It was one of those titles that sent you on a video store safari, credit card and picture ID in hand. If you lived anywhere other than New York or Los Angeles, there was no chance of you seeing it in theaters; even then, the window of availability was so small that if you turned your head to cough, you missed its entire run. Magazines like Fangoria were singing its perverted praises, and the images alone were enough to whet your insatiable splatter appetite. Images of individuals melting in primary color cruelty were juxtaposed against snapshots of torsos torn asunder and sputtering bodily fluids. Faces twisted in terrifying agony stared up from the page as make-up artists applied piles of pus and gallons of grue all over their sickening sculptures. At the height of an era dominated by effects-heavy horror, this film promised to be the benchmark for bile and the new point of reference for repugnancy.
Sure enough, when a copy was eventually discovered and brought home for viewing, everything that was said about it was true. Just like John Carpenter's The Thing, or Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell/City of the Living Dead, this movie was a full-blown assault on the sensitive sensibilities of the average fright fan. It was juicy and jaundiced, irreverent and inventive. It was a certified classic, and all who got to see just knew it would be instantly immortalized in the hierarchy of imaginative macabre. But somehow, Street Trash fell off the mainstream radar and into the often unreal realm of the quasi-cult. For decades, individuals lucky enough to own a copy of the movie have coveted their crappy VHS edition, wondering if they would ever see a legitimate DVD release. Now, thanks to Synapse Films, Street Trash is returning to recapture its gore glory, and in this new, uncut version, it more than proves its timeless terror tenets.
While rummaging around in his basement, a liquor store owner discovers a case of ancient hooch. He sells the booze, called Tenafly Viper, to the local homeless/wino population, not knowing that this is one incredibly potent potable. Whoever drinks it dies a horrible death, flesh melting and body boiling as organs explode and implode all at once.
Meanwhile, there's been yet another violent incident in and around the local junkyard and the police believe that Bronson, an insane veteran of the Vietnam War, may have had something to do with it. He is the pseudo-leader of the street bums, and has several of the vagrants "working" for him. They all live in Frank Schnizer's car dump, where Frank's secretary Wendy befriends a few of them. Bronson is deeply disturbed, and views Wendy as another post-traumatic battlefield conquest. When a young homeless boy named Kevin comes between them, the madman decides that if she won't acquiesce to him, she definitely won't be giving her favors to some minor Street Trash. Oh yeah, and the Mafia is also involved...indirectly.
Street Trash is a true post-modern macabre masterpiece. It is a ferocious freak show of a film, a mercilessly madcap revolting romp that incorporates almost every viable element from the entire 80s ideal of horror. There are nods to Vietnam, hilarious necrophilia, homages to the homeless issue, alcoholism, old-fashioned slapstick and oh-so sophisticated incredibly dark comedy. For gorehounds, it a grand slam, a movie with effects so amazing they haven't been topped in almost 20 years. For intellectuals there are obvious underpinnings of social disorder, the treatment of the mentally ill and inner city decay. From its outrageous opening setpiece (a man literally melts into a toilet) to the final act fireworks which features the most unbelievable decapitation ever, this is a triumph of independent low budget moviemaking, the kind of inventive insanity you rarely see in today's super serious DIY camcorder scene.
It makes sense, really. Street Trash is a geek show made by horror nerds, a testament to the power that the scary movie has over the imagination of the artistically minded. It was written by Roy Frumkes, famous as the director of Document of the Dead (the making-of on George Romero's Dawn of the Dead) and writer of the hit exploitation series The Substitute. It was directed by James Muro, cameraman extraordinaire, who went on to become one of Hollywood's leading Steadicam operates (his list of credits is astounding). Both men had a love of balls to the wall creature features and wanted to make something that would resonate with a 'rented it all/seen it all" home video mentality. They pooled their talents, tapped an otherwise unknown cast and crew and delivered one of the most audacious horror films of the last 20 years.
Critics love to call Street Trash a "Troma" style movie, alluding to Lloyd Kaufman and his gang of uniquely gifted crapmasters. Sadly, such a comparison is rather short sighted. Kaufman and crew make movies with tongue plainly acknowledged and firmly planted firmly in cheek - usually butt cheek. A Troma film is a juvenilia celebration of the sophomoric and the fart-producing. There is plenty of goofiness to go along with the gore (and Lloyd has only gotten worse over the decades, which is actually a good thing).
Street Trash really isn't into being nutty. It's not out to simultaneously scare and satire itself. Instead, this is a film that wants to mix nastiness with novelty to win your over to its sordid side. Certainly some of the scenes are over the top, but they are meant to be the best that the physical effects of 1986 had to offer. In Troma's case, some of the F/X are purposefully "special" in a very handi-capable definition of the term. In Street Trash, however, the amazing Jennifer Aspinall gives us day-glo sequences of stomach churning psychedelia. All of the "transformation" scenes are stellar, delivering on the disgusting in ways still unmatched by the post-millennial reliance on CGI.
Many can argue that Scream started the whole ironic and self-referential subtext in horror cinema, but Street Trash was there first, and did it a whole Hell of a lot better. It takes a moldy old premise (the tainted element that poisons/transforms whomever comes in contact with it) and marries it to a real communal problem, homelessness, and then tosses in jibes at the Establishment (one bum has a field day dressing down the manager of the store he is shoplifting from) and lots of politically incorrect language. It successfully melds the fantastical with the authentic, to make us believe that somewhere hidden in the basement of a local liquor store is a case of Tenafly Viper, just waiting for a thirsty wino population to polish it off. Certainly, there are parts that are just plain odd (the junkyard secretary who fancies herself a slutty saint/social worker, the entire Mafia/doorman dimension) but they all seem to make sense in Muro's mangled world. He is weaving a warped tapestry here, using a kitchen sink approach to keep you constantly engaged. If you don't like the rape sequence - don't worry - there'll be a comedic game of severed penis keep-away to attract your attention.
Street Trash is one of the classics of the genre because it understands the notion of fearlessness. Few films - and even fewer filmmakers - comprehend what can be accomplished when you toss your own inhibitions to the wind and let the movie menace flow freely. Frumkes lets his script meander from the alleyways of New Jersey to the rice patties of 'Nam, giving us scenes of intense action, raw terror and hilarious horror hi-jinx. Muro matches him, using the camera (and lots of lovely, fluid steadicam work) to create a perfect tone and temperament for the film.
We never once doubt the truth or the texture of what we are witnessing. Everyone here is dirty, smelly, festering and befouled. Actors are covered in layers of grime and bravely act out the most insane sequences, all in the filmmakers' effort to entertain. And they succeed royally. At over 101 minutes (this is the FULLY RESTORED VERSION OF THE FILM, KIDDIES!!!) Street Trash literally breezes by. The narrative is so tightly wound, with each seemingly divergent element eventually tying into the final product that you can't help but be caught up in the creative chaos.
Purely from a performance standpoint, recognition must be given to specific members of the cast. Troma regular, the rather rotund Pat Ryan is absolutely fabulous as obese junkyard owner Frank Schnizer. Vic Noto, as Bronson the schizoid Vietnam vet leader of the homeless, is horrifyingly intense. Bill the Cop, played by Bill Chepil, is equally lock jawed and ironfisted, while James Lorinz and Tony Darrow are a stitch as the dingbat doorman and the quasi-mafia Don who wants him dead (they are a comedy team for a pre-Sopranos generation). There are even a few real life derelicts in the film, including people without hands, and without legs. In ways, Street Trash is to the homeless as Freaks is/was to the carnival oddity. With a collection of ancillary performers giving memorable, nuanced turns as all types of bums (from comic to crude) we end up with a multifaceted and layered motion picture experience.
But first and foremost, Street Trash is audaciously good fun. This is a film where piss is a brush-off and vomit is a fight-ending finale. It's a movie where overweight junk dealers diddle corpses in broad daylight, and hobos discuss the best remedies for alcohol frozen bowels (a few raisins mixed into your rotgut will do the trick). Hilarious and harrowing, demented and slighted dopey, this is one of the unsung classics from the Greed generation, a movie that deserves a place alongside The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead as a definitive horror genre statement.
Many who've dismissed the film haven't seen it in several years, and with time comes that most valuable of commodities - perspective. Two decades ago, it was easy to lump Street Trash in with all the other gory geek show films hitting video stores. The made for the market manufactured quality was actually held against the film. But seen new and fresh in the light of 2005, this is still an amazing motion picture. It is something every fan of fright should see, and an experience every aficionado of cinematic extremes should own. Street Trash is a celebration of all that is excessive and exciting in the world of splatter films. It is a truly misguided masterwork.
It's time to give Synapse films the biggest, wettest, Frenchiest kiss you can. They have remastered - nay, literally REMADE - the DVD release of Street Trash, creating a nearly perfect 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen version of the film, and even restoring 12 minutes of missing footage (I own an original VHS of the movie and it clocks in at 89 mangled minutes). The company has literally polished this print to a luster so pristine it's almost priceless. There are a few minor flaws - slight grain in the night scenes, a couple of dirt flecks during the opening credits) but anyone whose sat through various vile VHS incarnations of this movie will marvel at how fantastic this new transfer really is.
Sonically, Street Trash is a mishmash of elements. There is standard horror scoring, the occasional lapses into goofy comedic music, and lots of obtuse sound effects (just how do your render a body...rendering???). Thanks to the Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 mix, the dialogue is readily decipherable and easy to understand. There are not many atmospheric elements to the movie's ambient make-up, but what is there is treated with the utmost care. From a purely technical standpoint, this movie looks and sounds great.
Here's the good news...Street Trash is out on DVD. Here's the bad news...this is the near bare bones single disc edition of the film that is currently being released by Synapse in preparation for a rumored full-blown two disc Special Edition to arrive sometime in the near future. Since there is no real word of what the so-called bonus features will consist of, smart fright fans should have no qualms about picking up this initial release. Of course, double dipping sucks, but in the realm of the low budget movie, anything can undermine an anticipated future release. So it's time to get while the getting is not OOP. You do get a trailer here (which is nice) and an interesting set of liner notes and Viper stickers for your favorite bottle of booze. Still, the enticement of a full blown SE may just be too much for those who demand added content with their DVD releases. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this version anyway. Synapse deserves your patronage for releasing this lost gem.
Perhaps the only way to understand the maniacal magic of Street Trash is to experience it for yourself. Just throwaway all your preconceived notions, check your sense of cynicism at the door, and simply sit back and enjoy low budget horror moviemaking the way it was realized almost a generation before. Like the sobering, serious terror treats of the 70s, the 80s had their own motion picture peculiarities - and many of them are right there inside Street Trash. In the history of splatter there hasn't been a movie quite this Kodachromatic and crazy. It's a true Technicolor yawn, a sprawling spree of cinematic surrealism set against the dirt and grime of an ugly urban cesspool. This is not a message movie, unless you consider a statement on how mind-boggling you can make your physical effects to be a concrete cinematic missive. Yet the reason Street Trash endures is because it is the rare film that consistently lives up to its reputation. The scenes that were sickening then are still nauseating today. The humor is still funny and the oddness is still seductively strange. If you think you've seen everything, you need to give this movie a spin. There is nothing but great garbage in this glorious gross-out extravaganza.
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