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August 11, 2008 |

By Brian Prisco | | August 11, 2008 |

I never had a war to go to where I could kill strange people and make myself a man. I had to cut my teeth in the theatres, watching bloodshed and violence and sexuality through the sheen of celluloid. I have probably seen every disgusting deviant act known to man performed on screen. But the movie that furnished me with the thousand-yard stare of those whose souls have been made numb by horrors best left unspoken was Pink Flamingos. Pink Flamingos was my Vietnam.

It is a family portrait more twisted and warped than any you will ever see, including the families from all versions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Leatherface’s momma might have been creepy, but she didn’t wear a filthy slip, weigh three metric tons, and live in a playpen retardedly crooning about eggs. It’s the vision of a misunderstood genius, a twisted motherfucker, a man who has driven an 18-wheeler through the house of decency and taste, and crushed the children playing on the lawn under the tires and wedged them into the grill. Watching it again, after all these years, I am shaken by how profoundly disturbing the film is.

The purpose of the film, shot over weekends by John Waters and his cast of cronies whenever they could scratch up enough cash to afford scenes, is unclear. It has always felt like a cinematic dare. A poorly crafted, terribly acted, voyeuristic view into a carnival of freaks unlike any I could imagine. It’s just like a pill handed to you by a pencil-thin, moustache wearing Morpheus, challenging you to abandon Alice and her dear diary next to the pond and follow him into a rabbit hole of depravity that will untinker your brain for life. You can never unwatch Pink Flamingos; it will stay with you like childhood molestation. Eventually it will resurface during your wedding receiving line as an aunt leans in for a kiss and you start wailing, thrashing, and keening in a puddle of tulle on the reception hall floor. If you think I am exaggerating about how fucked up this film is and trying to secretly convince you to see this with some grotesque reverse psychology, please don’t let me. Get me front seat tickets to Celine Dion before I do that to any of you.

If this sounds rambling and incoherent, blame it on the trauma I’ve experienced at rewatching this monstrosity. You can have your Troma exploding Penis Monsters, or your Argento eye slashing, or even your deet deet Miike. You can have your improvised Leigh, your seasick verite of Mann or Hagard. What makes all of this pale in comparison to Waters’ handcraft hunk of mondo trasho is that every horrifying and aberrant act IS ABSOLUTELY REAL. (Except for the scene where a gaggle of partygoers butcher a group of police officers and devour their raw flesh.) Other than that bit of camp, every other scene I’m about to explain to you was actually performed for the camera. Just remember that as I recount the horrors. I’d never have gone to California if I knew they were making films like this just down the old I-95.

Misery befalls the Marbles of Baltimore when their arch nemesis Divine goes into hiding for her crimes under the alias Babs Johnson and claims the title of the Filthiest Person Alive. The perverted Marbles thought they were shoo-ins for the crown with their Manic Panic-ed carpet and pubes, their toesucking sex, and the hubbie’s habit of tying kielbasa and chicken heads to his penis and exposing himself to young women. Oh, and they run a baby ring out of their basement, where they kidnap lonely girls and crack whores, get their manservant Channing to impregnate them by masturbating into his hand and injecting them with his semen, and then selling the babies to lesbian couples. They send a spy named Cookie to seduce information out of Crackers, Divine’s son, and learn about the rest of the family, including Divine’s constant companion, the bottle blonde Cotton, and her egg-man lovin’ momma. This espionage involves Crackers and Cookie (I’d be hard pressed to call it entirely consensual sex) tussling naked with a LIVE CHICKEN struggling between them. Crackers keeps trying to forcibly insert the chicken into the young lady’s swimsuit area, all the while Cotton peeps through a window and fondles herself. Show some respect James Bond. You only had to pork an Octopussy.

It’s Babs/Divine’s birthday, and as a present the Marbles send her a box, and in that box was a box with a turd in it. In the grand scheme of the movie, it’s pretty much what you get the girl who has everything, including a penis. Apparently this outrage sets Divine off. First, she decides to get the party started — a party which involves a burlesque stripper who resembles an early Austrolopithicus female, a pig’s face, dried vomit on a napkin, a butcher’s cleaver, and the piece de resistance, a contortionist who whistles with his asshole. Appreciate that talent, folks. His sphincter actually expands and contracts. It provides the same level of amusement as a fat man who draws a giant top hat on his stomach and makes his belly button talk. Only this is a man’s anus. This might have been the scene that eventually broke me when I first saw it as a teenager. The Marbles even ran away in horror and call the cops. Who arrive to be chopped into a party feast. And then Momma marries the Egg-man and gets carted off in a wheelbarrow.

Divine and her son break into the Marbles’ home as the Marbles break into their trailer. The Marbles set fire to the trailer. Divine and Crackers lick every surface in the house, culminating in a coupling where Divine gives the ultimate gift of Divinity to her son: she pulls down his pants and graphically fellates him on a dining room table. You are now witnessing a scene where a mother is blowing her son. You are now witnessing in actually a scene where a drag queen is orally pleasing a young man. You are now realizing that John Waters owns your immortal soul.

More crazy shit ensues, and at this point if you are still watching this movie without some sort of catatonia setting in, you my friends are hardier folks than I. Even knowing that these events were taking place still didn’t prepare me. Because it’s real. It could be a documentary. All of this comes to a head in the grand finale where Divine proves she’s the filthiest actress in all of movie history. And how, pray tell, can you top the sybaritic symphony? Well, you have a dog take a shit and then have Divine eat it. Not just stick it in her mouth, but chew it up so that her teeth are stained brown and chunky.

Why? Why would you subject yourself to this? Is this art? Is this necessary? Are you better for having seen it? I can’t answer those questions. It’s truly a tasteless film, and a twisted masterpiece in that it was AFTER this movie that John Waters actually had a career for himself. This was his apex (or nadir, if you prefer). This was as far as you could go. Even the Jackass kids haven’t dared to pull off this shit. Literally, this shit. While many of the Twisted Masterpieces in our little gallery depict gruesome acts of violence and terror, this movie will scar you for entirely different reasons. I am still shaken by what I saw on screen. It has forever modified my view of movies. How can I be horrified by imagery when I witnessed this cavalcade of events? Much like the carnival barker pattering you into the freakshow, be wary folks. What you see cannot be unseen. What you witness will forever more haunt your thoughts. It is not for the faint of heart. Bon appetite, shit face.

Brian Prisco is a warrior-poet from the valley of North Hollywood, by way of Philadelphia. He wastes most of his life in desk jobs, biding his time until he finally becomes an actor, a writer, or cannon fodder in the inevitable zombie invasion. He can be found shaking his fist and angrily shouting at clouds on his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.

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Pink Flamingos / Brian Prisco

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