Jon Waters reviewed -- It's a rude-arama redux, as ''Hairspray,'' ''Desperate Living,'' and ''Polyester'' return to video in a new boxed set

By Doug Brod
May 14, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

Jon Waters reviewed

He’s the anti-Barry Levinson, a filmmaker with a similar passion for his Baltimore roots. But where Levinson celebrates the city’s mundanities, John Waters revels in its grotesqueries, indulging in the kind of perverted pleasures many of us would be loathe to admit we enjoy. Two of his films long- unavailable on video have been repackaged with a more recent fave in The John Waters Archives, a $54.85 boxed set. Like them or not, these bad-taste comedies are products of one of the movies’ most inventively satiric minds.

Desperate Living (1977, New Line, $19.95, unrated) is Waters’ Spartacus, depicting the events preceding an uprising in Mortville, a colony for society’s misfits located on the outskirts of Baltimore. Waters’ notorious Pink Flamingos notwithstanding, this is his most consistently icky creation, packing all manner of sexual deviation and mutilation into its brisk 90 minutes. The ragged look this had in theaters has not been repaired on tape, but then, did it really need to be?

For his next film, Polyester (1981, New Line, $19.95, R), Waters created Odorama, a gimmick that brought myriad smells on screen (druggies’ glue, a burst of flatulence) straight to your snout. While the film was previously packaged on tape with the scratch-and-sniff cards distributed during its theatrical run, this rerelease arrives cardless and even snips out an amusing three-minute prologue explaining the process. These losses, while not disastrous, still diminish an important plot point: the olfactory fetish of troubled suburban hausfrau Francine Fishpaw (the obese transvestite Divine).

Divine also costars in Hairspray (1988, New Line, $14.95, PG), though the rudest that Waters’ slickest, most ebullient romp gets is a couple of juicy zit-popping and bile-spewing scenes. Hitching an antisegregation treatise to the story of a fat teenage girl’s success on a local TV dance show circa 1963, Waters fills the screen with scores of Mashed Potato-crazed minions shaking to an exuberant oldies score. And with the likes of Sonny Bono, Pia Zadora, and Jerry Stiller littering the sets, the laughs — intentional or otherwis — are endless. Desperate Living: B+ Polyester: B Hairspray: A-