Street Trash (1987) d. Muro, Jim (USA)
In spite of its status as one of the great "melt movies" of our time, it's important to remember the title is not "Tenafly Viper" - the noxious brew that leads several unfortunate souls to their oozy doom - but Street Trash. It's at its heart a character piece, one that in no small way resembles Elmer Rice's Street Scene in its presentation of a memorable motley band within a subculture that usually occupies the periphery rather than center stage. That such shocking and reprehensible incidents of necrophilia, murder, rape, theft, assault, shoplifting, racial slurs and blatant misogyny are handled with such buoyancy and glee is the film's secret weapon, especially when presented with such artistic flair.
Muro's assured Steadicam calls to mind such manic live-action cartoons as Raising Arizona and Bad Taste, while producer/writer Roy Frumkes (expanding from Muro and Mike Lackey's original short student project) populates the story with boldly drawn and thickly grimed characters, all possessing a moral compass pointing due south.
Right in stride with the excess on display are the ripe-to-bursting incarnations by the assembled cast, all of whom ride the line of absurdity to perfection: Lackey's skungy, grungy layabout, Bill Chepil's musclebound mean-spirited tough cop, shaggy lord of the junkyard Vic Noto, R. L. Ryan's obese and sleazy junkyard owner, Jane Arakawa's sweet sentimental ingenue, Nicole Potter's vanity-free, gorgon-like nastyfest as Noto's braying pseudo-bride, Tony Darrow's insult-spewing small time mafia boss and James Lorinz's scene-stealing acid-tongued doorman in his employ.
But as anyone who has experienced the film firsthand can testify, the film's true star is unreservedly Jennifer Aspinall's rainbow-hued splattery meltdown effects, bubbling and splashing across the scene with abandon.
Equal opportunity offenders include Vietnam flashbacks, severed penis/"hot potato" games, or a scene where black shoplifter Clarenze Jarmon - after stuffing his pants full of raw chicken, cantaloupe and salad dressing - accuses black shopkeeper Kevin Simmons of discrimination. Several instances of sexual violence against women are also showcased, though every offender meets a correspondent comeuppance in the end. Even so, there is such a sense of juvenile lunacy that it's difficult to generate any true righteous ire.
This is an enthusiastically overt exercise in ridiculousness, and even if we never develop any true affection for these awful people, we do find ourselves invested in their serpentine and interlocking fates. It might be a stretch to compare Frumkes' work here to Robert Altman's celebrated ensemble efforts, but it's a gentle stretch at that, especially while witnessing Lorinz and Darrow's fevered improvisational verbal jousting.
Of the plentiful supplements on Synapse's recent Blu-ray release - many of which ported over from their outstanding two-disc DVD issue in 2005 - the jewel in the crown remains Frumkes' two-hour retrospective documentary, The Meltdown Memoirs. No stranger to the format, the Document of the Dead veteran tracks down all the featured players before and behind the lens (including a young P.A. by the name of Bryan Singer), the notable exceptions being Muro (who still contributes a candid and informative audio commentary track) and Arakawa (who is showcased in a new interview of her own exclusive to the BR).
For many of these players, Street Trash represents the apex of their screen careers, although Muro has certainly gone on to bigger and better things as one of Hollywood's premier camera operators and Aspinall humbly makes mention of her status as "the Susan Lucci of the [makeup] Emmys." All are generous in their sharing of memories from the no-budget trenches, and the ramshackle, rambling structure suits its subject; if the movie wasn't endearing enough on its own, listening to the behind-the-scenes misadventures only heightens one's appreciation for the final result. Other assets to be tallied include a separate commentary track by Frumkes, the original short film, a half dozen deleted scenes, and several scandal inducing trailers.
Thoroughly underrated and criminally overlooked by all but the most dedicated and adventurous, now is the ideal time to dive deep into the Trash pile. For more information or to purchase, visit Synapse Films' website at http://synapse-films.com/dvds/horror/street-trash-special-meltdown-edition-blu-ray/
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine