Catching snippets of POLYESTER and HAIRSPRAY on cable made me realize there was a counterculture to John Waters's films that I didn't understand and didn't care to. The look of his films reminded me of how strange and unusual I thought Pee-Wee Herman was before he went mainstream. Yes, Pee-Wee freaked me out before PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE.
It must have been sometime in the late 90's during the boom of DVD and special features that I started paying attention to John Waters. I can't remember the movie, but a behind-the-scenes documentary had a interview with Waters, and the rest is history. I remember having conversations with a good friend of mine and we both agreed that we loved hearing John Waters talk about movies. Him and David Cronenberg to be exact.
The moment that I decided to go ahead and give his filmography a try was while I was watching the special features on my BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS blu-ray. I think I enjoyed more of what John Waters had to say about the film than Roger Ebert, who wrote the screenplay! Waters' knowledge of exploitation films amazed me, most importantly the rise and fall of them. And I found it interesting his explanation of why his films failed the exploitation and grindhouse market.
This month the Criterion Collection released MULTIPLE MANIACS, the second feature from filmmaker John Waters. Curiosity getting the best of me but still worried I didn't run out and purchase the movie. Once I saw that there was a Director's Commentary, I bought the film immediately! If I thought the movie sucked at least I knew I'd enjoy Waters talk about it. Luckily I got the best of both worlds! I found MULTIPLE MANIACS entertaining and the commentary enjoyable.
Released in 1970, MULTIPLE MANIACS was trashy, shocking, and offensive. Today the film would be seen as being politically incorrect more than shocking. The trashiness is still there but it's more ironic now in 2017 than it was in 1970. MULTIPLE MANIACS had me laughing (in a good way) even during the controversial moments. It's deffinatly a midnight movie for sure!
A traveling sideshow 'Lady Divine's Cavalcade of Perversions', is a front for a band of psychotic kidnappers/killers (I wonder if Rob Zombie is a fan?). Star of the show Lady Divine becomes enraged when she finds out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. Divine proceeds to go on a murderous rampage and descends into madness.
It's really not the plot of MULTIPLE MANIACS that makes the movie interesting or worthwhile, it's the absurdity. And there is a sub plot that I found bizarre. The film was made during the Manson Family murders hysteria, and Charles Manson had not yet been charged with the Sharon Tate murder. It is left vague but it's suggested that Divine may have been involved in the Manson murders. At the time this was probably regarded as poor taste.
Speaking of poor taste, MULTIPLE MANIACS is probably most known for one of the most craziest and tasteless things ever put on film! For those that don't know, I'm talking about the scene where Divine gets raped by a giant lobster named Lobstora! It has to be seen to be believed! The vicious and repulsive act sends Divine into madness and begins terrorizing the town. What a strange way to spoof the B-Movie science fiction films John Waters saw at the drive-in?
Another influence was black and white soft core Swedish art house films. According to Waters himself that's one of the reasons he thinks his films failed on the exploitation circuit, because they we're too art house and way too ironic. Patrons of grid houses wanted/loved to have their sex and violence real and gritty. For whatever reason the perversity of MULTIPLE MANIACS and his other films didn't register with the 42nd Street crowd? I'll admit I am a bit confused by this seeing that PINK FLAMINGOS (the follow up to MULTIPLE MANIACS) was a huge success in the midnight movie market. Maybe the gridhouses were dying off by then?
In conclusion, I love MULTIPLE MANIACS! For the type of film it is, it is a masterpiece! Extremely uneven at times but I admire the no-budget aspect of it all. Love his films or hate them, the fact remains that in the genre of trashy cinema there is only one John Waters.