Mondo Trasho (1969) – John Waters’ first full-length film is certainly unique in that it’s basically a silent film, using music to tell the story. The live chicken decapitation in the beginning, followed by some extreme foot fetish adoration, is a great introduction to what was to come as Waters’ career developed. Most of the cast and crew were arrested while filming the naked hitchhiker scene.
Multiple Maniacs (1970) – The assortment of colorful characters in the “cavalcade of perversions” may invoke a gag reflex with its puke-eaters and perverts, but the anal sex that Mink Stole performs on Lady Divine with a pair of rosary beads while the “Stations of the Cross” are recited in church leaves the viewer praying for respite. This scene was filmed in a real church while the priest was kept busy outside, engaged in a discussion about what the filmmakers “hoped to shoot.” The giant lobster rape at the end of the movie also merits notice as a wonderful moment in trash history.
Female Trouble (1974) – The story of Dawn Davenport, portrayed by Divine, follows a larger-than-life delinquent all the way from high school to her shocking demise many years later. A Christmas-gift-gone-sour leads to her running away from home and having intercourse with a skid-marked ogre, also played by Divine, on a dirty mattress in the woods. Of course, this vile act leaves her pregnant. Upon giving birth, she proceeds to gnaw the umbilical cord off in animalistic fashion. If that wasn’t enough, many would argue that Dawn’s striptease—and Aunt Ida’s breast fondling (played by another John Waters all-star alum, Edith Massey)—are cringe-worthy in their own right.
Desperate Living (1977) – Right off the bat, Desperate Living opens with a fried rat delicately placed on what appears to be a fine dining place setting. As opening credits roll, the rat is then sliced with the clear implication that someone off-camera is eating it. Our story then unfolds as Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole) and her maid, Grizelda (Jean Hill), escape to Mortville after murdering Gravel’s husband. Mortville is full of dirt-poor freaks, perverts, and criminals, which keeps the film wonderfully littered with trachea-loosening moments. However, when Mole McHenry (Susan Lowe) finds her girlfriend, Muffy (Liz Renay), to be less-than-receptive to McHenry’s newly-attached penis, to say the removal of the unwanted organ is painful to watch is a glaring understatement. Also, don’t forget about the dog food faceplant, the panty-preoccupied cop, or the gun being fired up Gravel’s anus.
Polyester (1981) – Divine returns as Francine Fishpaw, a woman whose life is turned upside- down as she learns her husband is not only unfaithful, but he’s running a porn theater. To make matters worse, her son is the foot fetishist “Baltimore Stomper” that the cops are searching for, and her daughter has been knocked-up by a local delinquent (played by Stiv Bators of The Dead Boys). Although you get to see a very inebriated Francine vomit in her purse, the true raunch of this film lies not in sight, but in smell. This film came with the “Odorama” card, so when prompted by the screen, you would scratch-and-sniff the corresponding number to smell what our on-screen protagonists were experiencing. Therefore, the prize stench, of course, goes to the fart.
Hairspray (1988) – Ricki Lake makes her John Waters debut here as Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teen who wins the hearts of viewers of a popular dance show and uses her success to open eyes about integration. It’s pretty hard to find much in this film that’s utterly repulsive. The worst thing that comes to mind is the sound effects that accompany rival Amber Von Tussle’s zit-popping, with help from her mom (Debbie Harry).
Serial Mom (1994) – After a nearly-complete departure from the visually-repulsive in 1990’s Cry-Baby, we are treated to one particularly foul scene. Kathleen Turner portrays outwardly prim-and-proper supermom Beverly Sutphin, as we follow her through a series of murders sparked by idiosyncratic annoyances in her perfect suburban world and provocations against her loving family. One murder in particular turns the stomach: Beverly catches her daughter’s would-be boyfriend with another woman and follows him into the men’s room. She attacks him from behind with a fire poker, and as he goes face-down into his own urine, his liver is left dangling from the sharp edge. She is forced to pry the organ off, then slips on the gore. It sticks to her shoe, “hanging there like a runny nose.”
A Dirty Shame (2004) – We were pretty hard-pressed to find anything too repugnant about Pecker (’98), unless you consider the teabagging, or Cecil B. Demented (2000), which really seeks to make more of a statement about the sorry state of mainstream cinema than offend its audiences. Those two films manage to capture Waters’ style and sense of humor without driving home a wealth of sight gags, and opt instead for a more constructive raunchiness. Even in A Dirty Shame, a film about sexual addicts and deviants and conservatives’ (called “neuters” in this movie) attempts to stifle them, many of the more objectionable topics are implied or discussed. However, this film was still lauded as a return to vulgarity for Waters, so we’ll have to call to mind the sploshing scenes (rubbing food all over one’s privates in an erotic manner), and scenes where Dingy Dave eats a used tissue and gets caught fingering a package of ground meat. In the very least, you’ll walk away with a whole slew of new slang terms for fetishes you never knew existed.
Pink Flamingos (1972) – We took this one out of chronological order to save the best for last. Billed as “an exercise in poor taste”, Pink Flamingos is the ultimate trash classic. Referred to as “vile and repulsive” by critics, the film’s extreme nature brought John Waters and his cast and crew of “Dreamlanders” into the public eye through midnight screenings. The story centers on a battle for the title of “filthiest person alive,” and thus the stage is set for debauchery. It’s tough to say what would be the “grossest” scene. While many cite the infamous dog-crap-eating scene (which has been confirmed to be 100% real), the singing butthole sequence sent people running to the exits. Other moments of intense ickiness include a hypodermic semen injection, bloody sex with a live chicken, a mother/son blowjob, and a shrimping 69 (toe-sucking). Divine even provided the real turd for the postal poop present sent to her by her nemeses. Pink Flamingos is the true embodiment of a cult classic over 30 years running, and is truly the Prince Of Puke’s crowning jewel.