Film Review: Multiple Maniacs (1970)

Release Date: April 10th, 1970 (Baltimore premiere)
Directed by: John Waters
Written by: John Waters
Music by: John Waters
Cast: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Cookie Mueller, Edith Massey, George Figgs

Dreamland, New Line Cinema, Janus Films, 96 Minutes


“I love you so fucking much, I could shit.” – Mr. David

Multiple Maniacs is the second feature length film by John Waters. It’s also the oldest picture I’ve seen from him. Out of his ’70s pictures, I’ve only seen Pink Flamingos and that was a long time ago at an age where I probably shouldn’t have seen it.

I grew up loving Waters’ films Cry-Baby and Serial Mon, which are tame when compared to his earlier, exploitative work. However, I’ve always loved his style of black comedy and his quirky sense of humor and his love of all things trashy.

This film jumps right into the deep end of trashy and exploitation and just keeps diving, never coming up for air. It’s actually kind of impressive that this got played at all and that it helped build a foundation for Waters’ long, busy career.

At the time that this came out, indie filmmakers created their own cinematic Wild West. Movies like this may have been suppressed and held down by the mainstream but they found their home in “seedy” theaters and at drive-ins that actually weren’t afraid of letting artists truly express themselves. Plus, American culture was in a dark place, as it was the time of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon and we were just coming out of the Civil Rights Movement and multiple major assassinations in the ’60s.

The plot of this movie is about a group of degenerate freaks that run an exhibit that showcases weird sex fetishes, perversions and obscenities. However, the show is a front as the freaks use it to rob the people they lure in, usually by force. Things escalate and the groups leader, Lady Divine, decides to start murdering her disgusted patrons. And all this is just the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the movie.

Everything then devolves and escalates into pure unadulterated madness.

There’s a scene of Divine getting fisted in a church pew by a hand wrapped in rosary beads. There’s also lots of over the top gay shit, which drove the normies mad back in 1970. Then there’s more murders, Divine goes on a blood rage and eventually, she’s gunned down by American soldiers in the streets of Baltimore as onlookers cheer her much deserved misfortune.

Yeah, this is a really fucked up movie, especially for the time. Hell, it existed a quarter of a century before the Internet was a common thing and ’90s edge lords took over, exposing regular people to the things that John Waters was capturing on celluloid a generation earlier.

It’s also easy to see how this became a cult classic and found a particular audience that embraced it and helped create enough buzz to open more doors and opportunities for Waters. Granted, he eventually grew out of this level of grotesqueness and had to adapt his filmmaking style into something that was more palatable for a larger audience.

As a film though, I kind of appreciate what this was for its time in history. Honestly, though, I’m not a big fan of it. I’m not offended by it, as many people were, it just isn’t my cup of tea and while I like some of the humor, it’s still a bit of a slog to get through.

The thing is, when you get through the shock value shit, there isn’t much else here. Sure, it shows signs of creativity and a fucked up yet entertaining mind but Waters hadn’t yet mastered his craft and certainly hadn’t found the needed balance.

But I also get that this wasn’t supposed to be anything more than what it was.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Serial Mom (1994)

Release Date: April 13th, 1994
Directed by: John Waters
Written by: John Waters
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterson, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Mink Stole, Mary Jo Catlett, Justin Whalin, Traci Lords, Suzanne Somers, Joan Rivers (cameo), L7, John Waters (voice)

Polar Entertainment Corporation, Savoy Pictures, 93 Minutes


“If ever there was a time to go on record against the death penalty, wasn’t it that night? Capital punishment is already the law in the state of Maryland. So what are we waiting for, fellow Christians? Let’s just do it.” – Father Boyce

It’s been years since I’ve seen this but man, it was really refreshing seeing it again for probably the first time since it came out on video back in the mid-’90s.

I forgot how fantastic this movie was. But then it’s a John Waters film and his style of humor mostly works for me. And his ’80s and ’90s movies were a bit more palatable for mainstream audiences.

While Kathleen Turner is a damn fine actress, I don’t think she ever had a better time than she did making this movie. I mean, she looks like she is having a blast in every single scene. She commits to the bit wholeheartedly and gave us a stupendous and iconic performance in this film.

Granted, this wasn’t a big hit and is sort of a cult movie but that also kind of makes this cooler, as not a lot of people know about it and the few I brought it up to don’t even remember its existence. Although, I’m not sure how this went down the memory hole, as it’s an entertaining romp full of cold blooded murder and a solid critique on the celebrity status of serial killers in American culture.

It also peers beyond the facade of mainstream Americana. While this was a pretty common trope in the movies of the time, when it works, it works and Waters has a certain panache that others can’t match or attempt to replicate.

I love that this takes place in the ’90s but has a strong ’50s sitcom feel to it. But Waters was a master of channeling nostalgia from that era.

While Turner is the absolute centerpiece of this film and owns every scene, the rest of the cast is outstanding as well. Especially her family, played by Sam Waterson, Ricki Lake and Matthew Lillard.

My only complaint about the film is that sometimes characters’ motivations are confusing. Like how Turner’s family supports her and wants her to get off from the six murders she’s being tried for but then are immediately fearful when she gets away with it and is coming home.

Also, the ending was just sort of okay and predictable.

Additionally, the first two-thirds of the movie are perfection. But things slow to a crawl and become less interesting once the trial starts.

Still, this was a motion picture that I was really happy to revisit. And ultimately, it made me realize that I need to go back and work my way through John Waters filmography again.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: pretty much anything by John Waters.

Film Review: Cry-Baby (1990)

Release Date: April 6th, 1990
Directed by: John Waters
Written by: John Waters
Music by: Patrick Williams
Cast: Johnny Depp, Amy Locane, Susan Tyrrell, Iggy Pop, Ricki Lake, Traci Lords, Polly Bergen, Kim McGuire, Darren E. Burrows, Mink Stole, Willem Dafoe

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 85 Minutes


“I’m so tired of being good.” – Allison

I’ve been a big fan of John Waters since I was pretty young. Granted, I didn’t see his more vulgar offerings until I was in my late teens but I had a real appreciation for Cry-BabyHairspray (the original) and Serial Mom. I just loved the style of the films and the humor was my cup of tea.

I then realized that it has been a long time since I’ve sat down and watched a Waters picture. So I wanted to go back to where it all started for me: 1990’s Cry-Baby.

This was also one of three films that made me a fan of Johnny Depp’s work. The other two films being Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood. Granted, I also love that he’s in the original A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Cry-Baby is a light musical. While I generally don’t like musicals, this one is pretty great in that it uses a 1950s rockabilly style and there isn’t an overabundance of musical numbers.

The story is about Cry-Baby (Depp) and a girl he meets, Allison (played by Amy Locane). They are from opposite sides of the tracks, Cry-Baby essentially being a Greaser and Allison being a Square, which are like the Socs in The Outsiders. The movie is a sort of Romeo and Juliet story with a cool rockabilly soundtrack and a 1950s style. The climax, which sees Cry-Baby and Allison’s Square ex-boyfriend play chicken while on top of the cars, is pretty well done and a really enjoyable finale.

The film also stars a bunch of interesting people. For one, you have Iggy Pop, who I love in everything and wish he had a bit more meat to chew on in this. You also have former underage porn star Traci Lords and Waters regular and future talk show host Ricki Lake. Willem Dafoe even cameos as a pretty hilarious but no nonsense prison guard. The cast also includes a lot of people who worked in several of Waters’ other films.

Cry-Baby is a short and fun movie. It doesn’t need to be more than it is. Ultimately, it is entertaining and not only drums up 80s and 90s nostalgia but it channels the 1950s, so its like a time capsule with triple the goodness.

While this isn’t Waters’ best film, it truly embodies what a Waters film is while being accessible to those that might not want to see a large drag queen eat dog poop.

Rating: 7/10