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Desperate Living (1977)

John Waters followed his two works of “accidental art”, Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974), with this lurid ensemble melodrama – his most “serious” work.

Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole) is a highly strung, bourgeois housewife. Having just been released from a mental hospital, Peggy comes home to what she perceives as a plot to kill her by her husband and children. With the help of her “petite” 400-pound maid, Grizelda (Jean Hill), she sits on her husband’s face and suffocates him.

Fearing the consequences of their actions, they both flee by car only to be pulled over by a raunchy cop who prefers sniffing women’s underpants to making arrests.

Having got a noseful of their “delights”, he recommends that the women hide out in a remote shanty town called Mortville where only criminals can live under the benevolent fascist dictatorship of the very pink and vulgar Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey) and her sex slaves.

The villagers are commanded to walk and dress backwards, while sex changes, rabies and auto-castration all work their magic into the plot.

Peggy applies for a job as a biochemist working for Queen Carlotta who wishes to spread rabies among the rabble, and as she Peggy jockeys for position in Carlotta’s court, using insidious means to push likely successor Princess Coo-Coo (Mary Vivian Pearce) out of the way, Grizelda joins with the “good” people of Mortville for a rebellion.

Meanwhile, lots of screen time is devoted to the exploits of Mole McHenry (Susan Lowe), a bullish lesbian with a face full of sores who pursues a sex-change operation in order to wow her buxom girlfriend, Muffy St. Jacques (Liz Renay).

A woman’s picture par bizarre excellence, the film may look cheap and cluttered, but it comes with a poignant ending that is endearingly apocalyptic.

Peggy Gravel
Mink Stole
Queen Carlotta
Edith Massey
Muffy St Jacques
Liz Renay
Mole McHenry
Susan Lowe
Princess Coo-Coo
Mary Vivian Pearce
Grizelda Brown
Jean Hill
Bosley Gravel Jr
Brook Blake
Beth Gravel
Karen Gerwig
Flipper
Cookie Mueller
Kid
Jay Allan
Bathroom pervert
Pat Moran

Director
John Waters