Street Trash, Jim Muro, 1987
Cult Classic / Dark Comedy / Splatterpunk
“Things in New York are about to go down the toilet…”
A brand of 60-year-old rotgut called Tenafly Viper is tearing through the drunk hobo population of lower Manhattan, causing anyone who drinks it to melt into a toxic mess. As if that wasn’t enough of a hassle, the junkyard bums have some other serious day-to-day issues to deal with: food, money, severed penises, and the hobo head honcho, a lunatic Vietnam veteran whose weapon of choice is a knife carved from a human femur.
Meanwhile, a maniac cop tries to crack the case of the mysterious meltdowns, running afoul of some small-time local mobsters and the knife-wielding bum lord in the process. Along the way there’s a romantic subplot, a whole ton of splatter, and decadent heaps of sleaze. The plot may be horribly overstuffed and convoluted but it hardly matters; Street Trash, like most true cult classics, is primarily a vehicle for a unique and subversive brand of inspired insanity.
Right off the bat, the thing that sets Street Trash apart from similar films is the truly stunning visual presentation. Director Joe Muro is one of the best Steadicam operators working in Hollywood today and his creative camerawork in collaboration with cinematographer David Spurling lends a high-concept feel to the decidedly low-budget (and low-brow) proceedings. Everyone on the principal creative team — especially the art department and special effects team — pulls more than their own weight on this project. When hapless Viper victims melt down, they do so in gloriously gooey psychedelic compositions worthy of Jackson Pollock. And rather than reuse one stock effect throughout the film, each meltdown is designed as a unique, indescribable event in toxic color schemes.Characters are costumed in Max Max-style post-apocalyptic hobo garb and covered in an almost palpable layer of grime. The overall aesthetic of the film is dense and dirty, but exceptionally beautiful in an underground comix sort of way.
If offensive humor is your thing, there’s a lot here for you to sink your teeth into. Some critics have compared Street Trash to similarly gonzo Troma releases, but those films — at least those directed by Lloyd Kaufman — usually have a sharp satirical bent. If there’s pointed commentary to any of the humor in Street Trash, it gets lost in the film’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink nihilism. Are parts of the film in poor taste? Yes, exceedingly so, but they’re pulled off with enough absurdity and humor to (mostly) get away with it. And if there’s anything that makes you uncomfortable (there’s a rape scene that did have me cringing a bit), rest assured the film moves quickly enough that there’s always something new to get worked up about right around the corner.
There’s little fault I can find with this film, unless you find the offensiveness described above to be a fault. I try to approach each film on its own terms and I can’t really consider even the most noxious humor a drawback to this film. Screenwriter Roy Frumkes claims that he “wrote [the film] to democratically offend every group on the planet,” and if the film is meant to be brutally offensive, I can’t consider it anything less than completely successful.
The worst sort of offensiveness is the sort that bubbles to the surface from beneath something seemingly innocuous, when latent racism and sexism and misogyny (and homophobia and so on) taint an otherwise “tasteful” work. When a film is conceived in bad taste, however, the viewer has to accept a different set of rules; it becomes something that’s meant to challenge and provoke. You might take issue with aspects of the film, but it’s designed to elicit that sort of response. Like the best exploitation films, it challenges the viewer to think about the sometimes vile truths (exaggerated for shock value as they may be) behind the veneer of everyday life.
For folks who can get on board with this kind of attitude, the film is a wall-to-wall treasure trove of raw, visceral trash. From necrophilia to gang rape to a game of Monkey in the Middle with a severed penis (seriously!), Street Trash breaks a pretty solid share of taboos during its runtime. Luckily, each of these sleazy set-pieces is rendered as creatively and vividly as possible, avoiding mindless and poorly executed shock clichés in favor of truly joyous anarchy. To top it all off, the film’s climax features one of the most legendary beheadings in cinema history.
A masterpiece of trash cinema, Street Trash is one of the great gore classics of the 1980s. If you’re easily offended, steer clear of this one. Otherwise, this film is an absolute must-see and would make a handsome addition to any collection.
Street Trash is available uncut in a lovingly restored two-disc “meltdown edition” and as a single-disc offering from Synapse Films.Powered by Sidelines