Desperate Living (R)

Comedy 90 December 31, 1969
By Eric Henderson
With no fewer than five high-powered female (or nearly female) performances shrieking for attention, this 1977 film may be trash purveyor John Waters's most divalicious work ever--and it doesn't even include his stalwart leading "lady" Divine. A foully histrionic Mink Stole sets the tone in the first reel as Peggy, an unhinged, upscale housewife who's convinced the neighbor kids are trying to kill her, and that her own grade school whippersnappers are incestuous, sodomite perverts. It's easy to see how her mental condition has been allowed to fall so far, given that her in-house nurse is the astonishing Grizelda (played to the absolute hilt by Jean Hill, who damn near steals the movie, sinking her teeth into lines such as, "I don't want no white man looking at my Tampax!"). When Grizelda kills Peggy's husband by...uh, sitting on his face, the two are forced to leave suburban Baltimore for the safe haven of Mortville, a town where all of humanity's rejects congregate under the totalitarian rule of the whiny, marshmallow-shucking puddle of goo that is Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey, clearly putting every last ounce of her under-exercised thespian muscles into each disinterested "C'mon"). As in every great Waters film of the '70s, the complete surrender to bad taste is never simply the goal; here the auteur seems to be consciously attacking both bourgeois isolationism and underclass resentment. Or he could just be another gay man who stifles gags at the thought of lesbians having sex. After all, it can't be argued that his outspoken love for all that's grotesque in our society comes by the back of his hand. (Eric Henderson)
John Waters Liz Renay, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe, Edith Massey, Mary Vivian Pearce, Jean Hill John Waters