Multiple Maniacs

Multiple Maniacs is a 1970 independent American black comedy horror film[4] composed, shot, edited, written, produced, and directed by John Waters, as his second feature film and first "talkie".[5] It features several actors who were part of the Dreamland acting troupe for Waters' films, including Divine, Mary Vivian Pearce, David Lochary, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, George Figgs, and Cookie Mueller. The plot follows a traveling troupe of sideshow freaks whose free shows end in the murder of their attendees. The film's title pays tribute to Herschell Gordon Lewis's Two Thousand Maniacs!, as Waters states in his book Shock Value.

Multiple Maniacs
Promotional poster
Directed byJohn Waters
Produced byJohn Waters
Written byJohn Waters
Music byJohn Waters
CinematographyJohn Waters
Edited byJohn Waters
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Janus Films (Restoration)
Release date
  • April 10, 1970 (1970-04-10) (Baltimore)[1]
Running time
96 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Box office$33,036[3]

In 2016, American art house film distributor Janus Films and video distribution company The Criterion Collection undertook a new restoration of the film, with its preview for the restored print released for June 17, 2016 at the Provincetown Film Festival, and its national exhibition began on August 5, 2016.


Lady Divine is the owner and operator of a show titled The Cavalcade of Perversion, a free exhibit of various perversions and fetish acts and obscenities, such as the "Puke Eater". The show is free, but the various performers must persuade and even physically drag reluctant passers-by to attend.

As a finale to every show, Lady Divine appears and robs the patrons at gunpoint. This arrangement seems successful to Mr. David, Lady Divine's lover, but Lady Divine becomes bored with the routine and decides to murder the patrons rather than merely robbing them. After escaping the murder scene, she comes home to Cookie, her prostitute daughter, and her new boyfriend Steve, a member of the Weather Underground.

Lady Divine receives a call from Edith, proprietor of the local bar, who informs her that Mr. David had been at her bar with another woman (Mary Vivian Pearce). Lady Divine heads there to catch them, but is raped on the way by two glue-sniffers. Meanwhile, Mr. David and his new lover Bonnie—a woman who desperately wants to be part of the troupe—engage in sex acts at the home he shares with Lady Divine, during which Bonnie anally penetrates him with a dildo.

While Lady Divine contemplates her rape, the Infant of Prague appears and leads her to a church. Making her way uncertainly into the church, Lady Divine prays, but is then approached and seduced by a strange young woman named Mink. They have a sexual encounter in the church pew, with Mink inserting a rosary in Divine's rectum while describing the Stations of the Cross.

Now lesbian lovers, Lady Divine and Mink go to Edith's bar with the intent to kill Mr. David and his mistress, but they are too late: David and Bonnie, his lover (who have by this time decided that they have to kill Lady Divine to protect themselves) have left.

Mr. David returns to Cookie's house to kill Divine, but finds only Cookie and fellow performer Rick there. An argument ensues, and Bonnie accidentally kills Cookie. They tie up Rick and hide Cookie's corpse just before Divine and Mink return. When Bonnie tries to shoot Lady Divine, Divine attacks and kills her with a knife. She then turns on Mr. David and eviscerates him as well, devouring his internal organs and becoming more frenzied. Rick appears and surprises Mink, who shoots him. In a fit of anger, Divine accuses Mink of betrayal and stabs her. Divine becomes even more crazed upon finding her daughter's body hidden behind the couch.

Exhausted from the ordeal, Lady Divine collapses on a couch and is raped by a giant lobster named Lobstora. In the aftermath (mumbling "You're a maniac now, Divine"), she destroys a car, then wanders Baltimore trying to kill anyone she can.

The film ends with the appearance of the National Guard, which surrounds Lady Divine on the street and shoots her, accompanied by the sound of "America the Beautiful".



Filming took place in Baltimore, Maryland.[6] Waters has said he was influenced by Herschell Gordon Lewis's Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) when writing the film, and the title Multiple Maniacs is a direct reference.[6] Waters stated in a 2015 interview with the British Film Institute that the giant lobster rape was played by Vince Peranio and his brother in a paper mache costume. The idea came from a combination of Salvador Dali, Jack Smith, a post card of giant lobster over the beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts and most likely from taking LSD and cannabis.[7]


Multiple Maniacs had its world premiere in Baltimore on April 10, 1970.[1] Waters later recalled that he toured the film throughout the United States, showing it at small arthouse theaters and other venues which often required a deposit to screen features.[8] The film also showed internationally, with screenings in England in early 1971.[9]

Critical responseEdit

Upon the film's debut in 1970, The Baltimore Sun's Lou Cedrone wrote: "Multiple Maniacs is very smelly, save for a moment here and there when the Waters humor is apparent. And humor he has. It's just a shame he has chosen to ignore that for the brutality which is not, as he and his audiences may think, a gas."[10] In 1981, Geoffrey Himes, also of The Baltimore Sun referred to the film as "thoroughly disgusting" yet "also quite funny at times."[11]

The film holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Waters' highest-rated film on the site.[4]

2016 restorationEdit

A new restoration for Multiple Maniacs by the American film distribution company Janus Films and the video distribution company The Criterion Collection was previewed on June 17, 2016 at the Provincetown Film Festival, and its national exhibition began at the IFC Center in New York City on August 5, 2016.[12][13]

The restored version was released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 21, 2017 by The Criterion Collection, featuring a commentary track by Waters among other newly produced special features.[14] This release marked the first time the film had been available on a home format in 30 years, since its original VHS release by Cinema Group in 1987.[citation needed]

Box officeEdit

As of August 18, 2016, Multiple Maniacs has grossed $33,036 in North America.[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Harris, Joann (April 12, 1970). "Baltimore Film Fete Planned for Saturday". The Baltimore Sun. p. 114 – via  
  2. ^ "Multiple Maniacs (18)". British Board of Film Classification. November 22, 2016. Retrieved November 22, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b "Multiple Maniacs (2016 re-issue) (2016) - Box Office Mojo".
  4. ^ a b Multiple Maniacs at Rotten Tomatoes
  5. ^ Waters, John (1981). Shock value. New York, New York: Dell Pub. Co. p. 61. ISBN 044057871X.
  6. ^ a b "Dreamlanders look back on 'Multiple Maniacs'". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore, Maryland. September 4, 2016. p. E4 – via 
  7. ^ John Waters "On Stage with the Pope of Trash" (Extended) BFI. Retrieved July 10, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Waters, John (August 6, 2016). "John Waters On "Multiple Maniacs"". AOL Build (Interview). Interviewed by Ricky Camilleri. |access-date= requires |url= (help)CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "Where to Go Today". The Observer. London. January 13, 1971 – via 
  10. ^ Cedrone, Lou (April 14, 1970). "Waters and His "Maniacs"". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore, Maryland. p. 10 – via 
  11. ^ Himes, Geoffrey (January 16, 1981). "'Multiple Maniacs' back to mock censor board". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore, Maryland – via 
  12. ^ Nordine, Michael (June 8, 2016). "John Waters' 'Multiple Maniacs' to Receive Theatrical Re-Release". Indiewire. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved June 11, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ Gallagher, Ryan (June 8, 2016). "John Waters' Multiple Maniacs Restored by The Criterion Collection Janus Films". CriterionCast LLC. Retrieved June 11, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ "Multiple Maniacs Blu-ray Release Date March 21, 2017". Retrieved April 12, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External linksEdit