Mulitple Maniacs: John Waters and Divine

After “Mondo Trasho,” John Waters and Divine collaborated again, to a better effect, in “Multiple Maniacs.”

In this tale, the star plays Lady Divine, the manager of a show called “The Cavalcade of Perversion,” proudly exhibiting various perversions, fetish rituals, and obscenities, including puke-eating. The show is free of charge, though the performers must persuade reluctant passers-by to attend it. At the finale of every show, Lady Divine robs the patrons at a gunpoint, a plan approved by her lover, Mr. David (David Lochary), When the Lady becomes bored with the routine, she decides to up the ante and murder the patrons, instead of just robbing them.

After escaping the murder scene, the Lady returns home to her daughter Cookie (Cookie Mueller), a prostitute, and her new boyfriend Steve (Paul Swift), a member of the Weather Underground. Lady Divine receives a call from Edith (Edith Massey), the proprietor of the local bar who informs her that Mr. David is seeing another woman (Mary Vivian Pearce). On her way to the bar, she is raped by two glue-sniffers. Meanwhile, the vision of the Infant of Prague appears, leading her to church, where she begins to pray. However, she is seduced by a strange woman (Mink Stole), and during their sexual encounter, the woman inserts a rosary into Divine’s rectum while reciting the “Stations of the Cross.”

As lesbian lovers, Divine and Mink go to Edith’s bar, intending to kill Mr. David and his mistress Bonnie. But they are too late, as the couple has left. Mr. David returns to Cookie’s house to kill Divine, and in the violent argument that ensues, Bonnie accidentally kills Cookie. In retaliation, Divine kills Bonnie with a knife, and devours Mr. David internal organs. Divine, angry at Mink for betraying her, stabs her, and she becomes more crazed upon discovery of her daughter’s body. A giant lobster, called Lobstora, then rapes Divine. Self-proclaimed “a maniac,” she goes on a killing spree while wearing a mink coat. In the conclusion, the National Guard shoots Divine on the street, while the iconic Kate Smith is singing the patriotic tune, “God Bless America.”

Though Waters deserves credit for his outrageous and courageous gross-out features, he did not operate in a social void. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Underground Cinema in Downtown New York was booming with new voices, Andy Warhol and the Factory, Paul Morrissey, Jack Smith and others. Smith, Warhol and Morrissey paved the way for young, audacious filmmakers such as Waters.