John Waters’ celebrated back catalogue of camp, cult classics hold an often referenced and revered place in many a film buff’s personal pop culture lexicon, yet only die-hard fans may’ve heard of Multiple Maniacs. Many audiences are familiar with his slightly more mainstream musical comedy movies (the caveat being that Waters is never wholly mainstream) like the original Hairspray (1988) starring Ricki Lake and early Johnny Depp vehicle Cry Baby (1990). And even forty five years on, Pink Flamingos (1972) still packs a controversial punch that only those with strong constitutions can stomach (iconically, infamously, revoltingly in an unstimulated scene drag idol Divine chows down hard on some dog doody). Never fear, thanks to film Distribution Company Janus Films and The Criterion Collection, Multiple Maniacs has been restored and brought back into circulation to be devoured (?) by a new generation of camp-loving filmgoers. Rest assured, Multiple Maniacs is some indie-queer shit that everyone can enjoy!
Opening with a carnival barker promising a ‘Cavalcade of Perversions’, how’s that for a mission statement? John Waters’ second film, Multiple Maniacs was originally released in 1970. Inside the circus tent it’s a counter-cultural freak show, replete with vomit-eating, armpit-licking, ‘two actual queers kissing each other like lovers on the lips’ and a final gunpoint crescendo as the legendary Divine robs it’s audience.
What’s the big joke? Well, John Waters particular brand of camp isn’t for everyone but it’s hard not to enjoy this trash cinema masterpiece. Is it objectively good? That’s debatable. But questioning whether it’s particularly artfully shot or has a coherent plot to follow, misses the point entirely. It’s more a series of enjoyably gross set pieces. Sit back and enjoy the show!
What other movie contains lobster rape (I should clarify the lobster is the rapist) and the use of a rosary as anal beads? Now that is truly inspired – and it also feels like a natural evolution for the use of the necklace, blasphemy be damned.
Words by Rebecca Shortall