“Yes folks, this isn’t any cheap X-rated movie or any 5th rate porno play, this is the show you want! Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions, the sleaziest show on earth! Not actors, not paid impostors, but real actual filth who have been carefully screened in order to present to you the most flagrant violation of natural law known to man!”
With that unforgettable bit of dialogue begins John Waters’ 1970 trash-sploitation masterpiece MULTIPLE MANIACS which, after 46 years in the vault, saw a restored rerelease this past Friday thanks to the folks at Criterion and Janus Films. While the film doesn’t necessarily qualify as “traditional” horror, there are certainly more than a few scenes that would qualify within this film; not to mention, any film that was deemed ‘Horrendous. Sickening. Revolting. Most distasteful,’ by a Baltimore judge has to have some room in the annals of horror cinema.
MULTIPLE MANIACS tells the story of Lady Divine and her Cavalcade of Perversions: a free side show of various perverse fetish acts and obscenities. Though the show is completely free to the public, the performers in the odd variety show often have to persuade and force reluctant passers-by to attend.
After the attendees have had their fill of the “Puke Eater” and various other “exhibits,” Lady Divine herself enters for the finale, in which she comes in and robs the unsuspecting patrons of the side show at gunpoint. While this arrangement has been overall successful, at least in the eyes of Lady Divine’s lover, Mr. David – she eventually becomes bored with the routine and decides to begin murdering their guests instead of just robbing them. After fleeing the murder scene, she returns home to her daughter Cookie, a prostitute, and her new boyfriend Steve. While home, she receives a call from Miss Edith, a local bar owner, who informs her that Mr. David was spotted at the bar with another woman. She makes her way to Edith’s, hoping to catch Mr. David in the act, and with that, utter insanity ensues.
From here, we’re made to witness remarkably sarcastic sequences of various perversions (both from humans and crustaceans alike), a run in with the Infant Jesus of Prague, cannibalism, various bizarre murders, and a literal fiesta of disemboweled organs.
The acting isn’t the best, the cinematography isn’t the most skilled, and there’s plenty for those looking for a more ‘polished’ cinematic experience to complain about. However, it’s something that has to be seen.
MULTIPLE MANIACS is deliberately disgusting and offensive (and often absolutely hysterical) and it’s, for lack of a better term, terrible. However, that “terrible” movie remains one of the most important trashterpieces of the underground 1970’s culture that Waters himself helped to create.
MULTIPLE MANIACS was made by a group of a dozen or so misfits – most likely completely obliterated on various drugs – led by John Waters; using a handheld 16mm film camera in black and white and without any expectation of making money or getting famous. It was made for the sole purpose of making a film and there was little to no chance anyone had any intention of people actually seeing the thing.
At the time, there was no internet, no zines, no Facebook, no Vimeo – you found these little nuggets of unbridled creativity, if you were lucky, by word of mouth, reading through back issues of the Village Voice, and by paying attention to people who praised the cinema underground like Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, and David Bowie.
Luckily for the ragtag group of filmmakers lovingly referred to as “The Dreamlanders,” someone was listening and MULTIPLE MANIACS unexpectedly found an audience.
Not surprising to anyone, the film was denied an official theatrical run by Maryland’s censorship board (according to Waters, members of the committee were reduced to actual tears during a few of the more offensive bits) which delighted Waters. Despite this, the film did see a small tour, playing in parts of San Diego and Cleveland; as well as a short run in London before becoming a hit with the Midnight Movie crowd.
Ten years after its initial release, MULTIPLE MANIACS finally saw the light of day in Waters’ home state and now it’s returned in all of its’ filthy glory eager to intrigue, disgust, and appall a new generation.
Now I can hear you asking, “Why is all this important. Why does it matter?!” The answer is surprisingly simple:
In our current society, it’s almost impossible to poke fun and make light of the darker sides of humanity. From sexism, to racism, to LGBTQ issues, to the overwhelmingly depressing political state we’re currently in – the backlash from making any kind of a statement toward sensitive topics is often too heavy to bear for many.
When you take into consideration the works of John Waters (from MULTIPLE MANIACS and beyond) where depictions of everything from kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, competitions to find ‘the filthiest person alive,’ consumption of feces, cannibalism, and more run rampant, it’s natural to question what makes something like MANIACS “art” and what makes something like A SERBIAN FILM, for example, trash (in my humble opinion).
This can all be summed up in one word: Fun.
These films, though disturbing and vile, exude fun and enthusiasm and make it blatant that the end goal is not simply to disgust, but to change, evolve, and dismantle societal norms. We’re presented with camp at its finest; the warm embracing of the lowest of the low; the most disgusting and hideous things in our culture; and having fun with them in order to stomp out and destroy the red tape of everyday life.
The intent is everything.
With that, it’s an absolute thrill to see MULTIPLE MANIACS back on the big screen and, like many, I am desperately hoping to see the restoration available for purchase in the near future.
For those that have yet to be indoctrinated into the fold of the Filth Elder, I suggest that you take a dive into the disgusting, sewage-laden pool that is John Waters’ catalogue. Immerse yourself in the absurdity of it all, have fun, and don’t take it too seriously.
If you haven’t seen this yet, what’s wrong with you?! It’s important and amazing and might just change your life a little bit.
Or it might make you puke which, to Mr. Waters, would be the equivalent of a standing ovation.
MULTIPLE MANIACS is now showing in select theatres. It can also be streamed (in its original formatting) via Amazon Prime.
Indulge in some celluloid atrocity. A little bit of shlock’ll do ya good.
Follow Ian Donegan on Twitter @ianjdonegan
Source: Brooklyn Magazine and Flavorwire