Rosary beads turned sex toy. Consumption of human entrails. Sexual assault perpetrated by a lobster. A bloodied murderer terrorizing Baltimore in a mink coat.
No, this isn’t a list of images that appear during a bad acid trip, unless you’re tripping while watching John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs (not recommended). Full of absurdity, violence, hilarity and kinky sex, Waters’ 1970 second feature, is a roller coaster to say the least. Though it now has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Maniacs had a $5,000 budget and very little commercial success, at least initially. Given that no one wanted to distribute the film (see the above list for a hint about why), Waters drove around the country renting out art theaters and screening it himself.
Like many Waters films it is now a cult classic, and Janus Films recently undertook its restoration, which was completed just a few months ago. It recently screened at the Charles as part of the summer revival series. The final of the three screenings will take place at 9 p.m. tonight and will include a question and answer session with Waters.
The plot of the film goes something like this: Lady Divine (Divine) operates and stars in something of a traveling freak show entitled The Cavalcade of Perversion. She robs its attendees at gunpoint at the end of each show and during one show decides that she wants to kill them. For fun. When she arrives home she is informed that her partner in both business and love, Mr. David (David Lochary), is cheating on her, so Lady Divine decides to murder him and his mistress (Mary Vivian Pearce). Her plan is delayed when she is sexually assaulted then led by child-Jesus to a church, where she has intercourse with a strange woman (Mink Stole), who, it turns out, seduces churchgoers quite frequently.
Mr. David and his lover go to Lady Divine’s home with the intent of killing her so that they can be together. Unfortunately, they accidentally kill Cookie (Cookie Mueller), Divine’s beloved daughter, and place her corpse behind a couch. When Lady Divine, unable to find the couple, returns home, she kills everyone in her midst — Mr. David (who she also eviscerates) and his mistress, her daughter’s boyfriend (Paul Swift) and her new lesbian lover. After being sexually assaulted by a giant lobster, she runs throughout the streets of Baltimore covered in blood, attempting to kill anyone she can. Then, the National Guard shoots her many, many times to the tune of “God Bless America.”
Multiple Maniacs is chock-full of absurdist humor, leaving viewers laughing rather than scarred. The low production value of the film makes hilarious the more visceral and disturbing moments. Divine did, however, consume a cow heart for the shooting of the film. Waters had been keeping it in his fridge.
There’s not much else to be said about the film. Multiple Maniacs really must be experienced to be understood, and even then it’s somewhat confounding. As Waters is one of Baltimore’s most beloved figures, Maniacs appropriately rounded out the conclusion of this season’s revival series. There is still one summer restoration to come, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), a psychological thriller about a surveillance expert starring Gene Hackman, who gives an impressive performance. The critically acclaimed film will screen on Saturday at 11:30 a.m., Monday at 7 p.m. and next Thursday at 9 p.m. It is sure to be rousing and thought-provoking, though perhaps less memorable than Maniacs.
As we eagerly await the lineup for the newest fall revival series, we should note that the most recent installation of Cinema Sundays has just begun and the fall Anime Night lineup is also available.
For the unindoctrinated, Cinema Sundays is a ten-week program for patrons to gather to view and discuss films. On (almost) every Sunday morning from now through Dec. 11, cinema lovers will flock to the Charles Theatre for coffee, bagels, a film screening, a question-and-answer session and general discussion.
The series offers a great opportunity for Baltimoreans who share a passion for film to meet one another or for newbies to learn more about the subject in an unpretentious environment. The ticket fee is $16, but becoming a member can save a lot of dough in the long run.
Anime Night brings popular Japanese animated films to The Charles for two nights each. The fall series consists of 14 films (well, now 13), including Hayao Miyazaki favorites like The Wind Rises (2013) and Princess Mononoke (1997) as well as several more niche selections like horror sci-fi film Vampire Hunter D (1985), based on the eponymous series of Japanese novels. Screenings occur Wednesday’s at 9 p.m. (subtitled, $9.50), Friday’s at 9 p.m. (subtitled, $9.50) and Saturday’s at 11 a.m. (dubbed, $7.50).
The Charles has also featured a number of other showcases in which a film is aired, with a Q&A and conversational period taking place afterwards. This month’s Cinema Sunday film is Demon, a Jewish horror film. The screening is at 10:30 am on Sept. 18 and the ticket fee is $16.