they discover that the bloodsuckers plan on taking over the kids watch a “Blade” DVD to pick up vampire hunting tricks and rally the neighborhood to fight back.
“Vampires Vs. the Bronx” is both a loving tribute to teen horror—the guys call the vampires “Suckhead!”—and a carefully constructed condemnation of gentrification. Director Oz Rodriguez brings much personality to the film, bringing the dying neighborhood to vivid life. He builds the world, infusing the story with subtle and not-so-subtle references to racism—“We’re going to wipe you out like the vermin you are,” sneers one vampire—and the timely real world issues regarding marginalized communities—“It’s easier to live somewhere where no one cares when people disappear,” says another bloodsucker—nimbly balancing social commentary and jokes.
The story isn’t just a vampire story, although there’s fangs and stakes and blood. It’s more about the trio of charismatic kids who become heroes to protect something they really believe in. They have heart and humour, and while the horror may not satisfy hardcore gorehounds, the movie’s ebullience will.