Multiple Maniacs
"In between the shoddy scene transitions and frantically delivered lines, there are striking moments of directorial genius."

An grotesque tale of treachery, perversion and murder in the criminal underworld, Multiple Maniacs is as cheap as its characters but, like them, wears its heart on its sleeve. It survives today in visibly decaying black and white with a crackly audio track, but if anything this adds to its power. In between the shoddy scene transitions and frantically delivered lines, there are striking moments of directorial genius, and, of course, there is Divine.

America's biggest movie star (rather smaller at this point than she would go on to become) plays the manager of Lady Divine's Cavalcade of Perversions, a travelling show that lures in punters with the promise that they will get to see all those disgusting things they love to be shocked by up real close and in the flesh. As they volubly express their loathing for the performers, they make their own hideousness a spectacle for the viewer, a trick Waters would go on to refine in Polyester. The stakes are higher here than they realise, however, as the objects of their derision then turn on them - like Tod Browning's Freaks with more attitude - and they are kidnapped and robbed. So far, so good - but Lady Divine has problems of her own.

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Most of the film follows a meandering revenge narrative as our fearsome anti-heroine discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her and vows to murder him. Stopping off along the way for a sexual encounter in a church with Mink Stole - a scene which both satirises and outclasses the supposedly daring pornography of the time - she gets angrier at every turn, as it is revealed that she has a long history of committing gratuitous acts of violence. This is the first aggressive character Divine played and there's a rawness to it that hints at years of frustration finally unleashed.

Viewers should be aware that this is a film that contains sexual violence, including an encounter with a crustacean that has gone down in cinematic history, but none of this detracts from the spirit of female indomitability at its core. Although the story is trashy and the characters never intended to be realistic, both Divine and Stole turn in committed performances that feel utterly sincere, and viewers will find themselves rooting for the former throughout. The script, though crude, is often laugh out loud funny and illustrates Waters' keen observational ability. Some of the supporting performances really are terrible and the pacing is all over the place, but overall it's still surprisingly watchable.

If you liked Hairspray and Serial Mom, be prepared for something a whole lot rougher and intentionally less palatable, but something that very much shares their rebellious spirit. This is Waters at his rawest and most ebullient.

Reviewed on: 07 Jun 2014
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When she discovers that her boyfriend has betrayed her, the leader of a criminal gang vows revenge.
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Director: John Waters

Writer: John Waters

Starring: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Cookie Mueller, Edith Massey

Year: 1970

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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