Reviewing John Waters’ Early Effort, The X Rated ‘Multiple Maniacs’

John Waters in New York City at the Chelsea Ba...

Director John Waters  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summary: Misleading title should’ve Been Named ‘We Don’t Have Enough Money to Make Pink Flamingos, but We’ll Give You This Sh-t Till Then!

The reason Pink Flamingos has been recognized as John Waters’ signature film of the ‘exploitation’ genre is the uncomplicated script with the sole purpose to titillate with acts of depravity. It is a film that shocks, albeit making no particular reference to any event of the period in which these movies were made. Nearly everyone who watches Pink Flamingos would’ve heard of transsexualism, cannibalism, foot fetishism, voyeurism, zoophilia, coprophilia etc and therefore the film can be enjoyed by a person who wasn’t born in the seventies. The script has been written with devilish acumen, incorporating over-the-top sequences and campy humor to tone down some of the objectionable content. The film was shot in color, and thus could highlight some of the outrageous palette John Waters used for the house and Divine‘s costumes. All these reasons give Pink Flamingos its noteworthy status in the world of trash, not just the singular coprophagous moment.

Multiple Maniacs released about two years before Pink Flamingos and made on a shoestring budget (even though the latter itself was a low-budget film) of about 5000$. Therefore, one actor assumes multiple roles and we are to believe a different hairdo implies a different character (by the way, read an intriguing explanation by a reviewer who elaborates on the religious connotation of the films. It sounds credible at first, but I rather stick to the general belief that Jesus and his followers didn’t represent Divine and her vagabonds. Edith who plays both a bar owner and Virgin Mary wasn’t a part of the Cavalcade, otherwise the reviewer’s explanation would’ve held more credit) The film is shot entirely in black and white on 16mm and the camera shakes horribly at times and is sometimes so overexposed you can barely see the actors’ bodies. The horrible white circle (indicating change of reel) flashes luminously like some extraterrestrial sign. Honestly, this film is dreadful and rather introductory to John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, a vastly polished effort compared to this shoddy piece of junk.

Multiple Maniacs

Multiple Maniacs (Photo credit: Pink Cow Photography)

When I read the plot line, my mind swirled with images of a colorful circus with Divine and her crew treating the audience with their acts only to slaughter them in the end. This does happen in the beginning of the film but it digresses into a completely different act that places massive focus on ‘Divine’, contradicting the title of the film itself. What happened to the puke-eating guy or the foot-fetish girl or the homosexuals remains unknown with the focus suddenly switching to Divine, her promiscuous daughter, her estranged boyfriend David, her brief lesbian flinger Mink and a nemesis Bonnie. In fact, while it was Divine and Mary Vivian Pierce (who plays Bonnie) taking on the duo of David Lochary and Mink Stole in Pink Flamingos, the characters are simply switched here. This makes the movie seem a rough-cut version of PF, instead of continuing with the circus act to raise the shock value.

The movie also makes references to Sharon Tate’s mother and a Weatherman Underground organization, but they flew over my head since I wasn’t born then (plus I’m not from US). At that time, such a facetious approach towards incidents like these would’ve caused a storm (I read about Ms. Tate’s incident later and found the film’s take on the event offensive), but now they seem irrelevant. The blasphemous religious sequence here would’ve made Lady Gaga blush (at least Gaga puts the rosary beads in her mouth). The final fifteen minutes are just codswallop and bullsh-t.

Had the movie developed on the lines of Freaks (a 1932 classic), but edgier, crasser, vulgar and campier, it may have worked. Instead, it succumbs like Rob Zombie’s first attempt ‘House of 1000 corpses‘, which was completely overshadowed by the wicked ‘The Devil’s Rejects‘.

Grade: D

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