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The Bronx continues its moment in the media and pop culture spotlight: (Shout out to AOC! Shout out to Cardi B! Shout out to Desus & Mero! Who can forget The Joker doing a jig on the stairs connecting Shakespeare and Anderson avenues in Highbridge?
So, it’s no surprise one of Netflix’s latest flicks would take place in that borough. “Vampires vs. the Bronx” is a comedic horror movie directed by Osmany Rodriguez and co-written by Rodriguez and Blaise Hemingway. The film focuses on a group of young teen boys tracking newcomers who they believe vampires intent on buying up all the local properties—and making local residents who stand in their way disappear.
[Editor's note: When a movie or TV show is set in New York City—and if the people making it are savvy—real estate becomes part of the story itself. In Reel Estate, Brick Underground reality checks the NYC real estate depicted on screen].
It’s a clever idea mixing horror with the real, NYC concern of being priced out of your neighborhood by rising rents. For these residents, gentrification is like having your neck chomped. Filming began in 2018—coinciding with a rush of investors and new development in Bronx.
Vampires going about their business in NYC undetected is a perennial theme for movies and television—playing on our fears or serving as campy entertainment as in the F/X show, “What We Do in the Shadows,” which depicts vampires living on Staten Island.
In an opening scene of “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” we see the camera pan across the 161st Street/Yankee Stadium subway station. Next, a white girl named Vivian—a newcomer from Manhattan who claims she was priced out of her own area –visits a Dominican nail salon. The owner, Becky, says this will be the last manicure she ever gives because she just accepted a buyout from a real estate developer who tells her, “Well, Becky, let’s get you on your way to the suburbs.” Sadly, Becky does not make it to the suburbs after all. The real estate developers have other, more nefarious, ideas in mind.
While real estate investors don’t kill in order to acquire properties, at least the flavor of the neighborhood is spot on. Much of the action centers around the local bodega, owned by a local named Tony, hilariously played by Bronx personality Joel Martinez aka Kid Mero of the famed Bodega Boys and Desus & Mero show. He proudly hangs Sammy Sosa’s bat in his bodega along with signs for Bronx’s famous chopped cheese sandwiches. There’s even a bodega cat.
As the movie progresses, we see the development company buying up other local retail spots and more missing person’s signs sprouting up. However, the madness culminates with the developers buying up the Bronx Courthouse to make an amenity-laden luxury residential development aptly named The Court Haus.
Neighbors hanging out on stoops drop some sage wisdom, explaining how to spot the signs of gentrification: White people with canvas tote bags is always the first sign.
And they are right. Tony’s bodega cat gets kicked out after a new resident contacts the DOH to report a health violation. To keep up with the times, Tony starts offering kale, oat milk, organic hummus and craft beer. The times, they are indeed a changing and not everyone is happy.
The three teens, Bobby, Miguel and Luis—think: "The Stranger Things" crew wearing Jordans and Knicks hats—start a block party fundraiser to help Tony pay for his astronomical rent raise. Their headaches escalate from dodging street thugs and drug dealers to escaping vampires who are intent on keeping the meddling kids quiet. While initially no one believes them, the boys really sink their teeth into their investigation and come up with some real evidence that the real estate developers infiltrating the area are not just figurative bloodsuckers.
The boys retreat to shabby apartments in loud, crowded walkup buildings. Their single moms are struggling to make ends meet, working multiple jobs to pay the rent, often having to leave them home alone. So even though the boys furiously try to warn their parents against welcoming in the real estate folks, explaining the head developer, Frank Polidori is “a very bad man…” Bobby’s mom Gladys retorts, “Of course he is, he is in real estate!” but she still wants to hear what he may have to offer her for her home. Not wanting to give anything away, but chaos ensues, and the community collectively ends up fighting for its life.
While the idea of a literal bloodbath is over-the-top, most of the movie—premise and locations—is wholly realistic. Buyouts, store owners being priced out of locations they have worked in for decades, and the changing face of NYC is a sad reality and has been for years. (And this was shot pre-pandemic!) Super naturals aside, “Vampires vs. the Bronx” still gets a 5/5 rating on the realism scale because it is 2020 after all. With all else that has befallen our city and country, could vampires really be that far behind?
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