Last year, Synapse Films finally delivered its long awaited version of the classic gross out masterpiece from the mid-'80s, Street Trash. Fans who'd been foaming for a proper DVD release of this beloved video nasty were thrilled with the excellent image remastering and inclusion of the original cut of the film, one that restored over 12 minutes of subtext to the already knotty narrative. What they weren't too excited about was the bare bones presentation. Apparently, elements being readied for the release – including a new full length documentary look behind the scenes – were taking longer to complete than originally expected. As a result, we've had to wait for nearly 12 months to get the new, tricked out version of this title. Was it worth the time and torment? Does a bum melt after drinking a bottle of bad hooch? For those without a working knowledge of the film, the answer is Yes, Yes, and YES! Not only is our patience thoroughly rewarded, but Synapse delivers one of 2006's finest DVD packages, period.
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's a grand slam, a movie with effects so amazing that 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 surrealism 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. 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.
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. 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).
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.
But not even the wealth of information and insight offered on Disc 1 can prepare you for what Frumkes delivers on Disc 2, with his amazing documentary The Meltdown Memoirs. Clocking in at over two hours – LONGER than the film being featured, our persistent producer tracks down almost everyone involved with the film, digs up some amazing archival footage, offers up glimpses of outtakes, deleted scenes and ideas, and basically mythologizes the entire Trash experience. Not everyone is present for an onscreen update – leads Jane Arakawa and Marc Sferrazza are M.I.A., for reasons Frumke sort of hints at. But those two aside, along with the obvious deaths that come with the passage of time, we get a wonderful who's who of contemporary familiar faces. Perhaps the most startling transformation is owned by Bill Chepil, who looks even better than he did two decades ago. Toned, fit and completely born again, he wears his newfound religious fervor on his sleeves, literally (he has a MASSIVE angel tattoo taking up one entire arm). While he keeps the God talk down to a minimum, he really does enjoy discussing his time on the set. On the other end of the spectrum is Bronson – a.k.a. Vic Noto – who still seems as wound up and wild as he did back in the '80s. Ranting on any and every subject he seems lost in his own world of personal pet peeves and solid social outrages. It's some scary stuff.
Others on hand include Mickey Lackey (who we learn everyone basically hated), a slightly chunkier James Lorinz (who is just as funny as he was then) and a more or less unchanged Tony "The Don of Douchebags" Darrow. Everyone has secrets to share, from Darrow who explains why he walked with a cane throughout the shoot, to Lackey who argued that he only got involved in the make-up end of the production so he could be around the naked girls. The Meltdown Memoirs equally matches Frumkes' famous Document of the Dead in the detail department, and is just as entertaining as the movie it complements. Along with this stellar added feature, we get the original 16mm Street Trash short film that inspired the movie, the legendary Street Trash promotional trailer, used to try and interest potential financial backers, and a breathtaking selection of stills in the Behind the Scenes gallery. For anyone who enjoyed this film the first time around, or loved the initial DVD but wanted more, Synapse has more than answered your wish. This is a nearly flawless supplemental package.