POLYESTER (1981) – The Dungeon Review!
It would have been an awesome experience seeing Polyester in the theatres when it was originally released. Inspired by director William Castle, John Waters presented Polyester in Odorama. A scratch-and-sniff card was given to each patron. The film opens with Dr. Quackenshaw (in a German accent of course!) explaining the science behind Odorama. After an on-screen prompting you would scratch and sniff the number noted. 1. Roses, 2. Flatulence, 3. Model Airplane Glue, 4. Pizza, 5. Gasoline, 6. Skunk, 7. Natural Gas, 8. New Car Smell, 9. Dirty Shoes, and 10. Air Freshener. What fun! And what a great souvenir!
Polyester is a signficant title in John Waters resume first and foremost for being awesome but also for marking a radical change in Divine’s persona. Divine played bigger than life, trashy and diva-esque women until Polyester. In Polyester Divine plays dowdy, god-fearing, middle-class mom Francine Fishpaw. Polyester is also the bridge between Waters pre-81 wild romps and his friendlier post-81 films. I’ll always be partial to the older stuff and I would definitely include Polyester among my favourites from Waters. Polyester is a hilarious comedy about a housewife living in a suburban hell that makes me laugh so hard it hurts my tummy.
Francine Fishpaw’s middle-class suburban life is crumbling around her. Her husband Elmer owns the local porn theater which provokes angry Christians to picket her house daily. Elmer is also having an affair with his secretary Sandra. Her daughter Lu-Lu dances for money at school and has a bad-ass boyfriend who has knocked her up. Her son Dexter is a glue-sniffer with a foot fetish; sometimes Dexter gets the urge to stomp down on a woman’s foot in a public place. Finally there is Francine’s hideous thief of a mother who regularly insults and berates her. Edith’s best friend is Cuddles Kovinksy a quirky woman who inherited a significant sum of money from a former employer. Cuddles tries her best to cheer Francine up with shopping trips and picnics but Francine only plunges deeper into depression and alcoholism. That is until she meets the suave, Corvette-driving, Todd Tomorrow.
Part of the fun of Odorama is seeing Francine in action when she catches a whiff of something. It would appear that Francine Fishpaw has a particularly sensitive sniffer. She darts her head about making a loud sniffing sound as she walks in the direction of the offending odor. Obviously the sniffing scenes are slightly less effective without the Odorama technology, but they are no less amusing. I really wish I could have got a whiff of that model airplane glue though! There are no worries about political correctness here and it is so refreshing. “I’m gonna get an abortion and I can’t WAIT!“ When Divine comes home to find her daughter Lu-Lu attempting to induce an abortion she calls for help. Two nuns rush over to the Fishpaw home and throw the pregnant Lu-Lu in the trunk of their car. Part of the nun’s therapy(?) is to take the pregnant young women on a spooky hayride on a dark rainy evening. Lu-Lu ends up losing the baby after attempting to kill herself by sticking her head in the oven. After Francine catches her husband Elmer in the act with secretary Sandra she screams for a divorce. Elmer and Sandra spend a considerable amount of their time afterwards taunting and terrorizing Francine with phone calls and driving around her neighborhood with a megaphone yelling insults. “She’s the hairiest woman I’ve ever laid eyes on!” Her foot-fetishist glue-sniffing son is revealed to be the Baltimore Foot Stomper and is jailed. Poor Francine Fishpaw really does have some issues! Could things get worse for Francine? They sure can! Is there any possibility that Francine Fishpaw could have a happy ending? Maybe.
“I never wanted to use macramé to kill!” Lu-Lu Fishpaw becomes a macramé-making hippy after her ordeal. Quite a few people die in Polyester. It’s outrageous! One character in fact dies by Lu-Lu’s macramé as the aforementioned quote suggests. It probably doesn’t need to be said at this point; but the characters in Polyester are pretty cuckoo! Waters regulars Divine, Mink Stole and Edith Massey head the cast that also includes David Samson, Mary Garlington, Ken King, Joni Ruth White, Hans Kramm, Stiv Bators and of course Tab Hunter who couldn’t be more perfect in the role of Divine’s lover Todd Tomorrow. Joni Ruth White deserves a special nod for her delightfully vile LaRue; Francine’s mother. “Good Lord, Francine! Don’t you know it’s bad luck to let retarded people in your home? “ Mary Garlington is ready to spontaneously combust as the hyper skanky Lu-Lu. Edith Massey is irreplaceable in Waters films; her delivery is quirky and hilarious as always playing Cuddles. Mink Stole is a bitch to the max as Sandra; and those unflattering cornrows were just the perfect touch for the character. David Sampson is a tacky, polyester-clad son-of-a-bitch. His Francine taunts were cruel but hilarious! Ken King is very convincing as the glue-sniffer with the foot fetish…he looks positively manic! He is equally as amusing when he goes “straight”. Stiv Bators as Lu-Lu’s boyfriend Bo-Bo looks like trouble that already happened. Hans Kramm is charming as Heintz; Cuddles dedicated driver. And of course there is Divine. Divine plays Francine with the right amount of melancholy and melodrama and gives a funny and empathetic performance as the unhappy housewife.
I thoroughly enjoyed the title song from Polyester! Polyester (Title theme) Tab Hunter and Debbie Harry (1981)…
“At first I thought he was walking his dog. Then I realized, it was his date.” John Waters’ Polyester is a hilarious riff on Middle-class America and many of the things they hold dear and it makes me laugh and laugh. Highest of recommendations a perfect score.
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By: John Waters
Starring: Divine, Tab Hunter, Edith Massey, David Samson, Mary Garlington, Ken King, Mink Stole, Joni Ruth White, Hans Kramm, Stiv Bators, Rick Breitenfeld, Michael Watson