Desperate Living


1h 30m 1977
Desperate Living

Brief Synopsis

A well-to-do housewife has her 300-lb maid crush her husband. The two escape to the kingdom of Mortville, a safe haven for unsavory citizens, where the queen names Peggy her heiress.

Film Details

Also Known As
Mortville
MPAA Rating
NC-17
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
1977
Distribution Company
New Line Cinema; New Line Home Entertainment

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color

Synopsis

A well-to-do housewife has her 300-lb maid crush her husband. The two escape to the kingdom of Mortville, a safe haven for unsavory citizens, where the queen names Peggy her heiress.

Film Details

Also Known As
Mortville
MPAA Rating
NC-17
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
1977
Distribution Company
New Line Cinema; New Line Home Entertainment

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color

Articles

Desperate Living


Director John Waters made his name as a master of “trash-art,” a bombastic, anything-goes style of cinema which kicked convention to the curb and helped to launch the midnight movie. His famous “Trash Trilogy” includes 1972’s Pink Flamingos (perhaps his most famous film), Female Trouble  (1974) and Desperate Living (1977). In the latter, Waters pulls from melodrama, horror and The Wizard of Oz (1939) to craft one of his most outlandish, unpredictable and colorful films. Waters regular Mink Stole stars as Peggy Gravel, a nerve-shredded suburbanite newly released from a stay at a Baltimore psychiatric hospital. After suffocating her husband, Peggy and her in-home nurse Grizelda (Jean Hill) take to the road. A run-in with a corrupt cop leads the two to the aptly-named Mortville, a ramshackle town deep in the country. Populated by a wild bag of criminals and outcasts trying to exist outside the stuffy parameters of conventional society, the town sits in the shadow of a looming castle. The depraved Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey, the famous egg-eater from Pink Flamingos) rules with the help of a tight leather and mesh-clad police guard. The queen takes interest in newcomer Peggy, but tensions come to a head as the townspeople begin to revolt, and Peggy finds herself on the wrong end of an angry mob. Waters, a lover of all things gauche and discarded, imbues every scene with his signature touch to craft a world that intertwines reality and fantasy, especially as the story moves from the leafy Baltimore suburbs to the muddy claustrophobia of Mortville. Of course the film features a healthy dose of his signature “bad taste” in the form of prison sex, self-mutilation, cannibalism and death by rabies, but also argues for the rights of people cast to society’s fringes. Divine, Waters’ most famous collaborator, isn’t present here, but a number of his “Dreamlanders” (Waters’ frequent cadre of actors) deliver colorful, all-out performances. Be sure to note the film’s genuinely filthy set design. Constructed of cardboard, corrugated metals and bright plastics, the set is Oz filtered through a psychedelic garbage heap. Built on farmland in rural Maryland, the actual “Mortville” set helped life imitate art, with poor sanitation and living conditions driving the crew to their limit. For Waters, it all helped to serve yet another unmatched tale of depravity and desperation in a world losing its mind.

 

by Thomas Davant

Desperate Living

Desperate Living

Director John Waters made his name as a master of “trash-art,” a bombastic, anything-goes style of cinema which kicked convention to the curb and helped to launch the midnight movie. His famous “Trash Trilogy” includes 1972’s Pink Flamingos (perhaps his most famous film), Female Trouble  (1974) and Desperate Living (1977). In the latter, Waters pulls from melodrama, horror and The Wizard of Oz (1939) to craft one of his most outlandish, unpredictable and colorful films. Waters regular Mink Stole stars as Peggy Gravel, a nerve-shredded suburbanite newly released from a stay at a Baltimore psychiatric hospital. After suffocating her husband, Peggy and her in-home nurse Grizelda (Jean Hill) take to the road. A run-in with a corrupt cop leads the two to the aptly-named Mortville, a ramshackle town deep in the country. Populated by a wild bag of criminals and outcasts trying to exist outside the stuffy parameters of conventional society, the town sits in the shadow of a looming castle. The depraved Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey, the famous egg-eater from Pink Flamingos) rules with the help of a tight leather and mesh-clad police guard. The queen takes interest in newcomer Peggy, but tensions come to a head as the townspeople begin to revolt, and Peggy finds herself on the wrong end of an angry mob. Waters, a lover of all things gauche and discarded, imbues every scene with his signature touch to craft a world that intertwines reality and fantasy, especially as the story moves from the leafy Baltimore suburbs to the muddy claustrophobia of Mortville. Of course the film features a healthy dose of his signature “bad taste” in the form of prison sex, self-mutilation, cannibalism and death by rabies, but also argues for the rights of people cast to society’s fringes. Divine, Waters’ most famous collaborator, isn’t present here, but a number of his “Dreamlanders” (Waters’ frequent cadre of actors) deliver colorful, all-out performances. Be sure to note the film’s genuinely filthy set design. Constructed of cardboard, corrugated metals and bright plastics, the set is Oz filtered through a psychedelic garbage heap. Built on farmland in rural Maryland, the actual “Mortville” set helped life imitate art, with poor sanitation and living conditions driving the crew to their limit. For Waters, it all helped to serve yet another unmatched tale of depravity and desperation in a world losing its mind. by Thomas Davant

Quotes

Hello? What number are you calling? You've dialed the wrong number! Sorry? What good is that? How can you ever repay the last thirty seconds you have stolen from my life? I hate you, your husband, your children, and your relatives!
- Peggy Gravel
Have I gone to Hell? Is that it? Have I gone straight to Hell?
- Peggy Gravel
Now I won't have any organs! It'll be like having a Barbie doll crotch!
- Mole McHenry
Go home to your mother! Doesn't she ever want you? Tell her this isn't some communist daycare center! Tell your mother I hate her! Tell your mother I hate you!
- Peggy Gravel
You lazy bitch! I'm out working my tail off all day, and you're in there, fuckin' MIDGETS!
- Flipper

Trivia

'Divine' was intended to play the role of Mole McHenry (played by Susan Lowe), but he was in a play for which he had a long-term contract, making him unavailable. David Lochary was also intended to act in the film, but he died of a PCP overdose.

There is a portrait of Charles Manson in Queen Carlotta's cardboard castle. Also, someone in Mortville cries out "Squeaky Fromme, where are you when we need you?"

Newspapers refused to run the original ad for this film, a photo of a cooked rat on a plate.

Production designer Vincent Peranio cooked a real rat so that it could be "eaten" during the opening titles.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States August 1991

Released in United States July 1996

Released in United States March 1985

Released in United States March 1995

Released in United States on Video April 14, 1993

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1977

Re-released in United States on Video April 14, 1993

Re-released in United States on Video September 26, 1995

Shown at Angelika Theater in New York City (Midsummer Madness: The Films of John Waters) August 21-27, 1991.

Shown at New York Underground Film Festival (John Waters Tribute) March 22-26, 1995.

Shown at Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival July 11-21, 1996.

Formerly distributed by Columbia TriStar Home Video.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1977

Released in United States March 1985 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Fabulous Fifty-Hour Filmex Fantasy Marathon) March 14-31, 1985.)

Released in United States March 1995 (Shown at New York Underground Film Festival (John Waters Tribute) March 22-26, 1995.)

Released in United States on Video April 14, 1993

Re-released in United States on Video September 26, 1995

Released in United States August 1991 (Shown at Angelika Theater in New York City (Midsummer Madness: The Films of John Waters) August 21-27, 1991.)

Released in United States July 1996 (Shown at Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival July 11-21, 1996.)

Re-released in United States on Video April 14, 1993