John Waters (director)
Criterion Collection (studio)
20 March 2017 (released)
This second feature by schlock-maestro extraordinaire, John Waters, is a gross assault on the senses if ever there was one though in typical Waters style, pitch-black humour and hilariously bad taste will prevent jaws from dropping completely.
Made in 1970 on what seems less than a shoestring budget and filmed in Waters’ beloved Baltimore, the cast is comprised of the director’s usual array of friends and lovable misfits, most notably members of the Dreamland acting troupe including the one and only Divine and Mink Stole. In fact, Waters not only directed but wrote, produced and edited the film! Oh, and he also shot it albeit with highly questionable results. The constant zoom in/zoom out is quite frankly appalling though in a perverted kind of way it works rather well here. Indeed, perversion is the name of the game - then again, you wouldn’t expect sophistication from a John Waters movie, would you?
The plot, as it were, revolves around Lady Divine, proprietor of the ‘Cavalcade of Perversion Show’ – a free exhibition during which all sorts of perverted acts and fetish-related acts are performed on front of unassuming passers by, usually lured into the tents by force. So far, Lady Divine has merely robbed the assorted spectators at gunpoint but getting bored with it all now kills them in cold blood, much to the disgust of her lover and Master-of-Ceremonies Mr. David (David Lochary), who grows increasingly afraid of her. Lady Divine and Mr. David return to her daughter Cookie’s (Cookie Mueller) house, which she shares with her now boyfriend Steve (Paul Swift), a member of a left-wing, militant political organization. There they bicker over money and how Divine doesn’t seem to share the profits of her robberies… Fed up with everything, Mr. David leaves the house and makes his way to a nearby bar where he meets up with on-off flame Bonnie (Mary Vivian Pearce) and the two hatch some plans involving the murder of Lady Divine. Unfortunately, the meeting is seen by barmaid Edith (Edith Massay) who calls Divine and tips her off that “her man is in a bar with a peroxide blonde”. On the way to the bar Lady Divine is raped by a bearded man wearing a dress while his girlfriend holds down the victim – the entire scene is absurd as the two are tiny compared to Divine and would be beaten up by her within seconds.
After the rape Lady Divine is guided to a nearby church by the Holy Infant of Prague and inside the church Divine begins to pray while the stations of the cross and Christ’s crucifixion is acted out by the same performers which appear in the Cavalcade of Perversion Show. Amidst her prayers Divine is approached by a fellow churchgoer called Mink (Mink Stole), a rampant lesbian who performs an act on Lady Divine which involves a rosary though I shall refrain from going into details… just how Waters got away with filming this highly blasphemous scene is anyone’s guess!
The stage is now set for the final showdown involving multiple murder, cannibalism, more rape (yes, Lady Divine is raped again) by – get this – a giant lobster (!) and Divine’s final descent into madness and a lengthy killing spree before she’s gunned down by the National Guard (who look so unconvincing they’d be kicked out of every boot camp in no time).
Filmed in stark b/w this restored movie will delight Waters’ fans and the added bonus features include interviews with some of the surviving cast members who provide us with intriguing inside into the world of film-making John Waters-style! Quite why Divine was never up for an Academy Award beats me!