We all know the old saying. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It bears repeating because Street Trash is certainly not a treasure for everyone. In some ways it doesn’t really feel like it’s for anyone. It’s gross, dirty, and sleazy as hell but that’s the appeal. That’s what makes Street Trash so endearing is the fact that it’s so sleazy from the first frame and only gets worse and worse as it goes. There’s are very few likable characters in the entire movie.
Which makes it kind of amazing that Street Trash works as well as it does, let alone works at all. It’s a loosely related collection of scenes and character skits, there’s a throughline from beginning to end and there are characters that are better than others, but there is not necessarily a true protagonist. There’s a heavy early Troma vibe about it. The central conceit is a discount wine called Tenafly Viper that a liquor store owner finds in his basement and that effectively melts people from the inside out. It’s to bargain hooch what The Stuff was to processed foods and low-fat yogurt.
The thing that really sells Street Trash is the sheer insanity. It’s not just the great, imaginative melting sequences. Considering that’s all Tenafly Viper really does, it’s amazing that this doesn’t get stale. Instead, we have people getting sucked down into toilets, we’ve got guys expanding until they literally explode—there’s no shortage of imagination when it comes to the death scenes. In a movie like this, that’s extremely important.
It’s a gross, grimy, angry and funny movie. And you’re never quite sure if you’re supposed to be laughing or not. It’s built on a foundation of tastelessness. According to screenwriter Roy Frumkes, “I wrote it to democratically offend every group on the planet, and as a result the youth market embraced it as a renegade work, and it played midnight shows.”
I love everything about that quote because it makes the entire film seem like a happy accident. And honestly, that’s what it feels like. Some of these characters definitely feel like people trying too hard to act, but some of them just feel like guys that were found and just told to do something in front of the camera. There’s something so kinetic and energetic about it. At times it doesn’t even feel like a movie, it feels like you’re just a fly on the wall seeing stuff that you really not supposed to see.
That’s exactly what sleazy, classless exploitation cinema is supposed to be. We got treated to a lot of it in the 1980s. C.H.U.D. handled the same material with a surprising amount of thought and care, while Street Trash did the opposite. And while there are many exploitation flicks that were just as, well, trashy, there are very few that felt more authentic than this one.
There’s so much going on in it. We don’t get subplots about different characters, we just get little vignettes and side stories. From mobsters, casual murder, hobo hierarchy and a gross enormous boss trying to rape an employee by pretending to die on top of her, there’s just so much. It’s an assault on the eyes and ears in the best way possible. In fact, it’s attacks the senses so well that there are times you can almost smell the movie.
I think Street Trash has more than earned its place as a lowbrow cult classic. Even if it’s rarely brought up in the same conversation as Re-Animator or Night of the Creeps, it fits comfortably beside the likes of The Toxic Avenger and The Stuff. In many ways, it’s almost the companion piece to both of those movies. It should even be commended for taking such an obvious plot device and not making it about zombies as almost every B-Movie of the time would do.
As has been said many times by many people, Street Trash is not for everyone. But nothing is. I think you’ll know very quickly whether or not it’s for you, because if this feature is going to offend you then there’s a good chance it’ll happen within the first few minutes. That’s just the kind of movie it is. There’s a campiness to it, but it’s not the charming, innocent campiness you see with so many other ‘80s horror productions.
It’s a boiling pot of bad taste and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It has little to no commentary and even what it says about the way people treat the homeless feels almost accidental. But that’s because almost everything seems accidental. Even with an effects-driven sci-fi plot like this, half the movie seems made up, like things just happened in front of the camera. Dialogue just keeps spouting, keeps coming even after a scene would normally end. And it’s not even a bad thing. Or a good thing. It’s just Street Trash.