John Waters’s 1970 classic Multiple Maniacs was shockingly prescient. Divine is a big, fat, grotesque, sexually deviant, sadistic, misogynous, manipulative, megalomaniac and extremely dangerous American who will destroy everyone on her way. Move 37 years forward, replace the black wig with a blonde one, add a few tones of orange, replace Mink Stole with a Slovenian lover, and the movie protagonist is once again immediately recognisable.
Multiple Maniacs remains one of the most provocative, outright filthy, plain insane and unabashedly disgusting movies ever made. It is also John Waters’s most complex film, dealing with sexual and religious taboos in the most graphic and contentious way conceivable. Despite the extremely brazen, impudent and overtly trashy tone, Multiple Maniacs is an intellectual piece and also a harsh criticism of American society, and it remains ever so politically and socially relevant nearly four decades later.
Lady Divine is the owner and operator of an itinerant freak show called The Cavalcade of Perversion, which showcases gay men kissing, a heroin addict going cold turkey, puke-eating and other delicious subversions. The show is free, with the performers persuading and even seizing reluctant passers-by to attend, who eventually embrace the degradation and the Schadenfreude. At the end of every show, Lady Divine comes in and robs the patrons at gunpoint. She has the enthusiastic support of her lover Mr David and her prostitute daughter cookie, as well as a large troupe of delinquents. All the actors in the movie use their real names (the artistic, not the birth ones).
One sunny day, Lady Divine decides to excel, thereby murdering her patrons instead of just robbing them. Upon fleeing the murder scene, she finds out that Mr David is cheating on her, and immediately decides to pursue the adulterers. She is raped on the street by two glue-sniffers, but quickly finds redemption in a local church with a strange young woman (Mink Stole). Her devotion then morphs into sexual energy, and she engages in a sex act with Mink still inside the church. The intensity of the moment is such that Divine agrees to receive a “rosary job”, ie. to have the holy beads inserted in her most private orifice. She finds Jesus in the most unlikely of places!
Increasingly bizarre twists follow, as Mr David and his lover decide to kill Divine in order to protect themselves. You will witness multiple murders, cannibalism and possibly the most preposterous rape scene you will see in your life – performed by a giant broiled crustacean called Lobstera. At the end, Divine turns entirely maniac and goes on a violent spree destroying cars and killing everyone on whom she can get her hands. The film ends with the appearance of the National Guard, when Divine finally meets her maker – accompanied by the sound of Kate Smith singing ‘God Bless America’. The movie soundtrack also includes Alan Dean’s ‘He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands’ – I’ll leave it to you to work out where the song is used, judging by its title.
The characters in Multiple Maniacs – as in all of John Waters’s early films – don’t talk like normal people. They yodel and make highly nasalised singy-songy utterances, often inflecting the beginning of the sentences. Think of a confrontational five-year-old speaking up. It’s as if they were both disgusted and outraged by their own actions and absurd words, which where mostly non-scripted. There is an element of irony and self-deprecation in the tone of their voices, which matches the primitive props and non-existing visual effects (the murders are as non-realistic as possible). John Waters wants to foreground the trashy cinema apparatus as much as he can. He wants people to know that he is the master of parody and self-mockery. It’s extremely easy to laugh and to be repulsed by a society as bizarre as the US – a country that forcefeeds its citizens with religion, prudishness and violence.
Multiple Maniacs is the Dismaland of cinema, and you will derive enormous pleasure from the creepy activities. John Waters will deftly test your morals, yet he will not challenge your senses. The butchery is purposely shambolic and unrealistic, and so you won’t be disgusted at the blood. It’s the director’s boldness that will shellshock and perhaps repulse you.
It’s every filmlover’s duty to go to the cinema and praise Lady Divine. Let’s also pray that she rises from the dead to rescue and redeem us – sadly she passed away in 1988 due to obesity and an enlarged heart. Divine is much needed nowadays: she’d eat Donald Trump long before he could grab her pussy. Dear God, please give us Divine back so she can reclaim the title of filthiest, most erratic and unpredictable person alive from the POTUS!
Multiple Maniacs in UK cinemas from February 17th. Make sure you can stomach the trailer below before watching the film!