Miss Minnie Bouvèé (Eric Swanson) is no stranger to death, but as New Orleans’ Mob Queen of the Quarter, usually she’s the one wielding the Grim Reaper’s scythe instead of being on the receiving end of its unforgiving blade. With a sinister masked admirer leaving ominous reminders of a dark moment from Minnie’s past, however, she can’t seem to get out of death’s shadow lately, especially with rival mob boss Poodles Makenzie (Jennifer McClain) seeking revenge for a recent lethal hit on her crew. And if that weren’t enough to keep Minnie’s mind spinning, she’s also dealing with the resurgent affections of her ex, Jackson Truvé (Matthew Darren), who was once the love of her life… up until the day he ran away with her sister, Mimi Bouvèé-Truvé (Benjamin Shaevitz), who also happens to be back in Minnie’s life with her own enigmatic intentions.
Such is the intriguing setup for Big Easy Queens, the new film from director Erynn Dalton (The Gravedigger) and writer Robert Leleux that recently enjoyed its world premiere at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival. Equal parts gory giallo, hilarious horror comedy, intoxicating musical, and heartfelt drama, Big Easy Queens is a gumbo of a good time that keeps you guessing which genre road it’s going to turn down next. And thanks to skillful directing and a game cast, those tonal turns are never jarring and always keep the story moving forward, whether Jackson is dazzling Minnie with a beautifully performed serenade or Poodles Makenzie (and her trusted aide Amos, played in a delightfully gruff manner by Jeffery Roberson Loe) is trying to pit Mimi against her sister in the increasingly deadly power struggle for the French Quarter.
Through all of the story’s deadly twists and tantalizing turns, Eric Swanson keeps the blood-spattered story grounded in fabulous fashion with a powerful and endearing performance as Minnie, alternating between the hard-edged persona she has to keep up as a mob boss (a poker face she keeps in place unless she’s around her trusted right-hand man, Giuseppe LePeppe, played wonderfully by Alexander Zenoz) and the vulnerable side that she keeps hidden from most of the world—a part of herself that is getting more difficult to keep at bay as attempts on her life continue to pile up (remember how Tony Soprano had to try to keep everything together with a target on his back?—it’s kind of like that, but with more singing). Even with Minnie Bouvèé’s enduring heartache and increasing paranoia, Swanson never loses the sense of campy humor that permeates this picture through and through, with Swanson’s amazing voice bringing the movie’s original musical numbers to vivid life despite death seemingly lurking around every corner.
Equally as spellbinding is Benjamin Shaevitz as the mob boss’ resourceful sister, Mimi Bouvèé-Truve. Shaevitz and Swanson have a crackling sisterly chemistry whenever they share the screen, their relationship thawing from ice-cold hatred to a genuine love that is heartwarming to witness and hilarious as well, with Mimi’s more dry humor and dead-on delivery of Leleux’s scintillating script perfectly gelling with Minnie’s over-the-top moments of mob mayhem. Suffice to say that in one scene involving a gala-planning phone call, Shaevitz has one of the best monologues I’ve seen in years, escalating from suburban tranquility to a fiery intensity that puts the “Hell in Helsinki,” as Mimi says. Watching Minnie and Mimi set aside their differences (which primarily stem from the smooth-talking Jackson) as they navigate Poodle Mackenzie’s nefarious plans and figure out who is trying to kill Minnie is a true delight to watch, and I truly hope we get more misadventures featuring the Bouvèé-Truve sisters.
Sleuthing siblings, ruthless mob bosses, and masked would-be murderers—all of these performances are showcased competently and confidently by Erynn Dalton’s direction behind the camera. With extensive experience directing live theater at Infinite Abyss Productions, Erynn infuses the infectious energy of live performances into this neo-giallo narrative, bringing an urgency and immediacy to the eerie events unfolding onscreen. There’s a budget-conscious resourcefulness present throughout the proceedings, too, as Dalton and company really lean into the campy and gory elements of the story whenever possible and don’t hold back when it comes to the practical effects, whether it’s drenching Mimi in gallons of blood à la Carrie or a certain character getting their lips stitched shut while possessed by a perilous spell. Does Big Easy Queens have as big of a budget as some of its horror comedy and musical counterparts? No. But that’s okay, because the film’s plucky independent spirit instills its story with a fun midnight movie vibe that should be enjoyed with a festive crowd (and plenty of popcorn) for years to come.
Even with enough twists to keep your head turning like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, Big Easy Queens ties everything together satisfyingly by its violent conclusion, capping off a surprising showdown with a showstopping musical performance that ends things on an energetic high note. I can’t wait to see what Erynn Dalton does next as a director (one segment of her upcoming horror anthology, Kindling, also screened at this year’s Popcorn Frights with star Anne Bobby in attendance), and with so much potential on the table for future horror-centric adventures in the undead New Orleans underworld, here’s hoping we get to see the Bouvèé sisters return for another round of gory and glamorous fun in the future.
Movie Score: 4/5
Go here to catch up on our previous coverage of the 2023 Popcorn Frights Film Festival!