This cult favourite from the mid-eighties is as memorable for kick-starting the careers of top Hollywood cinematographer & steadicam operator, Michael J. Muro, and "Superman Returns" director, Bryan Singer (who was a production assistant on the film), as it is for its scenes of outrageous comic-book gore and self-consciously offensive depictions of lowlife sleaze. Muro directed and photographed this piece of highly irreverent schlock from producer Roy Frumkes' episodic, dialogue-heavy script, and between them they managed to define everything that made the film's subsequent reputation as career-making fodder after it came to be retrospectively championed by the midnight movie crowd -- all in the space of a hectic virtuoso opening ten minutes!
In it, we're plunged into Lower Manhattan's grimiest urban quarters: a skid row of dropouts, bums and winos stumbling through their booze addled existence on run-down, dilapidated city streets, primarily in-and-around the trash mounds and tyre mountains owned by repellently obese junkyard owner, Frank Schnizer (R.L. Ryan). Here we find girly-voiced dropout Kevin (Marc Sferrazza) and his brother, the film's amiable down & out antihero, Mike (Mike Lackey, looking throughout like a sort of sootily fopish Charlie Manson), who's first seen, at the top of the movie, being pursued among the rubbish-strewn streets and the fire escapes of tumbledown motels, in the process giving us a heavy flavour of Muro's accomplished technical skill with the camera. An Argento-esque camera crawl is the first image you see, and from thereon a giddy array of fast-paced tracking shots and tightly-edited sequences showcase the film's unusual mixture of beautifully photographed imagery and elaborate, Romero-influenced scene construction, with a content that sees the screen filled with both male and female full-frontal nudity; grimy, authentic-looking vérité street scenes that look like they've been caught on the fly, guerrilla style; and the bizarre, gungy day-glo pseudo-gore that drives the events into a gross-out territory of rainbow-spattered comic outrageousness.
The seemingly almost random events of the film are loosely clustered around the discovery, deep in the basement of a cluttered old liquor store, of a crusty-looking sixty-year-old crate of Tenafly Viper, the store owner deciding to sell off this highly toxic 'hooch' for a dollar-a-bottle to the street hobos who constantly pester him for liquor. The trouble is, the derelict consumers of this illicit moonshine turn out not just to die quietly after necking down the stuff, but instead explode, melt or liquefy in a messy array of colours after just one small sip. The flesh-melting, acidic qualities of this liquor soon brings the phenomenon to the attentions of a hard-headed Manhattan cop (Bill Chepil).
One can easily see how the film captured the imagination of fans of cult cinema way back in the eighties: the actual gore itself is so colourful and bright and over-the-top, that Jennifer Aspinall's special effects are the least appalling item in the film's mission to offend. Instead, Muro and Frumkes take a leaf from Wes Craven's book of cult film making (although the film is considerably better shot and photographed than "Last House on the Left") and rely on an odd concoction that tends to mix graphic, violent sex with cheesy slapstick gross-out humour in a deliberate attempt to offend as many groups as possible. The result brings the film well within the orbit of Troma Films or the early works of John Waters ... if either of these ever attempted to interpret the work of Samuel Beckett through exploitation!
A scene like the one where a hobo has his penis sliced off and a gang of winos play catch with it, or the one where a decapitated head still finds time for a cheeky look up a girl's skirt in its final death throes, may be quirky enough in themselves; but those viewers not altogether familiar with the film might be a little taken a back by the amount of sexualised violence that is played for laughs here: a petite woman (the film's cult starlet, Jane Arakawa) is crushed beneath the obese form of her attempted rapist after he appears to have a heart attack from the effort needed to molest her! Elsewhere, Mike takes a drunken club reveller back to his grotty den of old tyres for a one-night stand, only for her to be dragged away from him, then stripped and gang-raped by the other junkyard denizens (the scene shot to play like a sequence from "Dawn of the Dead" with the grimy tramps looking like grey-faced shuffling zombies); if that's not enough, the sleazy junkyard owner, spying the stiff and mutilated naked corpse of the woman on his premises the next morning, indulges himself in a spot of opportunistic necrophilia (as you do!) before contacting the authorities!
In retrospect, impressive though Muro's skills undoubtedly are (and the cinematography looks especially accomplished on the re-mastered transfer of the director's cut used for this DVD release), Frumkes' screenplay, despite allowing for some nice performances among the large cast, thanks to its frequently snappy streetwise dialogue, is essentially storyless, resolving itself into a series of set-pieces which have to become increasingly outrageous and absurd just to retain audience interest for the full ninety-five minute run. Actors were frequently allowed to improvise their dialogue as well, and although this makes for a certain aura of spontaneity, the fact that the film has been edited down from a screenplay that would have run for almost twice as long, inevitably lends the finished piece a fairly ramshackle quality. There are some nice touches along the way though, particularly a Vietnam flashback featuring the film's violent, psychotic monster villain, Bronson (Vic Noto) in which, among neon-soaked, mist-shrouded jungle foliage, Vietcong vampires attack the slumbering madman in what proves to be a very Sam Rami, "Evil Dead" influenced sequence. The film, despite numerous lulls, does also manage to build itself to a suitably over-stacked finale and goes out, literally, with a bang and an unfeasible amount of multicoloured grue.
"Street Trash" looks absolutely beautiful on Arrow Films' new UK DVD release. The restoration work carried out here has probably led to it looking even better than it did on its original theatrical release. While the U.S. Synapse Films release also came in a double-disc edition that featured two commentaries, story-boards and deleted scenes (as well as the original 16mm short version of the film), all the information and elements that were included in these extras have been nicely incorporated into Roy Frumkes' mammoth 'making of' epic "The Meltdown Memoirs", a two hour documentary that includes all the information you could possibly need on the history of this cult classic, which has been included along with the film on this one-disc Arrow Films special edition. As usual, the folks at Arrow present the film in packaging that includes a reversible sleeve, one side displaying the movie's original UK rental video artwork, the other a newly commissioned piece of oil painting artwork. If that isn't enough you can also expect a free poster, as well! "
The Meltdown Memoirs" follows a format that was first pioneered by Frumkes in "Document of the Dead", his filmed documentation of the making of George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead". It's a formula that's since been repeated by Rob Zombie for the DVD release of "The Devil's Rejects": basically, anybody who ever had even the slenderest connection with the movie has been interviewed for a documentary that takes you through the pre-production planning, the thirteen weeks of principle photography, the post-production headaches of editing, distribution and marketing and an epilogue that deals with the film's transformation into a cult treasure, as well as a 'where are they now' rundown on the whereabouts and occupations of the film's cast and crew. There is even a tour of the locations used in the original movie. "Meltdown Memoires" includes numerous cut scenes, rehearsal footage and interviews both historical and contemporary and ends up being a fascinating glimpse into the murky world of indie film-making during the eighties. The perfect accompaniment to a scurrilous piece of genre film-making. This new UK disc also includes an exclusive nine minute interview with Jane Arakawa, curiously omitted from any detailed mention in the main documentary, despite the actress since becoming a beloved favourite with fans of the movie.
Tasteless and irreverently politically incorrect in the extreme, a film like this probably wouldn't be made today in quite the form it takes here. It's definitely a film of its time. But the talent behind it, though raw and untamed, undoubtedly elevates it way above similar such fare, and genre fans will enjoy seeing it again, beautifully restored and bursting with more colour than ever!