Synapse // 1987 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // October 13th, 2005
Tenafly Viper, est. 1924.
It's often said that one person's trash is another one's treasure, and nowhere is that old axiom more applicable than with Street Trash, Jim Muro's mind-bending exercise in extreme bad taste. Sharing an affinity with other mid-1980s slices of vulgar absurdity like Basket Case and The Toxic Avenger, this seedy chunk of NY-lensed celluloid has every unpalatable thing you could ever ask for in a slyly humorous trash classic: a psychotic Vietnam veteran, shoplifting, castration, rape, senseless murder, and-the coup de grâce -- alcoholic bums melting into a gooey mess after consuming toxic liquor. Now, unlike some of the bona fide classics in this not-so-esteemed genre, not all of Street Trash hits its appropriately grimy mark, but when it does, you can't help but lift a bottle of cheap booze in a sleazy salute to the very bottom of the cinematic barrel.
Things are pretty tough for the down-and-out Fred (Mike Lackey) and his brother Kevin (Mark Sferrazza) -- they're living in a scrap yard tire pile under the tyrannical rule of a psychotic homeless war veteran named Bronson (Vic Noto, Tougher Then Leather) and the distrustful yard owner, Mr. Schnizer (Pat Ryan, Class of Nuke 'Em High). Every day is a struggle for food, shelter, and the occasional flask of booze, but Fred gets himself in even deeper trouble when he unknowingly takes an extremely drunk Mafia moll back to his place, and she winds up raped and murdered by the rest of trash heap dwellers. Things look grim when a price is put on Fred's head after her boyfriend finds out, but he's in a far greater danger that he isn't even aware of -- a callous liquor store owner has discovered a crate of decades-old rotgut known as Tenafly Viper boarded up in his cellar, and has been selling it to the local drunks for a buck a bottle. Problem is, the booze has long expired -- just one sip causes any unlucky customer to turn into a pool of Day-Glo sludge.
There's much to both like and hate about Street Trash, an unapologetic, raucous throwback to the heydays of the 42nd street grindhouse. While the film is obviously not for all tastes, and there are more than a few bumps along the road, it's a satisfying trip for the most part -- a strange and wholly unique motion picture that is certain to please fans of outlandish cinema.
Grabbing you from the opening frame, Street Trash pulses along with an infectious energy that really does set it apart from more mundane and commonplace cult wannabes. Although the film boasts enough gratuitous slime, blood, flesh, and apocalyptic punk gangs that it could easily be confused with the latest Troma Films romp, Street Trash feels far less self-conscious about its decidedly lowbrow intentions. It's less about in-jokes and slum-cool than it is about giving an unprecedented, creative spin to horror schlock. With all the appropriate splashes of nihilism and B-film vices present and accounted for, it's the film's nicely done melting sequences which provide the real treat here, shockingly psychedelic floods of gore that are guaranteed to be unlike anything you've ever seen.
Surely, the film's outrageously cartoonish liquid deaths are the primary reason most people will pluck this title off the video store shelves, but unfortunately, Street Trash is not as straightforward as most horror fans might expect. While we wait for the next unfortunate to erupt into a fountain of multi-colored slime, we're subjected to several confusing and ultimately needless subplots that add little to the film, except for running time (which is probably their intended purpose anyway). Despite a handful of scenes that have Frankenhooker's James Lorinz almost stealing the whole show as a big-mouthed restaurant doorman who fingers his boss as a Mafia don, most of the other plot threads become ragged pretty quickly, with a doofus cop out looking for a non-existent suspect in the serial bum meltings, and a silly love story between the hygiene-deficient Kevin and a young babe who works in the junk yard (Jane Arakawa). Another jarring segment, for wholly different reasons, has Bronson castrating a fellow bum with his bare hands, which results in one of the most exceedingly silly games of "keep away" you'll ever witness. Still, with a strong, bodily fluid-focused last reel, and a simply jaw-dropping finale, the film makes up for all of its earlier missteps to cement itself as a minor cult hit, as well as a must for trash-hounds.
Although obviously shot for little more than pocket change on the streets of New York, Street Trash is a surprisingly well-crafted little cult oddity. Director Jim Muro would go on to lens films including JFK, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Titanic as one of Hollywood's premier Steadicam operators, and here he gets a chance to strut his stuff with some inventive camera tricks and notable POV work along scummy Big Apple back alleys. Of course, the gore effects are easily the highlight of the film, with rancid liquor victims exploding, dripping and vomiting buckets of colorful fluids all over the streets. It's a wonderfully chaotic mess that often resembles a mid-1980s Nickelodeon TV show on bad cocaine, as each person who partakes in a snifter of Ye Olde Tenafly Viper is suddenly overcome by bright blue and yellow slime gushing from every orifice, until it literally melts them into squishy human paste -- an undeniably campy effect, but always effective and consistently novel. One corpulent transient even explodes in a sickeningly mushy scene that handily tops The Meaning of Life for sheer foulness.
Once again, Synapse has proved that they are tops in the restoration game with another eye-opening, dazzling transfer. Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, the film looks just incredible, with exceptional colors and startling detail. Some of the night scenes are a shade dark and difficult to make out, but this seems to be a source flaw rather than an issue with the transfer. Likewise, the film's original mono soundtrack is often muddled and difficult to hear, but I'm inclined to chalk that up to the film's no-budget roots. Synapse has long promised a special edition of Street Trash, but until we get the whiz-bang DVD that this Bacchanalian celebration of tastelessness demands, this almost barebones release should tide all you proud degenerates over. All we get this time out are a trailer and -- exclusive to this DVD -- a pair of Tenafly Viper label stickers that you can slap on a bottle to create your own toxic elixir (or a reasonable facsimile thereof).
With a special edition still in the works, fans of the film will have to resist the urge to wallow in Street Trash until a later date, but this is the perfect time for the uninitiated to take a quick snort of the film's special brand of lunacy. Quite simply, there has simply never been a film like Street Trash before, and there probably never will be again.
Not guilty by reason of pure insanity.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Tenafly Viper Stickers