I have been trying to find a way to describe John Waters' Multiple Maniacs. It is true to its tagline 'a celluloid atrocity' but what I've struggled with is whether it is a good thing or not. I have only seen a few of Waters' films (Serial Mom, A Dirty Shame, bits of Hairspray) and I found them bizarre and some scenes unwatchable but I appreciated that Waters' cult status was because of his style, vision and writing, it just wasn't something I could watch repeatedly. But I went to see Multiple Maniacs with an open mind and oh my did I need an open mind for this one.
Shot on a micro budget and filmed in exotic locations such as Baltimore and Waters’ parents garden, the film has a down and dirt quality from the start. From the, what looked like, hand scrolled credits to the fantastically over the top, underplayed acting, the introduction to Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions is enticing as well as disgusting. Offering such attractions as ‘the puke eater’ and ‘a heroin addict going cold turkey’ and two people licking someone else’s hairy armpits. But as Mr David (David Lochary), coaxes a small crowd into the free exhibition with an amusing list of what is to be found inside the tents, there is a feeling that something else is going to happen. Enter Lady Divine (Divine) lounging naked looking into a mirror (what a screen introduction) and barking orders at the troupe. Things aren’t great between her and her boyfriend, Mr David hinting at unrest in the ‘family’. This is the real ‘story’ with the free show being a front for a robbery/murder. The plot shifts to Mr David having an affair with Bonnie (Mary Vivian Pearce) and plotting Lady Divine’s murder, while she is set on revenge for Mr David’s betrayal.
In between in all the blood, drugs, mayhem, the film has an odd interlude where Divine seeks solace in a church after being attacked. She tried to pray but instead succumbs to the allure of a woman (Mink Stole) who sleeps in confessionals and gives people ‘Rosary Jobs’. She and Divine have a weird and bizarre sexual encounter in the church, which is intercut with each of them going through the Stations of the Cross in voiceover as well as the a scene with the rest of the cast re-enacting the story. It was strangely in-depth with detail of what happened at each stage. But, this isn’t the strangest thing to happen in the film that is saved for near the ending. This section of the film could be seen as an attempt from Lady Divine to find answers her behavior and her murderous glee but she is corrupted and seduced by the strange and depraved.
Despite the scene in the church and brutal murders that happen, Divine’s rampage through the streets of the city is a terrifying thing to behold. Covered in blood and god knows what else in a one piece swimming costume and a fur coat. She embraces the maniac inside and just lets loose. It could be described as a revenge film or a crime story but for me I see it as film about being able to let your crazy side out.
There are some fantastic moments in this film, the lobster especially as it is unexpected and literally for no reason, with comedic and horror elements too, its hybrid that once you start watching you can’t stop as sometimes, its hard to believe what you’re watching is happening, which could be great cinema. Overall, I think it’s a film you need to see for yourself as I am actually not doing it justice.