"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Street Trash

I was thinking about STREET TRASH (1987) after I revisited the TOXIC AVENGER series a couple months back. I had seen the movie as a teen and all I really remembered was a part where some dude is taking a piss and his dick gets ripped off and a bunch of guys play keep away with it. Of course, any movie would be proud to have a memorable scene like that, and most filmmakers would tip their hat to it, just out of professionalism. But it is widely known that TOXIC AVENGER director Lloyd Kaufman hates STREET TRASH and the people behind it. I heard him grumble about it at a book signing, and he refers to it sometimes in his books, without really going into specifics. People ask him about it in interviews, but he’ll just make a joke. The best explanation seems to be that he thinks it’s a rip off of the Troma style. Also, there was apparently some incident involving its “little shit” director Jim Muro on an episode of The Morton Downey, Jr. Show.

It definitely traffics in a similar in-your-face repulsiveness/taboo-violating to the Troma movies. It takes place among a community of homeless alcoholics in Brooklyn and uncomfortably blurs the line between offensive caricature and (very mildly) sympathetic portrayal. I can’t think of a character in the movie that’s not intentionally repellent, but the movie at least recognizes that they’re up against a cruel and unjust world.

The plot, to the extent that there is one, involves a liquor store owner (M. D’Jango Krunch, THE SWEET LIFE) putting out a case of very old, spoiled wine called Tenafly Viper that causes horrible deaths for the people who purchase or steal it. In between drinking deaths, various people behave awfully, yell at and degrade each other. Warning: there is a gang rape scene. I could’ve done without it.

This is gonna sound stupid, but by far my favorite thing about this movie is its color palette. The world is dirty and scummy but the deaths are candy-colored. There is an amazing first death where a man is drinking on the toilet and it causes him to melt, dripping bright blue paint, and later yellow. His body shrivels until he’s so fragile that both of his feet just break off, which makes him lose his balance and start to fall off the toilet, so he reaches for something to hold onto and grabs a chain hanging down above him. Which turns out to be one of those old fashioned pull chain toilet flushers.

So yes, this incredible melting man manages to flush himself down a toilet. It’s so gross but kind of pretty because of the colors. Stylish artistic interpretations of it appear on some of the poster and cover art, with a sense of design that, it’s fair to say, is much hipper than what Troma had to offer. They marketed it more as the druggie midnight movie type of cult movie (quotes on promotional materials compare it to ERASERHEAD and John Waters) than the drive-in type. The gore effects are very high quality for a low budget movie like this, but it’s that edge of pop art sensibility that makes them special. This frame below might as well be an art installation!

The second death happens to a guy on a fire escape talking to a cat. He melts into green slime that drips down on some yuppies who happen to be walking below while on their lunch break or something. That causes one of them to melt into yellow slime in front of a bunch of onlookers. Crazy day at the office today. A cop named Bill (actual ex-cop Bill Chepil) also sees it and starts investigating what’s going on with all these colorful melt attacks.

I’m not sure if you can say there’s a protagonist, but if there is it’s Fred (Mike Lackey, also a special makeup effects artist on this and I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE, then I guess a Marvel Comics writer in the ‘90s). He lives with his younger brother Kevin (Mark Sferrazza) in a house made of tire piles. Kevin has a bed and a table with some books and Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk banks.

He also has a friendship with and/or crush on Wendy (Jane Arakawa), who works at the junkyard. She actually seems cool other than her inappropriate relationship with someone I believe is a minor. Unfortunately we have to see her get assaulted by her disgusting boss (Pat Ryan, the mayor in THE TOXIC AVENGER – another possible motive for Kaufman’s feud).

The villain of the movie besides the booze is Bronson (Vic Noto). He’s a crazed Vietnam vet who lives in the skeleton of an old semi truck in a pile of dirt in the junkyard. He’s frequently having nasty sex with and/or punching his skinny, dirt-covered girlfriend (Nicole Potter). He considers the junkyard to be his domain and has a bunch of other vets as his “men” like the war is still going. I don’t like him.

Noto is one of the only actors in the movie with a real acting career. He had already played uncredited creeps in VIGILANTE and DEATH WISH 3, would go on to be a biker in the “No Sleep till Brooklyn” video, a bartender in TOUGHER THAN LEATHER, he was in INNOCENT BLOOD, he was a bounty hunter on Homicide: Life on the Street, he was in an episode of Daredevil, etc. But he was hired after filming already started, to replace a fired actor, and says he had/has no idea what the character is supposed to be. (And this is probly the most understandable character in the movie. The crazy guy who rules the junkyard.)

It feels less like a story than a series of incidents and sometimes confounding encounters between these odd characters. It’s not very involving, but there’s something really effective about the rawness of the acting and locations, and at least on the remastered blu-ray there is something beautiful about its unadulterated ugliness. I mean, look at this frame of a guy climbing out of a hatchback after enjoying a modest amount of beer. Somehow it’s a gorgeous shot.

But it would be torturous to get through this movie without the gooey, drippy, neon-colored bodily integrity failures. A guy explodes and splatters blood and guts covering an entire car. One of his hands sizzles on the pavement. Fred avenges a wrong by Wizzy (Bernard Perlman) by tricking him into stealing his Viper, so Wizzy’s throat splits, he starts puking, and purple, blue and yellow goo starts dripping out of him. Nickelodeon must’ve been so jealous of all the slime in this movie.

And it definitely ends on an exclamation point. Fred is fighting Bronson to the death and losing, but Kevin props up an oxygen tank on some tires, knocks the top off with a rock and causes it to launch like a missile. It blasts the motherfucker’s head entirely off while he’s holding Fred in the air with one hand. There is an absolutely astounding shot with the still-upright headless body spewing fluids in the foreground as the head drops to the earth in the background.

I mean, holy shit – what a death, what a shot.

Then there’s a suitably dumb joke that Wendy runs and leaps over the (animatronic) severed head and it smiles because it got a look up her skirt. That’s STREET TRASH for you.

Wikipedia claims that STREET TRASH “is one of a number of films known as ‘melt movies,’” but the source they cite does not tell us what else is included in this alleged genre or movement. And I’d like to know.

I’m unclear which character this is, but one credited as “Obnoxious Kid” is played by Ian Bernardo, who apparently is now one of those reality TV quasi-celebrities. I guess he was on So You Think You Can Dance? and American Idol doing really ridiculous acts and being annoying to the judges, so he proudly calls himself “the most hated contestant.” Way to go, I suppose.

More of a success story is Tony Darrow, a night club singer who made his acting debut in STREET TRASH playing the mobster Nick Duran. Allegedly Martin Scorsese saw STREET TRASH (!) and encouraged him to audition for GOODFELLAS, in which he ended up playing Sonny Bunz, the owner of the Bamboo Lounge. Since then he’s been in a whole bunch of Woody Allen movies, mob comedies like ANALYZE THIS and MICKEY BLUE EYES, and on The Sopranos as Larry Boy Barese.

Unfortunately, I guess Darrow also did some real gangstering with the Gambino crime family, because he was convicted of ordering the maiming of a man who owed money to a loan shark. He only received six months of house arrest, and then continued to act in KILL THE IRISHMAN, THE BRAWLER and other stuff.

One of the only names on the credits I was familiar with was writer Roy Frumkes, because he’s the guy who had the foresight to shoot behind-the-scenes footage during the making of DAWN OF THE DEAD, which became DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD (1980). He met Muro because he was his teacher at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He claims that Kurosawa’s DODES-KA-DEN was an influence on STREET TRASH. He’s also notable for having a writing credit on THE SUBSTITUTE!

Unfortunately, in 2018 “an investigation found that he had violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy,” so he was removed from teaching at the School of Visual Arts, according to The New York Times. (Warning: The comments on this article are a nightmare.)

At least one student had alleged that he “told her in graphic detail about a student he said had gone to his apartment and had sex with him. Then, she said, he added that if she wanted a recommendation she should visit him there.” Other former students quoted in the article talk about Frumkes inviting them to his apartment, calling them at their dorms, and commenting on their breasts.

The other name on the credits I knew was Bryan Singer, another student of Frumkes who worked on STREET TRASH as a grip. Only eight years later he was directing THE USUAL SUSPECTS, and then X-MEN, SUPERMAN RETURNS, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, etc.

Unfortunately… well, you know. Alleged prolific rapist. Seems to be a total monster. Some of the makers of STREET TRASH are really making a show of the human race being garbage, as depicted.

But what became of Kaufman’s talk show nemesis, director Jim Muro? Well, this is one of those things that I thought might be a mistake when I first saw it on IMDb, but he went on to become James Cameron’s favorite steadicam operator (working on THE ABYSS, T2, TRUE LIES and TITANIC) and then director of photography for many mainstream movies, including OPEN RANGE, best picture winner CRASH, ROLL BOUNCE, RUSH HOUR 3, and PARKER. He also directs lots of TV shows including Southland, Longmire and SEAL Team. Maybe he can bring back STREET TRASH as a one-hour procedural drama.

He operated steadicam on STREET TRASH too, but the d.p. was David Sperling (THE BOOGEY MAN, TOXIC ZOMBIES, additional camera on THE DRILLER KILLER). Though the movie is not as entertaining as Troma’s best (by which I mean THE TOXIC AVENGER I & II), it’s way better looking than anything I’ve seen by them. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised this guy turned out to be good with cameras.

Don’t worry – no “unfortunately” for Muro so far. He was 21 at the time, which sort of explains the content and attitude of the movie. Reportedly he distances himself from it now because he’s a born again Christian, but you wouldn’t have to be religious to be a little embarrassed of it. I’m embarrassed of 20-year old reviews where I use the r-word. This is more extreme.

I can’t really recommend STREET TRASH to most humans and I don’t expect to ever watch it again, but I did get something out of it. Everything on screen is so vulgar and awful it starts to seem like it constitutes a world view. It’s a neighborhood that verges on post-apocalyptic because it seems to consist entirely of filthy junkyards, graffiti walls, garbage-strewn streets, dank liquor stores and check cashers. Everyone’s clothes and skin are dirty, most people are foul and abusive. It’s not as exaggerated as THE DARK BACKWARD, and is more naturalistically lit and photographed, but it’s a real bleak vision of modern life. I choose to interpret the brightly colored ooze that marks one’s exit from this world as a celebration of merciful liberation from a living Hell. But I’m sure the aftertaste of that Viper is terrible and tends to ruin the moment.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 29th, 2022 at 11:37 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Responses to “Street Trash”

  1. Great review. I don’t have much to add. I saw this many, many years ago on a beat-up video tape and don’t really remember anything about it. However, I am very proud to say that I own (and have owned since I was about 3 years old) that exact same Incredible Hulk piggy bank. It even has a prominent place in my bedroom. Because my generation is forever stuck in arrested development and are probably to blame for the nostalgia boom, super hero movies, and toxic Star Wars fandom.

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this movie all the way through, but at the one and only horror convention I ever went to (I met Tom Savini, who was shorter than I expected) the makers had a booth and the rubber puppet of Toilet Melting Man was on display there. This had to have been a while before the movie was released, too, because I also remember seeing a trailer for DAY OF THE DEAD, which wasn’t out yet either. So I guess it took them a couple of years to actually get STREET TRASH into theaters.

  3. I’m really fond of this movie. What that says about me I’m not really sure.

  4. Two things I will always remember:

    1) Bill the cop beats a guy up in the bathroom and throws him face down in the urinal. You assume he’s going to urinate on the guy but instead he puts his fingers down his own throat and vomits on him. Maybe the greatest insult to injury ever filmed.

    2) Tony Darrow sings over the end credits in character as the mob boss. What a way to close the movie!

  5. I always get it confused with BODY MELT (which is called BODY TRASH here) which is an Australian movie about people melting after using some untested pharmaceutical product or something. So I guess there was such a thing as “melt movies” back then.

  6. I remember seeing a band named “Tenafly Viper” and while I remember nothing musically about the band, I do remember thinking it was strange to be so into Street Trash you name your band after it

  7. “Unfortunately, in 2018 “an investigation found that he had violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy,” so he was removed from teaching at the School of Visual Arts”

    One of my best friends went to SVA, and from what she’s told me about Frumkes, none of this is at all surprising.

    My other Frumkes story is more recent. Apparently he got hitched recently and his lady has money, so she made him move out of his Manhattan apartment he had for like four decades and move to Arizona or some shit. Somehow a friend of mine who works in the NYC film industry—a geezer from Birmingham who looks and acts like a 55-year-old Dickensian street urchin—got paid to load up his massive film library and memorabilia collection and drive it all the way out there. Unsurprisingly, he described Frumkes as a sullen man-child crying over his toy collection. I don’t envy his new wife.

    The way I heard it, the steadicam is the reason this movie exists. Munro had just bought one and wanted to practice on it, so he took Frumkes’ offer to slap together a production that would allow him to put together an impressive reel. As far as I know, he never wanted to be a director. He just wanted work as a cameraman and he got it.

    This movie’s finest legacy, however, is the one scene with James Lorinz, which Frank Hennenlotter was shown a rough cut of and convinced him to hire Lorinz for FRANKENHOOKER. The rest is history.

  8. I would say SLIME CITY also qualifies as a melt movie.

  9. Mr. M — was just about to say the same thing. James Lorinz is maybe my favorite part of STREET TRASH, even though he has only a small part (is it just one scene? I kinda thought it was a small subplot). My memory is he’s playing a guy who keeps fucking with the Mob boss, and obviously knows he’s playing with fire, but just can’t seem to help himself — a very good metaphor for the whole movie, actually.

    Of course, the vomit scene is the thing that really stands out in my memory.

    As for Meltsploitation, in addition to BODY MELT and SLIME CITY, and of course, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, I’d throw THE DEAD PIT (which has three major head meltings), SOCIETY, and THE DEVIL’s RAIN.

    As to the rest of this rather sordid retrospective, I guess one of the things we Late Millenial/Gen-Xer’s need to start grappling with is that a lot of the heroes who made boundary-pushing art which really got us excited back then… also pushed some boundaries in real life. Which is, on one hand, exactly what you’d expect, but while boundaries can be stultifying and dehumanizing, boundaries also protect other people from getting hurt and abused. We’ve got to try and reckon with the messiness of chaotic figures like the ones who made STREET TRASH, but I’m worried that so far most of the energy in that direction has crystalized in a censorious, reactionary moralistic attitude on the left which starkly mirrors the one on the right which was so intolerable to us back in the 90’s.

    Basically, I don’t think you really can push boundaries without being the kind of messy, at least somewhat selfish weirdo that’s gonna at the very least make some people uncomfortable at times. But sometimes pushing boundaries is valuable and even necessary. Certainly, I often find the art which is oriented around teaching a good moral lesson to be among the least valuable. But how to we resolve the fact that anything else is going to be at least a little hurtful, and more than likely made by people who are also at least a little hurtful?

    Anyway, here’s my 2013 review of STREET TRASH.

    Street Trash

    Street Trash (1987) Dir. James Muro Written by Roy Frumkes Starring Mike Lackey, R. L. Ryan, James Lorinz, Vic Noto, Bill Chepil ...

  10. You’re right, he did have at least one more scene: the credits sequence. the fact that he was chosen to close out the movie lets you know that the filmmakers knew what they had on their hands with his performance. Why that guy didn’t become a B-movie legend is beyond me. He’s like the perfect cross between Jeffrey Combs and Michael Moriarty.

  11. Damn, Wes Craven was REALLY overselling that movie, it seems.

    It ran 10ish years ago on the great Arthouse channel, that I have mentioned on here several times, but sadly (?) my recording stopped after the toilet scene for some reason.

  12. James “the low-rent Andrew McCarthy” Lorinz also has a choice scene as the “drunken, overly jealous groom” at the Teddy’s wedding reception in King of New York

    “That’s my wife!”

    I never realized that Street Trash led to Frankenhooker. But to be honest, I forgot he was in Street Trash…

  13. I love this movie, it’s so fun. Sags somewhat in the middle where there are no melts, but makes a huge comeback. Love that there’s zero plot. Lorinz is the best part of the movie…he has more like 3-4 scenes. A few outside the club, then one with the cop where the mob guy is threatening him, and the end. He should have been in more stuff but he’s no Jeffrey Combs or Morarity…he has zero range. I think he was the weakest spot of Frankenhooker, which I think is fairly weak overall. But he’s just blah…a guy like Combs would have been better, playing it tragic and grief stricken while doing ridiculous silly things.

    Too bad if Muro discounts thus movie now, and Frumkes is a creep. It’s definitely a Troma aesthetic which I think is why Lloyd hated it, but the movie bested him, making a more vibrant and artistically interesting movie with better gore than he’s made in his entire career.

  14. Ronnie Gardocki

    April 30th, 2022 at 7:44 pm

    A friend of mine got me a blu-ray of STREET TRASH as a five years sobriety gift. You know what, it is kinda appropriate. I’m pretty sure I drank my share of Tenafly Viper back in the day…

  15. A friend of mine talked STREET TRASH up for a while before I finally saw it. I think it’s one of those movies that works better hearing it described to you than in the actual watching of it. But some of those gory or melty scenes are great.

  16. @CJ HOLDEN:
    You mean Arte?
    They really aired it? :D
    Their trash nights format really was something Special.

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