Plot: Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole) has just murdered her husband with the help of her maid Grizelda, who smothered the man by sitting upon him. In an effort to escape potential punishment, the two head to Mortville, where criminals are given refuge, in a sense. After a run-in with an unusual police officer, Mortville is reached and all seems well, but the strange events haven’t even kicked in yet, which could be bad news. Of course, Mortville is loaded with seedy types and since it is filled with criminals, that can be a dangerous combination. The two end up moving in with a lesbian who used to wrestle, but now just lives with her girlfriend, who is a known killer in addition to other things. As time passes, the two meet more and more offbeat residents, but the shit hits the fan when Mortville’s ruler, Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey) arrives on the scene.
Entertainment Value: This is a wild slice of trash cinema that even by John Waters’ standards, has some jaw dropping moments and of course, that is not small praise in the least. I’d still rank Pink Flamingos as Waters’ wildest movie, but Desperate Living makes a noble run and provides all the elements you could want from a Waters picture, plus so much more. The narrative is coherent at the core, as two women flee after killing a man and wind up in Mortville, where a tyrannical queen rules with an iron fist, but rumbles of a resistance are gaining traction. But things spiral into madness from there and even basic scenes are out of control, with over the top characters, unpredictable plot twists, and gross out, no holds barred humor that provides one outlandish, creative scene after another. If you’re easily offended, Desperate Living will send you running for the hills and even if you aren’t so quickly shaken, the movie will do its best to make you at least cringe a few times. But to me, Desperate Living is simply hilarious and shows once again the pure trash magic of Waters, with the kind of craziness only his movies can deliver at this level. So if you’re a fan of Waters this is a no brainer, but anyone interested in art, trash, or outsider cinema should pick it up as well.
This movie has a good amount of nudity involved, with full nakedness from both men in women in sizable doses. The sex scenes are comical and not approached as erotic in the least, but there are bare breasts, naked asses, and frequent, vivid full frontal nudity from men and women. The film also involves rape in some scenes, but again, this is not graphic sexual content and as twisted as it sounds, even the rape scenes are played for absurd laughs. There’s a lot of violence here and bloodshed is present, but the scenes are so over the top and out of control, it is more comical than horrific, which was the obvious intention. This includes various gunshot wounds, an anal gunshot, a prosthetic penis being severed, smotherings, ass kissing, and other instances of violence and mayhem throughout. Again, there is some blood splashed around, but it is all shown in a comedic, beyond over the top light. The dialogue is outrageous and hilarious, with wild performances and just ridiculous, fearless lines. I think every scene has one or two quotable lines and even the more mundane exchanges here are quite insane, so the movie is a treasure trove for fans of wacky dialogue. As for the craziness, the movie serves as much insanity as you could ask for, with a parade of offensive, outlandish content and some jaw dropping sequences. This is John Waters with the pedal on the floor, so buckle up and soak in the craziness.
Overall Insanity: 10/10