Multiple Maniacs Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

“Yes, folks, this isn’t any cheap X-rated movie or any fifth-rate porno play; this is the show you want!…Not actors, not paid impostors, but real actual filthy who have been carefully screened in order to present to you the most flagrant violation of natural law known to man.” This goes for Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversion, but also, it could be said, John Waters’ second feature, MULTIPLE MANIACS.

As the master of ceremonies notes, the show is absolutely free and host to images that will “literally make you sick.” Consider: a woman making out with a leather bicycle seat; men licking a topless woman’s hairy armpits; cigarettes being put out on people. There are also “actual queers” and puke eaters. The images draw immediate repulsion and revulsion from the non-paying audience.

Multiple Maniacs

It’s easy to call Waters’ films filthy, perverted and/or disgusting. But consider just what purpose they–especially his early works–serve. MULTIPLE MANIACS, at least in its opening act, is pointing out the absurd homophobia of the time, putting homosexuals in the same tent as people who eat vomit for an audience, Waters is rattling the beliefs of those with fear and hatred; that the show tends to end with the patrons being robbed says so much about the logical fallacies of those uncomfortable with anything outside of the norm. (Partaking in the activities onscreen are a number of Waters’ Dreamlanders stable: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Susan Lowery, Cookie Mueller, Edith Massey and more.)

Multiple Maniacs

That’s not to say there aren’t images of sheer shock, placed on celluloid to turn the audience off and make them regret their choice that day. There certainly are, and one of the most memorable, involving a giant, raping lobster, stands as one of Waters’ crowning achievements, surely part of the highlight reel that will accompany his inevitable Honorary Oscar.  But that’s what we’ve come to expect from Waters, whose most famous scene he ever shot involved a drag queen eating dog crap. To dismiss is easy; to embrace is {ahem} divine.

Multiple Maniacs

MULTIPLE MANIACS is raw and one of the most amateur of Waters’ works. With a budget of around $5,000, it’s a shoestring that is fraying at every inch. There are instances of shaky camerawork, uneasy zooms, cast members looking at the camera, people flubbing their lines and so much more, all of which add to the “charm” of the picture. At times, MULTIPLE MANIACS feels like the home movies of a bunch of demented hippies–which, come to consider, may be the case.

Multiple Maniacs

MULTIPLE MANIACS is quintessential John Waters–revolting, jolting and, in a way, more politically and intellectually aware than a number of its Hollywood counterparts at the time. The entire film feels like it was made solely to scare the comfortable. It is, like many of Waters’ films, a middle finger–albeit one that has been painted bright pink, dipped in warm tuna, stuck up a crossdresser’s ass and sniffed by a Manson acolyte.


Video: 1.66:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “The film was shot on an Auricon 16 mm camera using Kodak black-and-white reversal film with audio magnetic stripe. Additional exterior footage was filmed on a Bell & Howell hand-cranked camera. Kodak Plus-X film was used for the exteriors, while Kodak Tri-X was used for the interiors. The reversal original was kept in Waters’ closet from 1970 until he moved in 1990, after which it was kept in Waters’ attic at occasional 100-plus-degree temperatures–until the Criterion Collection retrieved it and scanned it in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner at Metropolis Post in New York. The film was in remarkably good condition ever after its tumultuous nonarchival history. Digital restoration techniques were used to stabilize the image; clean up the dirt, scratches, and debris; and give MULTIPLE MANIACS a new shine for its digital premiere.”

While MULTIPLE MANIACS is something of a curious choice to upgrade to Blu-ray, nice work has been done with the restoration. The video is certainly far from pristine (although contrast is strong here and much of the dirt has been cleaned up), but the transfer does admirable maintain the overall quality of the film as it was shot, complete with grain, which will please purists.

Audio: English Mono. “The monaural soundtrack was remastered from the original 16 mm magnetic audio track and digitized in 96K resolution at DJ Audio in Burbank, California. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”

The audio is quite nice, allowing for clear audio and few distractions.

Audio commentary featuring John Waters: In this new commentary, writer/director Waters reflects on the making of MULTIPLE MANIACS, the film’s evolution and history, his style of filmmaking, the Dreamlanders crew, much, much more. Those familiar with Waters’ live acts and public speaking engagements will find it no surprise that this is a thorough, engaging and amusing track.

Interviews (32:26): MULTIPLE MANIACS cast and crew members Pat Moran, Vincent Peranio, Mike Stole, Susan Lowe and George Figgs discuss how they met Waters, as well as working and being friends with him for so many years.

The Stations of Filth (10:40): A video essay by film scholar Gary Needham.


Also included with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by critic Linda Yablonsky.

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