It’s time to pay respects to one of the shining pinnacles of exploitation cinema, the dubt film from legendary Hollywood cameraman James Michael Muro: a little film called Street Trash. Street Trash is a film that’s part black comedy, part gross-out comedy, part body horror, part splatstick, part action, but it’s pure nihilistic madness, and it’s a fantastic midnight movie. The film’s story about a community of ridiculously exaggerated hobos who start melting once a new drink called Tenafly Viper hits the streets, is one that’s so original, so memorable that I feel Street Trash deserved it’s title of ‘the ultimate melt movie’, and it’s reputation as a grindhouse classic.
To begin with, Street Trash is a film that’s very reminiscent of the Lloyd Kaufman directed Troma films – such as The Toxic Avenger and Terror Firmer – and the exploitation films of Frank Henenlotter – such as Basket Case and Frankenhooker. The atmosphere, characters, sets and cinematography of Street Trash are vivid, eye catching, and they really make the film look like it’s set in the dirtiest, sleaziest town in America. On their own the sets of Street Trash are inventive and visceral: from Ed’s claustrophobic liquor store, to the junkyard that serves as a home to the homeless. Despite James Muro having a budget of roughly $500,000, Street Trash feels looks like it has a greater production value than other independent movies that were made around the same time period: from the camerawork, to the acting, to the astounding special effects, Street Trash is a film that is better than it has any right to be when you take into account the budget and the fact that the film was a director’s debut with no top level talent behind it.
One of the greatest aspects of Street Trash is the film’s impeccable writing. The average plot synopsis for Street Trash will say that the story revolves around Tenafly Viper and the melting of hobos, but the scenes involving Tenafly Viper only make up approximately 25% of the film. In truth, Street Trash is more like the iconic episode ’22 short films about Springfield’ from The Simpsons. Street Trash doesn’t have an overarching plot per say, nor does it follow a standard three act structure, but the film focuses on little, individual stories that revolve around a group of homeless people living in a small American town. The film doesn’t focus on one character, but rather it focuses on a whole menagerie of characters and allows time for each and every character to have their own story arc as the film progresses. Street Trash is a film that incorporates several protagonists, antagonists, comic relief and sympathetic characters who’s individual stories incorporate plot points inspired by the multiple genres of exploitation films that exist at the time, or at least the genres that can be incorporated in a story about hobos: there’s a Blaxsploitation plot-line, a romance plot-line, a Vietnam war plot-line, a mafia plot-line, a hero cop plot-line, even a crazily sleazy plot-line about rape and necrophilia. However, each story flows into one another incredibly smoothly, and the jump from story to story never becomes jarring or uninteresting. Even if one were to look deeper into the story and analyze as much of the plot as they can, they will find that Street Trash is still very cleverly written. The story leaves no plot-holes nor questions unanswered by the end of the film, and every plot point is accounted for and every plot-thread is nicely tied up by the time the film finishes which leaves the audience feeling a nice sense of satisfaction after watching the film.
Now, I don’t know whether it was intentional, or by accident, but James Muro certainly managed to get a hold of some of the most charismatic actors to play the numerous insane characters of Street Trash. Every character, big or small, is just so memorable, and so enjoyable to watch. It takes a troupe of very enthusiastic actors to be able to pull off the comedy, the action and the downright bizarreness of the multiple personalities that make up the characters of Street Trash, and James Muro delivered a troupe of talented individuals who steal the show. Not every actor may be the traditional definition of a ‘good actor’, and none of the performances in Street Trash are Oscar worthy, but every performance is a treat to watch as the actors mug for the camera, deliver witty dialogue, engage in tense action scenes, or just stand around and chew the scenery during the film’s slower moments.
But, I can’t talk about Street Trash without talking about the colourfully crazy special effects. In Street Trash, when hobos melt, they don’t just melt like a candle into a crimson puddle of gore like so many other horror movies, they explode into a cavalcade of pretty colours. To me, this is very odd decision, but it’s one that really offsets the mood of a traditional death scene, making it funnier and more enjoyable. As a result, the death scenes of Street Trash are more enjoyably light hearted than the traditionally disturbing death scenes found in other body horror films around the time – for example the ‘tumor death’ from Videodrome or the final transformation from The Fly. The intent of Street Trash‘s more gory content isn’t to try and be disturbing, or even comedically sick, but it’s intent was to be funny and enjoyably ridiculous. Alongside the offbeat style of death scene, Street Trash delivers its own of eye-popping special effects. Through the use of puppetry, impressively shifty camera angles, clever editing and robotic models, Street Trash is one hell of an impressive feat of VFX that rivals the more mainstream horror films that came out around the same time such as Hellraiser, Predator or even Evil Dead II. In my opinion, Street Trash is far superior than other films from the 1980’s when it comes to the film’s magnificent special effects.
Street Trash is a film that’s maniacal, ridiculous and very indicative of the trashy, punk style anti-mainstream independent movies that rose to fame in the 1980’s, mainly because of the success of 1985’s Return Of The Living Dead and 1981’s An American Werewolf In London, but Street Trash is a film that’s much greater than the sum of it’s parts. It’s a film meant to offend everybody, but ended up entertaining everybody instead. Street Trash was so good, in fact, that it earned the Silver Raven accolade at the 1987 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film and James Michael Muro went on to enjoy a fantastic career in Hollywood, most notably for being the camera operator for critically acclaimed films such as Heat, Casino, Red Dragon, L.A. Confidential and even Titanic. Personally, Street Trash is one of my favourite exploitation films because of just how enjoyable the film is to watch from beginning to end, and it’s a shining gem of The Midnight Vault. In conclusion, Street Trash is a must-see recommendation for exploitation fans, 1980’s retro fans, gore fans, gross out comedy fans, and punk fans as I feel that Street Trash is one of the greatest films to come from the 1980’s grindhouse circuit.