1987’s The Monster Squad is one of the cult classics that showed an assortment of kids congregate as a secret club and then face off against classic monsters like Dracula and The Wolfman to save the day. Even complete with its own memorable catchphrase (“Wolfman’s got nards!) With the roaring comeback of 80s nostalgia and many looking to Netflix’s Stranger Things as a prime example, it would be nice to change up the time periods and ethnicity. I mean, you can battle monsters everywhere, right? Director Oz Rodriguez intends to do just this with Vampires vs. The Bronx, a movie where not only where you have to fear the bite of the undead, but class warfare and cultural dilution.
Miguel Martinez (Jaden Michael) is planning to throw a big block party to save a local bodega operated by Tony (The Kid Mero). Miguel is joined by his friends Bobby (Gerald W. Jones III), and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV). While this is happening, businesses are being bought by Murnau Properties (a nod to director F.W. Murnau) and people vanish. When Miguel accidentally stumbles upon the Murnau Properties’ benefactors’ secrets, it becomes a race for the group to save their neighborhood from turning into something else entirely and their own lives.
The performances amongst the cast are strong and give the feel of being in the Bronx. Vampires’ location is just as much of a character as the inhabitants within it. Rodriguez and co-writer Blaise Hemingway made sure they added many customs from the Latino and Black communities that feel authentic. As Vampires is billed as a horror-comedy, there are laughs to be had with the banter between the kids and residents. Method Man guests as Father Jackson, there’s a social media-type show called GLO TV from Gloria (Imani Lewis) that appears to move the story along and roast our characters at their lowest. Rita (Coco Jones) is a love interest of Miguel, it’s funny as the movie circumvents that, and she rebuffs any thoughts he has.
Tony serves as a father figure to the kids, and you can see why the bodega means so much to them to preserve. Any minority who lives in New York can tell you how important their bodegas are first hand. It’s not only a place for them to buy groceries, but a place for the group to have an adult to believe the farfetched things that their own parents will dismiss them for.
In particular, the subplots with Miguel and Bobby have the most character development. Every time you see Murnau Properties gain ground, you can see the hurt in Miguel’s eyes. The threat of vampires is the primary goal for them to thwart, but it’s there’s also a bigger goal to preserve the home that he grew up in. Where adults constantly tell him it’s a lost cause, he continues anyway. Bobby has to deal with pressure from a character named Henny (Jeremie Harris) and potentially going down the wrong path. That takes on another form as storylines get mixed and characters have to make choices. One of the best things about the plot is the dynamic between the kids and their parents.
The kids are doing everything in their power to understand the mystery and save the neighborhood. Their parents have either accepted the impending changes or want the money to get a better life for their family. They present both sides of this coin to provide the emotional sustenance of the movie.
If you think about it, using vampires as a device to show a manifestation of what gentrification can do is clever. When they arrive, the color and the culture of The Bronx neighborhood deteriorate. People disappear and beloved businesses get turned into generic shops that you can find in any suburb. There’s something jarring to a small subset of wealthy (or undead) implants coming in and the reason they choose the Bronx. They claim that nobody would miss any aspects of that area – people or places of business.
Vampires vs. The Bronx pays homage to classic vampire movies such as Blade and The Lost Boys and adopts most of the lore that we’ve grown accustomed to. However, it’s able to twist these themes ever so slightly, either to a fresh set of rules or to the Latino culture present within the movie. Something as simple as using garlic adobo shows how Rodriguez can seamlessly integrate everything together.
If there’s a criticism to Vampires, it’s that the second and third acts follow plot points of 80s kid assemble movies before it. The kids discover an ancient key which is important to the vampires for a specific reason. Thus, a lot of the latter half of the movie becomes a race to see what the key means and a push and pull on who possesses it. There’s also the quintessential fight that separates the group for a time and the last push to meet the threat together. There are a lot of laughs, some trademark suspense, and heart. Vampires vs. The Bronx gives a flavorful, fruitful, and enjoyable watch for those who are looking for a fresh take on the forever fight of kids and monsters.