“I can only take so much of this kind of talk, especially from common lesbians.”
‘Cheap,’ ‘campy,’ and ‘scandalous’ are all words that accurately describe the work of John Waters—his early stuff, anyway. No one makes depravity as fun or funny as he does. Multiple Maniacs, his second feature-length film, is unmistakable Waters: it’s a twisted and revolting mess of antipathy, vitriol, sacrilege, and sleaze. Holy shit, Sugar Scrub—and I mean that literally!
Multiple Maniacs depicts the mental breakdown of Lady Divine (Divine), the proprietor and star of a traveling freak show called “The Cavalcade of Perversion.” The show’s “performers” literally drag people off the streets and under a tent, where they eat puke, take drugs, lick armpits, and perform other acts of deviance in front of them. For the grand finale, Lady Divine robs everyone in the audience at gunpoint. One day, she decides out of sheer boredom to murder them instead—much to the dismay of her lover, Mr. David (David Lochary). Lady Divine flees the scene of the crimes to hide out at the home of her hooker daughter, Cookie (Cookie Mueller), whose horny new boyfriend, Steve (Paul Swift), is crashing there. Mr. David takes off with his lover, Bonnie (Mary Vivian Pearce), who wants nothing more than to “perform acts” with him. A phone call from a bar owner (Edith Massey) takes Lady Divine down a debaucherous path of rape, lesbianism, blasphemy, betrayal, and more murder.
Like many members of my generation, demographic, and cultural persuasion, I discovered John Waters when I was a teenager. Everything wrong with his films—silly plots, over-the-top trashy cartoonish characters, amateur “acting,” low-rent production, and his general misanthropic outlook and total irreverence—is precisely what drew me to him. He was punk before punk rock. It’s all so wonderfully awful, like Ed Wood with an intentionally nasty, edgy bite—not an unsophisticated innocence that happened by accident.
Multiple Maniacs is typical John Waters, but it’s noteworthy for two reasons. One, it’s loaded with ideas that show up in later films—as far down the line as Serial Mom and Peckerhead. This definitely will appeal to fans, especially when it becomes apparent that Multiple Maniacs is a rough (if you can imagine) blueprint for Pink Flamingos. If nothing else, this film is interesting from a developmental perspective. Two, the shock value is extreme even considering the source. Eating dog shit is tame compared to shooting up in church, cannibalism, a rosary up Divine’s ass (as she recites the Stations of the Cross), and a rape scene involving a giant lobster straight from a Godzilla flick. Jammed with references to Catholicism—including Jesus (George Figgs), Mary (Massey), and the Infant of Prague (Michael Renner, Jr.)—and Charles Manson, Waters creates a number of shall we say “colorful” moments you won’t see anywhere else, ever again.
Oh, Sugar Scrub, can we watch a Disney movie now?
Side note: I started to write this entry as a letter to my friend John (a.k.a. Sugar Scrub), who saw Multiple Maniacs with us. The idea didn’t work. Sorry, John!
91 fucked up minutes
Rated X (NC-17 today)
(Music Box) B