Synapse // 1987 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // September 26th, 2006
Tenafly Viper, est. 1924.
Almost a year after Synapse stunned viewers with a bare bones edition of Street Trash, Jim Muro's mind-bending exercise in extreme bad taste, they've finally dropped the long promised two-disc "Meltdown Edition" into our grubby little hands. Literally years in production, the new DVD release of this Bacchanalian celebration of tastelessness is simply overflowing with special features. It may be the company's most ambitious -- and trashiest -- release yet.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Although the film easily 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, the film's nicely done melting sequences provide the real treat here. These shockingly psychedelic floods of gore are guaranteed to be unlike anything you've ever seen in the past.
Surely, the film's cartoonish liquid deaths are the primary reason most people will pluck this title off of the video store shelves. Unfortunately, Street Trash is not as straight-forward 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 running time (which is probably their intended purpose). A handful of scenes have Frankenhooker's James Lorinz almost stealing the whole show. Most of the other plot threads become ragged 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 also 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 premiere Steadicam operators. 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 wonderful, chaotic mess that often resembles a mid-1980s Nickelodeon TV show on bad cocaine. 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 sickening scene that handily tops The Meaning of Life for sheer foulness.
Revisiting the same 1.78:1 transfer from their earlier release, Synapse has proved that they are tops in the restoration game with another eye-opening, dazzling transfer. 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 this edition has also been outfitted with a new 5.1 Dolby Digital remix which cleans up any previous shortcomings.
Anyone with a mild interest in the film will do fine with the barebones edition of Street Trash, which features a trailer and an exclusive pair of Tenafly Viper label stickers, but faithful fans won't be able to pass up this special edition, which is chock full of fascinating extras that raise this (admittedly) minor cult horror flick to truly colossal proportions. Disc one features a pair of feature length commentaries-one with writer/producer Roy Frumkes (of Document of the Dead fame) and a second with Muro. Frumkes' commentary, which is more entertaining, is a detailed talk about all aspects of the production, and shares several humorous anecdotes about the making of the film. Muro, who is otherwise under-represented in the features, stays pretty close to the technical side of things-not to surprising given his current resume. Still, there are several good bits of trivia revealed, and both are must-listens for anyone who wants to get a little more out of the film.
Moving on to the second disc, you'll find the most significant extra, Frumkes' mammoth "The Meltdown Memoirs" documentary that runs an astounding two hours-20 minutes longer than the film itself. Narrated by Frumkes, it's a highly in-depth history of the film that covers an amazing amount of material-perhaps almost too much. In addition to a wealth of vintage behind-the-scenes material, pretty much anyone ever involved with the film is interviewed. It's a fascinating watch that really tells the story of the film, though it can get a little gratuitous, especially when catching up with the actors for "where are they now" segments-did we really need to see actor Bill Chepil's weight-lifting prowess and his aging baby boomer doo-wop band? This is a great, exhaustive documentary that will delight fans of Frumkes' work, but it could have easily been cut down to at least the length of the film itself-anything else seems a tad unjustified.
But wait-there's more! The original, 16mm short of Street Trash has also been included. Running about 15 minutes, it's a fun watch that lays down the basic story and sets the gory tone of the feature. It's in rough shape, but you'll probably only want to watch it once for comparison purposes. Then we've got an impressive behind-the-scenes still gallery, as well as an original theatrical trailer and a teaser created from the 16mm version of the film to interest investors. Whew!
A tremendous special edition, this version of Street Trash deserves to be wallowed in for hours. Highly recommended for connoisseurs of vintage rotgut and cinematic rubbish.
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2006 Nominee
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentaries with Producer Roy Frumkes and Director James Muro
* "Meltdown Memoirs" making of documentary
* 16mm Street Trash Short Film
* Promotional Teaser
* Stills Gallery
* Theatrical Trailer