“This isn't any cheap X-rated movie or any fifth-rate porno play. This is the show you want: Lady Divine's Cavalcade of Perversion… The sleaziest show on Earth.”
So begins John Waters’s first feature to make ample use of his absurdly wordy, mostly shouted dialogue, though David Lochary’s carny pitch could just as well have kicked off Waters’s second total talky. Indeed, at first Multiple Maniacs feels like a crude dry run for the even more deliriously crude Pink Flamingos. The whole Dreamland company is present: Lochary and Mink Stole and Cookie Mueller and Edie Massey and Mary Vivian Pearce and, of course, the divine Divine. Two years before she embodied the filthiest person alive in Flamingos, Divine is the murderous main attraction of the sleaziest show on Earth— a freakshow reveling in such outrages as puke eaters and smack shooters. Compared to the very real and very graphically depicted chicken slaughtering, blowjobbing, asshole singing, and shit eating of Pink Flamingos, the simulated atrocities of Multiple Maniacs seem positively quaint.
Waters also hasn’t quite fine-tuned his shtick yet with an interminable, ten-minute-plus scene in which Divine and Mink Stole substitute a string of rosary beads for the anal kind in a church. The director would soon learn that the funniest outrages are less like forcing audiences to stare at a dead dog for ten minutes and more like just peeling the dog off the pavement and whacking the audience in the face with it.
The very cool thing about Multiple Maniacs is that it’s the closest thing Waters ever made to a monster movie. This becomes obviously true when Divine, who seems like she’s already way over the edge at the beginning of the movie, gets driven even further over the edge when a giant lobster rapes her. Then Divine takes over for Lobstora in this Baltimore Kaiju by going on a full-fledged Godzilla-style rampage.
Another cool thing about Multiple Maniacs is that it is Waters’s very first film to get the Criterion treatment. The slightly soft picture betrays the fact that Waters wasn’t exactly Gregg Toland, but there’s still a very appealing B&W indie aesthetic that is captured well here despite the stray scratch or two. Audio is similarly well presented despite any deficiencies related to amateur-filmmaking, though those who saw the film back in 1970 may be disappointed that Criterion was unable to get the unapproved Elvis songs used in the original print approved (they’re replaced with some generic Rock & Roll instrumentals).
Of the three substantial supplements, the best is by far Waters’s own typically charming, funny, and informative audio commentary that is the rare commentary to actually make watching a film more enjoyable. 33 minutes of interviews with Stole, Susan Lowe, Pat Moran, George Figgs, and Vincent Peranio is also great fun as the Dreamlanders share affectionate memories of Waters, their friends and cast mates, and filming. There’s also a ten-minute video essay by film scholar Gary Needham. All this makes for a nice package that is—fingers crossed—just the first interspecies coupling of the most prestigious home-video company in America and the filthiest filmmaker alive.