X Dir: John Waters | Criterion | 1h 31min
Plot: What’s it about?
Lady Divine (Divine) runs the Cavalcade of Perversions, a traveling tent show with all manner of distasteful exhibits. Her boyfriend serves as the barker and promises sights that will dazzle and sicken, from licking armpits to eating vomit and all stops in between. Once the audience has witnessed that myriad of performances, they’re taken to a special tent to see Lady Divine herself. While admission to the cavalcade is free, this is where Divine extracts her profits. She holds the audience at gunpoint and relieves them of their jewels and cash. She even shoots and kills one viewer, after she ran her mouth. Her boyfriend protests her violent behavior, but Divine wishes she could slaughter even more people. Her murderous ways have pushed away her boyfriend, who now seeks comfort in the arms of another woman. When Divine finds out, she embarks on a revenge mission of epic proportions, but her boyfriend has a plan also, to kill Divine and be free once and for all.
An early John Waters picture, Multiple Maniacs follows the formula he would build his cinematic legacy upon. A non stop assault on “decent” society, the film travels anywhere it can to offend and satirize the so called polite world. Divine heads up the attack and is fantastic here, giving a manic and show stopping effort in the lead. Her breakdown after killing several people is quite an experience, as she foams at the mouth and goes on a destructive rampage of blood lust. The movie has other wild scenes as well, from giant lobster rape to an infamous use of a rosary for anal pleasure. So Multiple Maniacs doesn’t hold back on the shock value, to say the least. The production values might be low, but the entertainment value is high and the creative sense of rebellion is remarkable. Multiple Maniacs was only Waters’ second feature, but it has all the elements fans of his work could want and more. I’m thrilled that Criterion chose to pick up this movie, I can only hope more trash cinema could be in the works. If you’re a fan of Waters or off the rails cinema in general, Multiple Maniacs earns a high recommendation.
Video: How’s it look?
Multiple Maniacs is presented in 1.66:1 widescreen. This transfer looks incredible, given the low rent roots and less than ideal storage conditions of the elements. You’ll still see some wear and defects, but the visuals really shine through. The print looks light years cleaner than ever before, with more detail visible and a stable overall presence. Another knockout treatment from Criterion.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The original mono soundtrack is here and sounds better than ever. This release corrects the audio imbalances that plagued the film, with overly loud dialogue that lessened the entire sound design. That is solved here and the movie seems to have all the elements in proper balance. You can still tell the cast was shouting their lines, which is good, but it no longer hinders the sound presence. A clean presentation that fans will greatly appreciate.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – John Waters provides audio comments about the production of Multiple Maniacs, especially the quirks of the cast and guerilla style production. He touches on how they worked around budget constraints, the general reaction to the movie’s release, and what happened to the movie in the years since.
- Interviews – A collection of recent interviews with Susan Lowe, George Figgs, Pat Moran, Mink Stole, and others. Not super in depth type stuff, but it is always fun to hear about working with Waters and the social blowback on these movies. Stories from the shoot abound, the trials of low rent filmmaking, and the sense of rebellion that permeated the Waters shoots.
- Gary Needham – Needham provides a video essay that focus on Multiple Maniacs in terms of social impact and legacy. How it was viewed, the reactions, and whether or not it was shocking just for the sake of shocks. This is from a more scholarly perspective, so it is a lot of fun and insightful to hear such a polished take on a wild movie.
- Illustrated Booklet – An essay by critic Linda Yablonsky
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
A classic of trash cinema, Multiple Maniacs has enough wild and offensive moments to please any genre fan. Criterion’s lush release looks excellent, fixes long standing audio issues, and has a nice selection of supplements. Highly recommended.