Uptight suburbanite Mink Stole and her heavyset maid Jean Hill escape to the filthy fairytale land/shantytown of Mortville, which is ruled by the evil Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey) and her developmentally disabled daughter Princess Coo-Coo (Mary Vivian Pearce).
Stole and Hill become friends with self-hating lesbian Mole McHenry (Susan Lowe) & her lover Muffy St. Jacques (Liz Renay) and get involved with revolutionary activities.
This is the only feature film John Waters made without Divine prior to the actor's death in 1988. Divine was touring as a live performer and couldn't fit Desperate Living into his schedule. This was also Waters' first film without David Lochary, who died of a PCP overdose just before production.
Due to his Pink Flamingos infamy, Waters began to attract actors from outside his circle of friends. Liz Renay was a convicted felon and author of My Face for All to See, her still-in-print autobiography (referenced in Waters' previous film Female Trouble). Casting Renay presaged his later use of other crimelebrities such as Patty Hearst and Traci Lords.