FEMALE TROUBLE (1974) – The Dungeon Review!

“To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about. If someone vomits watching one of my films, it’s like getting a standing ovation. But one must remember that there is such a thing as good bad taste and bad bad taste.”
-J.Waters

Color me self-indulgent, but I decided to review another all-time favourite 70’s flick. John Waters films always make me laugh. I’ve enjoyed every Waters film I’ve seen in varying degrees, even the newer stuff, which many fans don’t care for. I cannot however deny that his newer directorial efforts don’t hold a candle to Pink flamingos, Multiple Maniacs and Female Trouble. Nonetheless, I think Waters is one of the most hilarious and entertaining people alive. If you’ve ever seen him interviewed or read any of his books you’d surely agree. In the man’s own words “If someone vomits watching one of my films, it’s like getting a standing ovation”. His goal is bad taste after all and they don’t call him the Pope of Trash for nothing. So this film isn’t going to be for everyone I guess. But if you like your celluloid weird, offensive, outrageous and an absolute shitload of fun, Female Trouble is the perfect place to start in the wonderfully wacky world of John Waters.

Female Trouble chronicles the life and times of Dawn Davenport. Dawns flunking school and couldn’t care less. She smokes in the ladies room between classes with best friends Concetta and chicklette and eats meatball sandwiches during pop quizzes. All she wanted for Christmas was a pair of cha-cha heels. When she finds a pair of regular shoes under the tree, she is horrified and is told by her father that nice girls don’t wear cha-cha heels. She goes into a rage which ends with her mom pinned under the Christmas tree and Dawn storming out of the house in her revealing nightie. Dawn hitches a ride and ends up impregnated by the driver. A few months later Dawn is chewing through her baby’s umbilical cord after a lonely delivery on a dirty couch. Motherhood is getting on Dawn’s last nerve, but she doesn’t let it cramp her style. She attempts a regular job in a cafe but thieving, stripping and hooking with Concetta and Chicklette brings in a lot more cash. She also has a dream to be famous. Dawn learns of an exclusive hair salon where you must audition before having your hair done. She passes the audition and is soon a regular customer. The pretentious salon owners Donald and Donna Dasher offer Dawn the fame she desires as the test subject in their experiment in beauty and crime.

In Female Trouble, Waters turns normalcy on its head and challenges our obsession with beauty and fame. But don’t worry, no preaching here, it’s all presented in the tackiest, trashiest and funniest way possible. The term “politically correct” has snuck its way into our modern dialog. We’ve become so concerned about offending anyone we’ve taken the joy right out of film making. Waters goal is to offend as often as possible, and Satan bless him! Dawn Davenport calls her daughter Taffy a retard, shackles her to a bed in the attic, hits her with a chair and whips her with a car antenna. This may sound unsavory but it’s actually pretty damn funny. Keep in mind that Divine is a 27-year-old drag queen playing a teenage single mother and Mink Stole who plays her 14 year-old-old daughter Taffy is a 27 year-old woman. At one point in the film Dawn says to Taffy “For fourteen, you don’t look so good”. I think most of the films budget was spent on the wardrobe. There is some truly spectacular tackiness on display here! Huge hair, fabulously revealing garb, and complete and utter beauty madness! There is sex and violence, both of which are amusingly cheap as hell. There is a scene where Aunt Ida has her arm chopped off that is so badly done it garners more laughs than horror! The acid scar Dawn sports in the films final scenes is pretty crummy and fake but it sure is ugly. And Dawn’s sex scene with Earl (Divine plays both roles!) on an abandoned mattress in a field is pure trashy gold!

What I love most about John Waters older films is the great cast. They are not extraordinary actors and actresses they’re just fun, wacky and willing to do anything. Exactly the type of friends I would want to have if I was making a movie! I get the feeling everyone had a real blast making these films. The main cast with the exception of Edith Massey were all in their mid to late 20’s when they made Female Trouble. It’s not the least bit unusual to see 20-somethings playing high school students but overweight drag queens are considerably less common. The always enjoyable Mink Stole plays Dawn’s daughter Taffy which is a rather frightening but amusing stretch. Taffy is one of my favourite characters in the film. Taffy sports these really short frilly little girl dresses and rouged up cheeks, and pouts, twists and contorts her face as she speaks with pure contempt. She delivers some pretty freaking hilarious lines! Here is one of the best…

Taffy’s mock car accident scene alone is worth the price of admission and is nothing short of magnificent! Early in the film Waters uses a child actress to play young Taffy and even she is pretty bloody funny! Edith Massey plays Aunt Ida and she has a weird robotic like delivery that somehow adds to her charm. Aunt Ida refuses to accept her nephew Gator is straight and uses every opportunity to try to change his mind. Aunt Ida’s biggest fear is that her nephew might marry a woman, buy a house and have a child, because the life of a heterosexual is a sick and boring life. You won’t soon forget Aunt Ida’s sexy black jumpsuit! Gator is Dawn’s hairdresser who she eventually marries and divorces. Gator, played by Michael Potter is the least dynamic of the main characters. Potter doesn’t stand a chance surrounded by so many over-the-top performances. It’s not terribly surprising that Dawn gets sick of Gator and kicks him to the curb. High school friends and partners in crime Concetta played by Cookie Mueller and Chicklette played by Susan Walsh are full of spunk with hair to match and are the ideal mates for Dawn. David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce are perfect as snotty salon owners Donald and Donna Dasher. They take looking and being fabulous very seriously. Wearing the same outfit for more than a few hours is a serious offense. Of course it is the aptly named Divine that is the real tour de force in Female Trouble. There has never been, nor will there ever be anyone like Divine. Daring, outrageous, charismatic, funny and indeed “DIVINE”! You’ll marvel at Dawn’s big one woman show where she does a trampoline act, rubs herself with fish and queries her audience; “Who wants to die for art?”! And if you’re like me, you’ll ask yourself, “Will mainlining liquid mascara make me more fabulous?”

I originally purchased Multiple Maniacs and Female Trouble from a mail-order catalog which I believe I had sent away for from the back of a Fangoria magazine. It was some time in the mid 80’s and the catalog was full of bootleg VHS and BETA tapes I had been dying to get my hands on. Among other titles, I purchased Waters films; Female Trouble and Multiple Maniacs. The trouble with buying bootlegs is you never really knew what you would end up with. My copy of Female Trouble had about 10 seconds of Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn at the beginning! I never did replace it with a proper version. It was a bit weird watching this on DVD for the first time. It seemed wrong not to have a few seconds of Wrath of Kahn to watch before it started! Female Trouble is a low-budget film which adds much to its trashy appeal, but I was surprised they weren’t able to clean the print up a bit. To be honest, it doesn’t look much different than my VHS copy. More special features would have also been welcomed, but they do include commentary from Waters, and as previously mentioned, the man is very entertaining!

Female Trouble is a buffet of bad taste that charms the pants off of me and makes me laugh and laugh and laugh some more! This film is just too much fun and I fucking love it! Highest of recommendations!

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: John Waters

Starring: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, Cookie Mueller, Susan Walsh, Michael Potter, Ed Peranio, Paul Swift, George Figgs, Susan Lowe

7 Responses to “FEMALE TROUBLE (1974) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. I cannot even adequately express how much I want to see this movie now…

    • I am very passionate about my John Waters! My dear husband who puts up with a disproportionate amount of horror films and crazy crap just doesn’t dig John Waters. It makes me sad that I have to deduct points from my husbands scorecard for this, he really is a good guy otherwise. I really hope you do check out Female Trouble! It absolutely is not for everyone, but I think it is fair to say that people who enjoy this one, REALLY enjoy it!

  2. Just from your description, I get a very Rocky Horror vibe. I’d bet that most people who like Rocky Horror like this movie as well.

  3. The Film Reel Says:

    I’ve never watched a John Waters flick because I always feel like I need to be in some sort of very specific mood to do it. They always look like pure insanity. Maybe this is the year where I manage to lose enough of that sanity so I can actually check a Waters flick out! HAHA!

    • Old John Waters films are an acquired taste for sure, but I just love ’em! Quite a few years back, Pink Flamingos was re-released for its 20 or 25 year anniversary and it actually turned up at one theatre here. There were only about 20 of us in the theatre but we sure had a good time!

  4. […] Stole – Female Trouble with images from John  Waters’ 1974 film Female Trouble. Mink Stole and her Wonderful Band from the album Do Re MINK. You can buy Ms. Stole’s album […]

  5. […] GIFs for John Waters’ hysterically funny 1974 film Female Trouble. Absolutely one of my favourite John Waters’ films and one of my all-time favourite comedies of all time ever! Read my review here. […]

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