Street Trash (1987)
"Things in New York are about to go down the toilet"
The owner of a liquor store finds a case of sixty-years old booze hidden in his basement and, wanting to make a quick profit, he sells it to the local hobos at cheap prices. Unfortunately, the bottles contain a toxic brew and anyone who drinks the liquid melts away shortly afterwards, leaving the police desperate to find out how all these homeless people are disappearing.
Infamous low budget body horror flick, Street Trash is just as its title suggests, absolute exploitation trash of the worst kind. There are dark films, there are nasty films and somewhere right down between the cracks at the bottom lies this one. There are obvious reasons why it’s gained a cult following since it’s release in the 80s but this is a vile, repugnant film which offers little reward – and this is coming from someone who has seen the likes of Cannibal Holocaust uncut.
Street Trash has obviously been developed around the simple concept of wanting to see someone melt and its sole purpose is to showcase those meltings on screen in graphic detail. There’s almost no real plot (or point) to the film and it’s just a series of bad taste skits that are strung together. But what meltings they are. Don’t expect to see realistic liquifying as you would in a more serious horror film – here, they are brought to life with a glorious array of multi-coloured neon paint and some awesome practical effects, depicting certain stages of the process. The first one is the most infamous, as a character has liquid erupting from everywhere across his body before dissolving away and then literally flushing himself down the toilet. This sequence alone made for the film’s memorable poster artwork. Sadly, it is the pinnacle of the effects and whilst later deaths are decent, there’s nothing quite like seeing the gooey remains of a man pop out from the toilet seat.
Street Trash looks good too. Bizarrely for such a low budget film, some of the camera work is amazing. Director J. Michael Muro’s Steadicam work in the opening sequence takes us on a pre-gentrified tour of New York, which looks more like a war-ravaged capital city than it does the Big Apple, and really shows off his credentials behind the camera. Muro only directed this one film before he devoted his career to cinematography and worked with James Cameron as the Steadicam operator on Titanic, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Abyss no less! The talent is evident here and Street Trash benefits greatly from not looking like a low budget horror film, unlike something along the lines of Bad Taste.
However, it is almost impossible to find any other redeeming qualities in the film. Outside of the sporadic melting sequences, Street Trash finds it difficult to conjure up a narrative. There are plenty of sub-plots all going on apart from the main hobos, involving a boss sexually harassing one of his workers, a Mafia informer on the run, and in the film’s most padded-out sub-plot, a homeless Vietnam veteran who runs his own junkyard with an iron fist of obedience. The inclusion of this Vietnam story allows for the character to have plenty of flashbacks, unrelated to the film’s premise but conveniently added to pad out the running time. Each of the characters in the film have repulsive character traits, making it difficult to get behind anyone to cheer. Given there’s no building to a climax of any kind, the film just plods along from scene to scene, seeing how it can outdo the previous one for bad taste.
Everything about Street Trash will make you feel dirty and yearn for a good, warm shower afterwards. The locations, from junkyards to derelict buildings, emit an unsettling, grotty vibe. The cast look like real bums, unshaven and grimy in appearance. They’ve got foul mouths, their dialogue littered with swearing. The characters obsess with sex (and for some reason, these hobos always find plenty of women willing to get down and dirty with them amidst a tyre pile) and there’s rape, necrophilia and all manner of sexual unpleasantness including a severed penis being tossed around like a football. The relentlessly tacky portrayal of homeless people has come in for plenty of criticism over the years and whilst I’m always able to distance fiction from reality, it’s easy to see why some would have been offended.
Street Trash is a pointless, grotesque film devoid of any real merit outside of the melting sequences, and it appears to take great pleasure in being as obnoxious and revolting as possible – I guess it worked as it’s considered a masterpiece of horror Grindhouse cinema. For me, it’s literally the equivalent of paying bums to fight each other in the street for your amusement.
Director(s): J. Michael Muro
Writer(s): Roy Frumkes, J. Michael Muro (story)
Actor(s): Mike Lackey, Bill Chepil, Vic Noto, Mark Sferrazza, Jane Arakawa, Nicole Potter
Duration: 91 mins