7.2/10
4,722
58 user 46 critic

Desperate Living (1977)

A neurotic society woman murders her husband with the help of her maid and, on the lam, escape to Mortville, a homeless community ruled over by a fascist queen.

Director:

John Waters

Writer:

John Waters
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Liz Renay ... Muffy St. Jacques
Mink Stole ... Peggy Gravel
Susan Lowe ... Mole McHenry
Edith Massey ... Queen Carlotta
Mary Vivian Pearce ... Princess Coo-Coo
Jean Hill ... Grizelda Brown
Brook Yeaton ... Bosley Jr. (as Brook Blake)
Karen Gerwig Karen Gerwig ... Beth
Jay Allan Jay Allan ... Kid
Al Strapelli Al Strapelli ... Doctor Evans
George Stover ... Bosley Gravel
Turkey Joe Turkey Joe ... Motorcycle Cop
Willie Brooks Willie Brooks ... Pieman
James Yeaton James Yeaton ... Dead Bum
Ed Peranio Ed Peranio ... Lieutenant Wilson
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Storyline

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 <michael@everyman.demon.co.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

It isn't very pretty.....


Certificate:

X | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The large breasts that are thrust at Peggy Gravel through a pair of glory holes are those of Liz Renay. See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

Peggy Gravel: Have I gone to Hell? Is that it? Have I gone straight to Hell?
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 »

Alternate Versions

The film was rejected for a UK cinema release by the BBFC in 1977. It was finally released on video in 1990 after 4 secs of cuts to edit an eyeball-gouging scene. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Serial Mom (1994) See more »

User Reviews

Bad movie hygiene
7 August 2004 | by MichaelCarmichaelsCarSee all my reviews

All of John Waters' early films, beyond being purposefully shocking and repulsive, have this really tangible dirty, raunchy quality to them. They're movies with bad hygiene, like the porno movies whose actors have dirt under their fingernails or pimples in all the wrong places. Waters has a special gift for compiling the most disgusting items and the most disgusting combinations of items (lesbian glory holes, marshmallows and Cheez-its, egg-addicted 250-lb women, bleeding gums and French kissing, 'Surfin' Bird' and anal lip-syncing) for maximum effect, filming everything in grainy, artless 16mm with alternately wooden and over-the-top line-readings not dissimilar to the acting in a porno flick.

If you've seen Waters on television, he has a certain sophisticated charm to his wit, and perhaps a dirtier director wouldn't have the right sensibility to make films as authentically dirty as this one, or the discretion enough to choose performers as dirty-looking as Turkey Joe and Kenny Orye. The fact that Waters does not show any contempt or opinion about his subjects is important. He has this open, accepting non-judgmental affection for everyone in his films that makes the films themselves OF the filth they are depicting rather than simply about that filth, and he embraces those of notoriety and dubious character such as Patty Hearst and Liz Renay. He's subversive not by philosophy or decision, but by nature. Subversiveness for Waters means a good time. What distinguishes his work as "underground" rather than "exploitation" is that he celebrates the depravity and freakishness of his performers rather than exploiting.

Every single character in 'Desperate Living' is a sociopath, as it takes place primarily in a fairy-tale town called Mortville, to which housewife Peggy Gravel (Mike Stole) and her 300-lb black maid Grizelda (Jean Hill) flee after the latter murders Stole's husband by sitting on his face. Everyone in Mortville is trashy and, well, desperate, and there's a vivid pre-punk vibe here amongst psycho-dyke Mole, played by Susan Lowe, and others, and in the garish, tacky colors of the town's decor, which Waters reports was constructed entirely out of garbage with only one exception.

While I find Waters' 'Pink Flamingos' boring once the shocks become familiar, 'Desperate Living' is a fascinating movie to watch. It's probably Waters' most depraved and outrageous movie, and the funniest of his pre-'Polyester' movies. You get to see the hefty Jean Hill naked, rolling around in bed with Mink Stole, and you get to see Waters regular Edith Massey in all her snaggletoothed wonder as the wicked Queen Carlotta, being pleasured by one of her many leather-clad man-servants. You'll see this and, if nothing else, probably want to catalogue these bits to friends or show them the film, just to get a rise out of them.


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

27 May 1977 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Mortville See more »

Filming Locations:

Baltimore, Maryland, USA See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$65,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Charm City Productions See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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