After a series of brightly coloured illustrations depicting vodou death spirit Baron Samedi together with, and then apart from, his beloved wife Maman Brigitte, Richard Elfman’s Bloody Bridget begins with its Van Nuys trailer park heroine Bridget O’Brian (played by Elfman’s wife Anastasia) performing a burlesque on stage with fellow artists Pepe (Marcos Mateo Ochoa) and Leticia (Naomi de la Cruz). It is no ordinary burlesque: for while certainly flesh is bared, so are guts, as the love triangle scenario that these three choreograph ends with the jealously enraged Bridget bloodily stabbing to death her partner and his new lover, before killing herself.
This merger of stripshow and Grand Guignol is for the Thursday Nights Horror Show that Bridget, always seeking to find artful expression in her low work, puts on weekly at Tony’s Tavern. The night is popular with the audience, but merely tolerated by the club’s owner Tony (Tom Ayers), a racist, sexist, homophobic monster of a man who is only interested in “booze and boobs”, and who takes any opportunity he can get to grope Bridget. Indeed Bridget is mistreated by many: she was sexually abused as a child; her boyfriend Edwin (Christian Prentice) takes advantage of her accommodation and income while regularly two-timing her; the attorney Goldman (Adam J. Smith) who promises to introduce her to his network is in fact just after non-consensual sex; even the matron (Kristin West) at the jail where Bridget ends up impounded tries to rape her. She is objectified and exploited, but also unafraid to fight back.
In fact the burlesque show at the beginning of Bloody Bridget is a mise en abyme of the entire film, which will not only combine elements of sexual display, but also of horrific female revenge – and eventually bring all of these back to the stage at Tony’s Tavern, where the boundaries between performance and reality have become as blurred as those between the living and the dead. For after hanging herself in jail, Bridget will be claimed by Baron Samedi (Jean Charles) as the reincarnation of his wife Maman Brigitte, and returned to earth as a ‘Valentine vampire’. Newly empowered, Bridget will take revenge on the many men who have abused her – and on abusive men in general – by bloodily devouring their hearts whole. Yet when Samedi turns out to be no less patriarchal in his demands on her, Bridget will turn to diminutive Jewish father-and-son defence lawyers the Dershowitzes (Rick Howland and Evan Eckenrode) and Pepe’s Catholic priest (Alejandro Patiño) to find a way to rewrite a marital contract signed by Satan himself (played, naturally, by a rhyming Elfman in heavy makeup).
Goofy, gory and gonzo, Bloody Bridget revels in its own tawdriness, while resurrecting the splattery self-referential spirit of Herschell Gordon Lewis. For this is a film about an artist finding her own form within the confines of a trashy medium – be it night-club burlesque or a low-budget, do-it-yourself horror movie. “I always had aspirations, even as a kid,” Bridget says at one point, “music, dance, astrology, superheroes…” By the end, Bridget has ticked all these boxes and more, on a journey from marginalised victim to centre stage, from put-upon employee to becoming her own boss, and from vindictive murderess in fantasy only to supernatural mankiller in reality, “blessed with the power to righteously spill blood.” It is a paean to feminine strength, to be sure, but also a celebration, more unconventionally, of shyster attorneys, creative nipple tassles and thoroughly modern marriage arrangements. Garishly lit and utterly camp, Elfman’s gag-filled film has a lot of heart – prominently including the kind that is wrenched bloodily from a bad man’s chest and devoured.
strap: Richard Elfman’s vodou burlesque celebrates female empowerment, gory revenge, shyster lawyers and unconventional marriages
© Anton Bitel