It somehow makes sense that when John Waters comes to the Boston area on Oct. 9, he’ll bypass the city and head straight to Salem. It’s there that the annual Salem Horror Fest runs from Oct. 3 through Oct. 14 and where Waters, 73, has been booked into the Peabody Essex Museum for a live performance called “This Filthy World: Filthier & More Horrible.” The legendary indie-film pioneer, maestro of bad taste, director of “Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray,” and owner of the world’s finest pencil-thin moustache took time out from his busy schedule on the twisted-lecture circuit to answer a few random questions over the telephone.
Q. Have you ever been to Salem?
A. I have not.
Q. You do understand it’s a Goth theme park?
A. That’s perfect. The Satanic Temple is there — not since the Yippies have we had an activist group that is that good. And it’s a horror convention — what better place should it be? I know, it’s got witch stuff everywhere, but I’d rather go there than Disneyland. I’ve never been to Disneyland in my life.
Q. Why not?
A. Because when I was young they wouldn’t let you in if you had long hair and I remember.
Q. What are your horror influences?
A. I’m not going to tell you, or you’ll get the whole speech for free, right? Certainly, my whole life I wanted to steal the career of Vincent Price. And I wasn’t successful; I ended up stealing the career of [TV horror host] Zacherle. But I’m honored to be here with Elvira. She is the Meryl Streep of horror movies.
Q. I read that you watched drive-in movies through binoculars as a kid.
A. I did! “The Mole People” — that was the first one. My parents would never have taken me to see it because the Legion of Decency probably said it was “morally objectionable in part.” You could barely see [the film] and you certainly couldn’t hear it, but that’s how bad I wanted to see exploitation and horror movies.
Q. How far away were you?
A. Miles. It was at the top of where they were building the Beltway around Baltimore, so it was dangerous, too. I would go up there and way in the distance you could see the screen of the drive-in. It was a very postmodern way to see them. I didn’t know at the time, but it was very Dogme 95.
Q. How does that compare to the average screen presentation today? Do you go to the movies?
A. I go to the movies but I avoid the multiplexes in Baltimore. Young people want to go to the mall. I do everything I can to avoid going to the mall. I don’t want stadium seating unless “Ben-Hur” is playing.
Q. Your latest book is “Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder.” Please explain to readers what a “filth elder” is.
A. Someone that has faith in his bad taste.
Q. Is that possible in 2019, when everything is in bad taste?
A. Not good bad taste, because has Trump has even ruined the word “bad.” The way he’s decorated the White House looks like Jeff Koons did it if Jeff Koons had no art history knowledge or intelligence.
Q. You haven’t made a movie since 2004.
A. No, but I’ve been paid to write four. They just don’t make them. Criterion has put out three of my old ones in beautifully restored versions, so it’s not like I’m not in that world. But the book world for me is better these days. I do my spoken-word show — I’ve got 18 Christmas ones [scheduled], I just came back from Mexico City, I’m going to Sweden for a series and Australia. I’ve never been as busy as I am today.
Q. What’s the hardest movie of yours to defend?
A. That’s an easy one: “Desperate Living” , which is a lesbian melodrama about political corruption. It did the worst of all my movies at the box office. When it came out in Boston — where I always played at the Orson Welles — lesbian groups stopped it being shown, saying “How dare a man make a comedy about a lesbian.” Which I didn’t understand, not then. Now lesbian groups bring it to colleges to raise money, which I don’t understand either, because it is totally trans-incorrect, even though when I made it, it maybe wasn’t.
Q. What are your thoughts — do you have thoughts? — on “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and its treatment of the Manson family?
A. I think it’s a great movie. If it was true, my friend Leslie Van Houten wouldn’t be in jail, her crime would never have happened the next night. It would never have happened. That’s all I’ll say on that one.
Q. In 2018, you were named an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of France. What exactly are your duties?
A. I don’t know that I have duties. There’s no follow-up — If I don’t do enough duties, they don’t come take it away.
Q. Do you get a medal? An epaulette? What?
A. You get a medal in a beautiful little case. It was great — I received it with absolutely no irony. I really missed that my parents weren’t there, because my father would have shaken his head in amazement.
Q. When did it turn around for your parents?
A. They realized early. I remember the Frick [museum] showed “Pink Flamingos,” and my mother was stupefied by that. They were supportive and horrified, which is a tough combination for a parent to pull off. I think the very first time they were incredibly relieved is when they saw “Hairspray.” On opening night on Broadway, Harvey Fierstein’s mom came over to my mom and said, “Didn’t we raise terrific sons?” And my mom started crying, because that certainly is a loaded statement and a wonderful statement.
Q. How good has “Hairspray” been to you over the years?
A. Are you kidding? It’s the only thing I ever made lots of money on, and it continues and continues. I bought my San Francisco apartment with it. And it’s also something I’m proud of. It’s the only [truly] deviant movie I’ve made, because it snuck into middle America and even racists didn’t notice that it was criticizing them.