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Desperate Living - DVD - New Line Home Entertainment Print E-mail
User Rating: / 1
Written by Jay Creepy   
Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Desperate Living/Polyester Double DVD Artwork on Severed Cinema
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AKA: Mortville, Nuova Punk Story, Zyjac Desperacko, Viviendo Desesperadas.

Directed by:
John Waters
Written by:
John Waters
Produced by:
John Waters, James McKenzie, David Spencer
Cinematography by:
John Waters, Thomas Loizeaux
Editing by:
Charles Roggero
Music by:
Chris Lobingier, Allen Yarus
Special Effects by:
Ed Peranio, Tom Watkins
Mink Stole, Liz Renay, Jean Hill, Edith Massey, Susan Lowe
1h 31min

New Line Home Entertainment

There was a time long ago that a strange little man from Baltimore made strange little films using his friends and general unusual looking but fantastic people.  This man was John Waters, the same John Waters who broke into the mainstream with "Hairspray," but kept to his roots and made such non Hollywood films like "Pecker" and "A Dirty Shame."  He also moulded the amazing anti mainstream classic "Cecil B Demented" with Steve Dorff, Mel Griffith, and another role for Ricki Lake.  He even controversially placed Patty Hearst into the mix as well.

There's a name in the cast, Mink Stole, a name who occurs in a lot of his last films, "A Dirty Shame," "Pecker, "Serial Mom," and "Hairspray."  The other regular names are Susan Lowe and Mary Vivian Pearce who also features in this film.  Who is she?  She's carved her name in films over the years featuring in many low budget releases, but her origins come from John Waters and his original band of movie misfits.  A time when they were making surreal artwork and straight forward bad taste on the screens. Hippies, overweight cross dressers, fat toothless crones, gays, lesbians, models, beauty queens... all had a place in his travelling sideshow of human oddities. They struggled with micro budgets, resorted to favours, families, hand outs and used guerilla tactics to get the films made.  The end results were seen as offensive but camp and so comical.

Sadly most of his old colleagues are dead, and Mink is one of the last.  She'll probably always be in his films in one role or another if he ever makes another one.  Perhaps the most famous personality to be remembered from his early films is Divine, real name Harris Glen Milstead.  He was a larger than life transvestite performer who made his name in John Water's films.

It's because of Divine, or rather the lack of Divine, that inspired me to review this particular film.  Other crude classics such as "Pink Flamingos" and "Female Trouble" are talked about a lot, due to Divine more than anything.  "Desperate Living" does not star Divine, instead a few of the other personalities in his gang are given a chance to shine, especially Mink Stole. 
"Desperate Living" is considered one of John's best.

Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole) and Bosley Gravel (George Stover) live in a large house in a very upper class area.  However, Peggy has a long history of mental breakdowns and visits to hospitals, she has just returned home.  Our first impression of her is crouched on her bedroom floor screaming as a kid's ball breaks the window.  "I knew it!  I knew they'd try to kill me in my own home!"  Peggy stares from the window at the kids, "I know you were trying to kill me! What's the matter with the courts? Do they allow all this malicious destruction of property to run rampant? I hate the supreme court!"  This goes on for some time, until the phone rings.  Answering, she flips out again because the person dialled the wrong number: “You're sorry?  How could you ever repay the thirty seconds you've stolen from my life?  I hate you!”

This is all a serious portrait of a woman on the edge of sanity...... no it isn't, Mink Stole's outbursts are so over the top they are hilarious and seem to never end.  It's like a bizarre variation of Isabelle Adjani from "The Possession" when she just screams and screams.  Next she finds her two young children naked in a cupboard playing doctor and patient, so off she goes again. “Oh god!  The children are having sex!  Sodomites! Beth, what if you are pregnant!  Raping your sister, oh god!”

Bosley catches their huge maid, Grizelda, stealing.  He grabs her handbag.  “I don't want no white man lookin' at my tampax!” she cries.  He finds his cheque book, a lottery ticket and toilet rolls(!!??)  All chaos breaks loose, one thing leads to another, Peggy batters her husband and Grizelda sits on his head, killing him.  Then they go on the run.

A goofy cop on a motorbike stops them in the woods (played by a man called Turkey Joe -- I've hunted the web and there's no record of him at all anywhere, which is a shame).  “I know who you are, you're Peggy Gravel, you killed your husband. You're trying to escape to Mortsville.”  Neither woman have heard of the town.  In a standard twist of events in John's world, the cop strips to a pair of panties and stockings.  He wants their underwear and a kiss.  They protest but reluctantly pass their knickers to him.  He puts them on and forces a kiss from them, then lays on the road rubbing himself.  He tells them to go and gives directions to Mortsville.

Mortsville is a shanty town for criminals and outcasts.  As they walk the streets it seems to be populated by leather clad gay men, hippies, blacks, photographers and other unexplainable folks.  It's like if Woodstock had been performed on the streets of seventies New York.

Mole (Susan Lowe), a butch lesbian, takes them in and gives them a room, which still has the corpse of a bum who killed himself the night before. “Left a right mess.”  They meet Mole's girlfriend Muffy, played by b-movie actress, ex gangster moll, and stripper Liz Renay, who sometimes needs a man.  Mole is upset by this so stabs a fork into her hand.  Suddenly a gang of Village People biker lookalikes burst in and take Peggy and Grizelda to see Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey) at her cardboard fronted palace.  They are both made to eat live roaches as Carlotta screams at them; a sort of introduction to the warmth of Mortsville.  It turns out that the Queen is at war with her daughter Princess Coo-Coo (Mary Vivian Pearce) who wants a life away from the palace.  The Queen spends her time eating, shouting and having sex with her guards.  Check the fantastic ugly sexual encounters 35-minutes in and 1-hour 5-minutes in -- these scenes will live with you forever.

Peggy isn't making many friends, Grizelda is sick of her moaning, Mole wants to kill her and Muffy looks fed up.  It turns out that Mole used to be a wrestler who gouged out a man's eye and choked a referee.

Laid naked in bed, minus the corpse, Grizelda forces herself onto Peggy.  Peggy accepts her advances in the end and fights her way through Grizelda's roles of  fat to eat her.

In another twist of fate, Mole has claimed Boseley's lottery ticket and won.  Meanwhile, tragedy strikes after Peggy and Grizelda discover Princess Coo-Coo hiding in their room with her dead boyfriend (don't ask).  As the guards arrive to take her, Grizelda fights them (in reality she nearly knocked one actor out by throwing him into the wall forcefully), and the room caves in crushing her.  Carlotta casts out Princess Coo-Coo and claims Peggy as her new daughter since they both hate the residents of Mortsville.

Mole pays for a sex change and shows her member to Muffy.  Muffy is horrified and vomits. Mole cuts her manhood off with a pair of scizzors.  This scene apparently stunned a lot of his loyal followers.  Me however, I find it fits perfectly into the cartoonish surrealism.

Peggy injects Coo-Coo with rabies and sends her out to infect the citizens.  Mole's friends find her foaming green slime from her mouth after being gang raped.  It's time for revolution -- Coo-Coo wants her mother dead and Mole wants to destroy Peggy.

The characters are very solid compared to "Pink Flamingos" and, say "Multiple Maniacs."  The budget and the blood feel a lot like a Hershell Gordon Lewis film, and just as much fun.  If you've never seen a pre-"Hairspray" curio of John Waters, I wouldn't really recommend this one as a starter.  As good as it is it would maybe feel like the deep end.  We started many years ago with a VHS of "Female Trouble," followed by "Polyester."  From then on, we just hit his films from every angle.

New Line Entertainment released a few double bills of John Water's films.  My review is taken from volume 2 featuring "Polyester" and "Desperate Living."  The DVDs come with an Odorama card for "Polyester," and there's a commentary for
"Desperate Living" with John and Liz Renay.  Liz is a very flamboyant personality and her life would have made a brilliant John Waters film itself.  The commentary makes your head spin with stories and silly knowledge.  For instance, Peggy's breakdown was filmed in John's parent's house.  He wasn't allowed to touch the ornaments.  Liz also played the unseen woman terrifying Peggy in the 'Glory Hole Tits' scene.  Mole's character was based on a  real lesbian who was a truck stop prostitute, blackheads and all, and so on.  There's so many.

In his book, Shock Value, John describes his creation as: “...a lesbian melodrama about revolution. 
"Desperate Living" is a monstrous fairy-tale comedy dealing with mental anguish, penis envy, and political corruption.  It's target audience is very neurotic adults with the mentalities of eight-year-olds.”

Okay, it's time I looked in the mirror then.  He he he...

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

Desperate Living DVD Screenshot on Severed Cinema

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 Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
 Region: NTSC R1
 Audio: English Dolby Digital Stereo

 - Audio Commentary by John Waters and Liz Renay
 - Trailer

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