Multiple Maniacs (1970, 2016)

Now released in cinemas for the first time since it was made in 1970, John Waters shocks and awes with Divine in Multiple Maniacs – the clue’s in the title.

So very Divine

by Alexa Dalby

Multiple Maniacs

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Even sophisticated remastering has not dimmed the full force of Multiple Maniacs’ demented home-movie feel. Filmed in grainy black and white, with long takes and lurching jump cuts, it was one of John Waters’ earliest movies and a learning experience. “I never made it look bad on purpose. I just didn’t know any better…” he told one interviewer.

Only seen to date on VHS, the film is capable of being equally shocking now in its first cinema release 46 years later. Waters’ muse, overweight drag queen Divine (fellow Baltimorean Harris Glen Milstead, star of many Water’s movies as his persona grew more extreme, such as Pink Flamingoes, Female Trouble, Polyester and Hairspray) is the considerable force behind Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions, a circus-type freak show in a tent with an audience of unsuspecting ‘straights’ drummed up by her boyfriend David Lochary acting as a kind of carnival barker. While Divine holds court and the audience are frozen in disgusted shock at the performances on show – vomit eating, for example – Divine and her counterculture troupe kill and rob them.

From then on, the plot takes another turn as Lochary and his other girlfriend Bonnie (Mary Vivian Pearce, another Waters regular) plot to murder Divine, and Divine plots to murder him and, well, everyone. The camerawork is seems random, struggling at times to catch up with the action, and dialogue is both improvised and consisting of monologues – pacing is uneven and the feel is makeshift, unpredictable and, above all, done for shock value.

Waters brings in a strong religious connection in Divine’s sexual encounter in a church with ‘religious whore’ Mink (Mink Stole, who also featured in Mondo Trasho) and a strategically placed rosary intercut with scenes of the crucifixion. Made in 1970, it also reverberates with the contemporary shock of the Manson Family murders and trial in 1969. And on the wall of Divine’s daughter’s flat (played by Cookie Mueller, Pink Flamingoes), a large photo of Jackie Kennedy in her iconic assassination-day suit stares down. Divine’s rape by a giant lobster, homicidal madness and choir singing God Bless America is the final coffin nail in this most violent and funny destruction of ‘American values’, marking the end of the end of the years of hippie love and peace and the start of a new era that would eventually spawn punk.

Multiple Maniacs is a subversive movie atrocity that cries out to be seen to be believed. Enjoy.

Multiple Maniacs is released on 17 February 2017 in the UK.

Join the discussion