Street Trash – 1987, James Muro, USA
Street Trash rules so hard. Why hasn’t this been remade like, eight times by now? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad, but sheesh… This movie really is the quintessential example of the “underrated gem.” It’s beloved by almost everyone who has made the effort to track it down and give it a watch, and yet somehow, it remains relatively obscure compared to other comparable films of the era. Street Trash is the real diamond in the rough, so suck it, Aladdin.
THE PLOT~ Life on the streets becomes even more dangerous after bottles of a mysterious drink called “Viper” begin to circulate amongst the city’s already badly imperiled homeless community. Viper is first discovered inside an old crate, hidden in the basement of the local liquor store, and we all know what you do when you find mysterious booze in your basement; you sell that shit immediately. So, that’s what happens. Unfortunately however, drinking Viper comes with a steep price; Turns out that anyone who so much as takes a sip of the stuff begins to melt into a vibrantly colored, highly acidic slime within seconds.
It’s the coolest thing ever.
To make matters worse, the local police department has it out for Bronson, a badly shell-shocked Vietnam War Vet who has used his brute strength and zest for murder to instate himself as some sort of junkyard tribal chieftan for all of the local hobos. This conflict doesn’t exactly help Bronson to remain calm and passive, basically, he’s on the warpath. If you’re not reduced to a puddle of gunk from Viper or stabbed in the back by your peers, there’s a good chance that Bronson will lose his marbles and club you to death for no reason anyway. This is the world of Street Trash…
And what a world it is! Probably the best thing director Jim Muro does is that he effectively creates a universe which has some serious depth to it. Street Trash is so gritty that it feels borderline post apocalyptic much of the time, but Muro doesn’t take it too far, we’re frequently reminded that this is all happening concurrently with regular civilization, as if there was some slime drenched, hobo civil war going on all around us, just outside of view… Which rules!
There’s also a lot going on in Street Trash’s dirty, violent little universe. In fact, this is a real contributor to one of the film’s few legitimate flaws; its so busy that it ends up feeling somewhat unfocused. We don’t even really know who our central protagonist is until the end of the film, and we never feel as anchored to them as we should. The movie actually feels more like a few days as a member of the Street Trash homeless community than it does a single, traditional narrative, which is kind of cool in its own right, but more reason to care about our protagonist would have been nice. With this level of investment, we’d almost rather just watch him melt to death, just because it’s cool looking.
One thing you’re going to notice; This movie has a lot of steady cam shots… Like, A LOT. So many, in fact, that Muro sorta made a name for himself as a titan of the Steady-Cam, and later wound up serving as Steady-Cam operator for significantly better known Hollywood movies. What movies, you ask? WELL, homeboy was the Steady-Cam Operator for movies like Clueless, Titanic, and X-Men 2. How’dya like them apples? Knowing that information, it should come as no surprised that for a low budget film from 1987, Street Trash treats us to a metric shitload of steady cam shots, and that gives our movie a surprisingly dynamic aesthetic; we’re seldom confined to a single angle on a tripod. Instead, we roam about our environments freely, which makes the space our story occupies feel even more real and familiar.
It also features history’s greatest tank top:
Look at that majestic bastard.
Worth noting: Our old friend James Lorinz, star of Frank Hennenlotter’s epic masterpiece Frankenhooker, has a small, but memorable role here as a smart assed door man who works for a mobster. Lorinz’s part has several tell tale signs of being largely improvised, and we get the impression that Muro must have really, really liked him. He even gets an extra scene at the end of the film that was almost definitely tacked on to further showcase his wisecracking, and in this scene, an additional character takes a swig of Viper and immediately melts to death entirely off camera. Why would Muro possibly include an additional Viper death, and then not even show it? Well, probably because he didn’t have the money or resources to stage another complicated special effect, but he didn’t want to send Lorinz home without milking him for just a little more comedy. My guess is that that’s what happened, and I think it was a good choice, it really says a lot that in a movie where homeless people literally liquefy and explode on camera several times, a freaking doorman with only a few scenes is gonna stick in your memory as being particularly entertaining.
I love this guy.
But I digress…
Street Trash is the kind of movie that I love so much, I want to say it’s not a recommendation, but a requirement. Equal parts gross, humorous and imaginative, this is a gritty, grindhouse oddity that feels well paired alongside other offbeat, street level flicks like Basket Case, or Slime City, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a rehash of either. Street Trash is ruthlessly original, fantastically unique, and wicked entertaining. For reals, check it out.