Desperate Living (1977)

R  |   |  Comedy, Crime, Fantasy  |  27 May 1977 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 3,528 users  
Reviews: 57 user | 37 critic

A rich housewife enlists her maid's help to murder her husband; they go on the lam and end up in Mortville, a homeless community built into a garbage dump.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mary Vivian Pearce ...
Bosley Jr. (as Brook Blake)
Karen Gerwig ...
Jay Allan ...
Al Strapelli ...
George Stover ...
Bosley Gravel
Turkey Joe ...
Willie Brooks ...
James Yeaton ...
Dead Bum
Ed Peranio ...


A rich housewife murders her husband with the help of her overweight maid, and the two go on the run, ending up in Mortville, a town providing refuge for criminals. They shack up with a lesbian ex-wrestler and her murderess lover, before running into the tyrannical Queen Carlotta, ruler of Mortville... Written by Michael Brooke <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

queen | murder | maid | shack | lesbian | See All (135) »


It isn't very pretty.....


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

27 May 1977 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Mortville  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$65,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Actress Susan Lowe who played "Mole McHenry" in the movie is actually very beautiful. After changing her appearance to play the part, her children were horrified, and it caused problems with her marriage. See more »


When Mole first meets Peggy and Grizelda she tells them that there are no toilets in Mortville, but at the lesbian bar there are toilets, where Peggy is harassed by the 'bathroom pervert'. See more »


Grizelda Brown: I don't want no white man lookin' at my Tampax!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Desperate Living's opening credits appear beside an overhead shot of a formal table setting, in which a maid serves a cooked rat as the main course, which is salted and eaten. See more »


Spoofs Town Without Pity (1961) See more »

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User Reviews

I Honor You, Queen Carlotta!
12 September 2001 | by (nyc) – See all my reviews

It's hard for me to believe that there could be John Waters fans who know only his mainstream films. They're pretty good movies, don't get me wrong; but they walk meekly in the shadow cast by his amazing Trash Trio (this, FEMALE TROUBLE & PINK FLAMINGOS). This one is his all-time best, partly because of Divine's absence. Had he been available, he would not only have nabbed the Queen Carlotta role, but become the focus of every viewer's attention as he usually did. (Well, nobody cites FEMALE TROUBLE for the Donald Dasher character, right?) The way DESPERATE LIVING worked out, you finally get a chance to see how good Waters' other Dreamland divas really were; and they're very, very good. Fact, DESPERATE features some of the most inspired, OTT female acting ever featured in a movie, "trash" or otherwise.

Mink Stole is unbeLIEVABLE as Peggy Gravel; she seethes with constant neurotic dementia throughout. Her portrayal of misery to the power of ten is less overacting than it is finding the perfect pitch for the role, and making camp on the very spot. The movie-opening running tantrum she spews is one of the funniest things I've ever seen - every third or fourth word is shouted for maniacal emphasis ("The CHILDREN are having SEX!! Beth is PREGNANT!! And I NARROWLY escaped an ASSASSINATION attempt!!") Brilliant. But she's matched, step for weaving step, by Susan Lowe's unforgettable diesel-dyke Mole and the nonpareil Edith Massey as the evil Queen of the criminal shanty-kingdom, Mortville. (If you've never experienced Edith Massey, nothing I can say could possibly prepare you for her....unique...greatness. Let's just leave it at that, okay?) And that's not to discount the typically outre work by Mary Vivian Pearce - who plays her character as if she'd gotten lost on her way to the set of a Julie Andrews musical - or the CGI effect that is Miss Jean Hill. This assembly of female firepower results in one incredible movie that STILL has the power to make you squirt liquid out your nose in helpless laughter, Farrelly Brothers or no Farrelly Brothers. As a matter of fact, the more Waters' early assaults on good taste have become absorbed into mainstream entertainment, the better and more shocking his films look for it. When DESPERATE LIVING stood alone, one hardly knew what to make of it. Now that every lesser talent in show-biz is trying to finance a swimming pool by imitating the Waters touch, it's easy to see, and appreciate, who the innovator and true original is. When Waters made this movie, he was a pariah with nothing to lose...he knew better, but still didn't care. Thus, there's an intoxicating power and thrift-shop integrity to DESPERATE LIVING that none of the Johnny-come-latelies can approach, now that "bad taste" is boxoffice, and safe as milk. If you're gonna wallow in slime, then accept no substitutes, folks: demand DESPERATE LIVING.

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