The gloriously grotesque second feature directed by John Waters is replete with all manner of depravity, from robbery to murder to one of cinema’s most memorably blasphemous moments. Made on a shoestring budget in Waters’ native Baltimore, with the filmmaker taking on nearly every technical task, this gleeful mockery of the peace-and-love ethos of its era features the Cavalcade of Perversion, a traveling show mounted by a troupe of misfits whose shocking proclivities are topped only by those of their leader: the glammer-than-glam, larger-than-life Divine, out for blood after discovering her lover’s affair. Starring Waters’ beloved regular cast the Dreamlanders (including David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe, George Figgs, and Cookie Mueller), Multiple Maniacs is an anarchic masterwork from an artist who has doggedly tested the limits of good taste for decades.
For those who know and love John Waters, we have come to expect a certain amount of depravity and fun from his films. For those don't know Waters, prepare to be shocked, grossed out, offended, and entertained, with the hopes that you cross your threshold of tolerance and have fun with these eccentric characters. With hit films like Pink Flamingos, Pecker, Serial Mom and Hairspray, to name only a few from Waters' impressive movie list, John has never shown any signs of slowing down or catering to a Hollywood normalcy of filmmaking. In fact, John Waters is the maestro of films for the oddballs and cinema buffs who purely love the art of movies and all of the weirdo characters that go with them.
Before Waters made a name for himself with Pink Flamingos, he made a little shoddy movie called Multiple Maniacs back in 1970 that would introduce him to the world. By all means, this film is sick, depraved, and extremely raunchy, but it also is one of the first films to show these sick acts on film, just for the case of shock and awe, as well as Waters interjecting a little satire on US culture. For all its flaws, this film really is perfect in almost every way, from the story (or lack thereof) to each actor committing to their characterized persona, it all works in a bizarre way, which is one of the reasons this movie has one of those rare 100% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.This would also start the long friendship and business relationship between John Waters and Divine, which lasted till Divine's untimely death many years later.
Multiple Maniacs is simple enough in setup, with Divine leading a filthy and immoral band of carnies in a sadistic city sideshow. If you want to see the "puke eater" or someone who licks dirty seats for a show, then this act will please you. At the end of every show, Divine robs everyone for the thrills, but eventually Waters has her killing her audience. Needless to say, with this band of deviants, it doesn't take a lot for all of them to turn on each other with lies, betrayal, and murder.
John Waters was sure on to something special here for a very niche audience, and he captured every thrilling and dark comedic moment perfectly, even with his very low budget black and white camera. Scenes range from someone doing heroine, a sex scene with a rosary that might have inspired a certain scene in The Exorcist, a rape scene between our main attraction and a giant lobster, and that's only the top of the iceberg. There isn't really any fluid storytelling in the conventional sense, but for the time being in 1970, Waters wanted to shake up the cinematic atmosphere with something that has never been shown or seen on film before. It's with Multiple Maniacs that he cemented his name and style in the minds and hearts of his loyal fans.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Multiple Maniacs comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc from Criterion and is Region A Locked. There is a Criterion booklet with an essay by Linda Yablonsky, along with information on the crew and technical information on the film. The disc is housed in a hard clear, plastic case with spine #863.
Multiple Maniacs comes with a 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio. According to the Criterion Booklet, the film was shot in 16mm. The reversal original was kept in John Waters' closet for twenty years, which was then moved to his attic in more than 100 degree temperature. Recently, Criterion retrieved the print and scanned it in 4K resolution in New York.
Surprisingly, the film was in good condition, considering how it was stored for so many years. Digital restoration techniques were used to stabilize the image, and tons of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were cleaned up to give this new video presentation an all new look, which is quite outstanding. The low budget of the production, along with how it was stored could have resulted in a low end picture, but the image looks excellent now with clear images, sharp detail, and depth.
Individual hairs on Divine's wig look excellent and the outlandish costumes look great here too. Due to the low budget, there are some lighting and focus problems, but that is from the source, and not a transfer problem. The black and white color scheme looks great with a variety of grays that look pristine in this new video transfer. From where this video presentation came from, it's outstanding in every way.
This release comes with a LPCM 1.0 Mono mix and according to the Criterion Booklet, the monaural soundtrack was remastered from the original 16mm magnetic audio track and digitized in 96K resolution. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed. The track sounds good for what it is, just don't expect a full immersive experience.
Dialogue is mostly clear and easy to follow along with and sound effects don't necessarily pack a big punch, but get the job done nicely. The score always adds to the bizarre and thrilling nature of this film, without drowning out any other audio aspect.
Audio Commentary - John Waters delivers an excellent and fully entertaining commentary track, discussing his cast of characters, Divine, making a movie on a shoe string budget, and some hilarious anecdotes from the set. This is well worth the listen.
Interviews (HD, 33 Mins.) - Here are some great interviews with the cast of the film, including Pat Moran, Vincent Peranio, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe, and George Figgs, who talk about making the movie and working with Waters and Divine.
Video Essay (HD, 11 Mins.) - Film expert Gary Needham talks about the production and legacy of the film and Waters.
Trailer (HD, 2 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
Criterion Booklet - A fold out booklet that details the technical aspects of the film and disc, credits, and an essay by Linda Yablonsky.
Multiple Maniacs is the first step into a bigger world for John Waters. Back then, he pushed the bounds of taste, morals, and ethics, while seeming so innocent and beautiful at the same time with his characters and films. Nobody has come close to emulating his style to this day. Multiple Maniacs may not have a cohesive story, but it was the start of something new in the cinematic world and gave us John Waters and Divine. Criterion has knocked this release out of the park for sure with excellent video and audio presentations, as well as some amazing extras. MUST OWN!