Release Date: April 10th, 1970 (Baltimore premiere)
Directed by: John Waters
Written by: John Waters
Music by: John Waters
Cast: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Cookie Mueller, Edith Massey, George Figgs
Dreamland, New Line Cinema, Janus Films, 96 Minutes
“I love you so fucking much, I could shit.” – Mr. David
Multiple Maniacs is the second feature length film by John Waters. It’s also the oldest picture I’ve seen from him. Out of his ’70s pictures, I’ve only seen Pink Flamingos and that was a long time ago at an age where I probably shouldn’t have seen it.
I grew up loving Waters’ films Cry-Baby and Serial Mon, which are tame when compared to his earlier, exploitative work. However, I’ve always loved his style of black comedy and his quirky sense of humor and his love of all things trashy.
This film jumps right into the deep end of trashy and exploitation and just keeps diving, never coming up for air. It’s actually kind of impressive that this got played at all and that it helped build a foundation for Waters’ long, busy career.
At the time that this came out, indie filmmakers created their own cinematic Wild West. Movies like this may have been suppressed and held down by the mainstream but they found their home in “seedy” theaters and at drive-ins that actually weren’t afraid of letting artists truly express themselves. Plus, American culture was in a dark place, as it was the time of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon and we were just coming out of the Civil Rights Movement and multiple major assassinations in the ’60s.
The plot of this movie is about a group of degenerate freaks that run an exhibit that showcases weird sex fetishes, perversions and obscenities. However, the show is a front as the freaks use it to rob the people they lure in, usually by force. Things escalate and the groups leader, Lady Divine, decides to start murdering her disgusted patrons. And all this is just the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the movie.
Everything then devolves and escalates into pure unadulterated madness.
There’s a scene of Divine getting fisted in a church pew by a hand wrapped in rosary beads. There’s also lots of over the top gay shit, which drove the normies mad back in 1970. Then there’s more murders, Divine goes on a blood rage and eventually, she’s gunned down by American soldiers in the streets of Baltimore as onlookers cheer her much deserved misfortune.
Yeah, this is a really fucked up movie, especially for the time. Hell, it existed a quarter of a century before the Internet was a common thing and ’90s edge lords took over, exposing regular people to the things that John Waters was capturing on celluloid a generation earlier.
It’s also easy to see how this became a cult classic and found a particular audience that embraced it and helped create enough buzz to open more doors and opportunities for Waters. Granted, he eventually grew out of this level of grotesqueness and had to adapt his filmmaking style into something that was more palatable for a larger audience.
As a film though, I kind of appreciate what this was for its time in history. Honestly, though, I’m not a big fan of it. I’m not offended by it, as many people were, it just isn’t my cup of tea and while I like some of the humor, it’s still a bit of a slog to get through.
The thing is, when you get through the shock value shit, there isn’t much else here. Sure, it shows signs of creativity and a fucked up yet entertaining mind but Waters hadn’t yet mastered his craft and certainly hadn’t found the needed balance.
But I also get that this wasn’t supposed to be anything more than what it was.