Director: John Waters
Script: John Waters
Cast: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Mueller, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe, George Figgs, Vivian Pearce, Vincent Peranio, Pat Moran
Running time: 97 minutes
Year: 1970
Certificate: 18

Having really enjoyed one of John Water’s much later films, namely Serial Mom (1994), which featured Kathleen Turner in top scene-stealing form, I was looking forward to seeing his so-called ‘masterpiece’, Multiple Maniacs. However, whereas Serial Mom had a fairly coherent storyline and some great performances, I found Multiple Maniacs a terrible disappointment in terms of script and performance-wise.

Although I do enjoy exploitation and trashy movies they still need to retain some level of entertainment value and I was hard-pressed to find much in the way of personal entertainment here. Made in Water’s native Baltimore, Multiple Maniacs feels and looks very much like a hastily put together student movie, one that’s been ad-libbed and had the script changed during each day of shooting. I was, therefore, very surprised to learn, from the extras that accompany the film, that Mr Waters was a stickler for all his actors to learn their lines and to not deviate from the script – perhaps they should have done; it might have made for a better, more interesting viewing experience!

The storyline, for what it’s worth, follows Divine’s ‘Cavalcade of Perversion’, a traveling tent-bound show, inhabited by a troupe of dangerous misfits whose shocking proclivities include enjoying licking bicycle saddles, fondling soiled bras, going through heroin withdrawal symptoms, eating puke, licking armpits and the odd bit of kidnapping and murder. The larger-than-life Divine is the orchestrator of all this mayhem, and she completely loses her marbles when she discovers that her boyfriend, David (David Lochary), has been cheating on her with a(nother) woman. Loads of craziness and very fake ultra-violence ensues…

It’s obvious from the start that, for some reason, John Waters is obsessed with his lead actor Divine, who I got the impression is mainly just playing a version of himself/herself. In fact, the only actors who I thought could actually act were Mink Stole, who does quite well in a very underwritten role, and ringmaster and boyfriend to Divine, David Lochary, who’s now sadly passed on, along with Divine himself.

Multiple Maniacs gives the impression of a bunch of artistic types, who enjoy messing around together, deciding to cobble together a film one day, even though the film in question actually took quite some time (over weekends) to shoot. And, like many amateurish films, the sound is pretty bad, and the camera work is variable, to say the least (Waters has an interesting way of framing shots), although amateurish visuals are more forgivable than amateurish sound.

John Waters clearly wants to shock his audience and is obviously after offending other Catholics with his rather negative depiction of religion. His cunningly edited juxtaposition of a nativity scene of Jesus on the cross, then ‘cross’-cutting to Divine getting, err, rimmed (I think?) is obviously meant to piss more religious types off. Now, normally, I like to see a bit of clever critiquing of religions and faith, in general, or even mickey-taking, if it’s funny, but this is neither funny nor clever so I found it just annoying…

Waters has also taken on board the whole Charles Manson thing going on at the time the film was made, but manages to even drop that ball with a fairly uncharismatic cult leader, in the shape of Divine, who spends most of the film’s running time making irritating noises or whining about his/her boyfriend – in fact Divine reminded me of a pantomime dame having some kind of acid trip! And talking of trips - what was the whole rape by giant lobster thing about?!

On the plus side, there’s an honesty to Water’s filmmaking that is quite appealing, and at times it’s amusing, both intentionally and unintentionally. Divine, sounding like he was struggling to remember his rather camp lines half the time, amused me for sure…

And, for all its many faults, you can tell that everyone’s giving it their all and enjoying themselves doing so; even though much of that participant enjoyment didn’t, alas, rub off on me.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is distributing Multiple Maniacs on DVD and Blu-ray as part of their Criterion Collection UK range. There are a decent amount of extras on the disc which include:  

-         A new audio commentary featuring writer/director John Waters;

-         New interviews (32.5 mins) with cast and crew members including the likes of Mink Stole, Susan Lowe, George Figgs, Vincent Peranio and Pat Moran. There are some nicely informative interviews here, with the guys talking about how they first got together, what it’s like to work with John Waters, and what Divine was like.

-         The Stallions of Filth (10.5 mins) - A new video essay by film scholar Gary Needham. Worth tuning into, although he does state the bleeding obvious quite a lot.

-         The film’s trailer (1.5 mins)

-         An essay by Linda Yablonsky – I didn’t read this, as I didn’t receive the booklet that goes with the proper disc.

Multiple Maniacs
2.0Overall Score
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About The Author

Justin Richards is a journalist by day and a scriptwriter by night. His work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not sitting hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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