Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Street Trash
Get a fuckin’ job!
I haven’t done a vault review for a while, due to being perpetually distracted by the Birthday series, and as a result I’ve partially forgotten the format for these. So bear with me a bit on this one. My research this morning has told me that Street Trash is considered by many to be a masterpiece of “grindhouse”, a slick and gory black comedy made for peanuts; an archetype of modern exploitation that transcends its humble origins and becomes something more despite the almost total absence of budget. I’m not so sure I agree.
Contains melty tramps and spoilers below.
Street Trash is, or it should be, a fairly simple film. Local convenience store owner Ed (M. D’Jango Krunch) finds a crate of suspicious alcohol called “Viper” in the back of his shop. Knowing that he’s frequented by tramps, a target market not renowned for their discerning pallets, he decides to flog the drink that makes rubbing alcohol look like Dom Perignon for a mighty $1 per bottle. Unfortunately there’s a side effect of the Viper: it’s as toxic as the inside of Don Murphy’s jockstrap. Not only is it toxic, it’s spectacularly poisonous, and one swig is enough to cause the tramps to melt/ explode/ whatever in a technicolour mess of goo.
In the meantime, local tramp gang lord Bronson (Vic Noto) has taken over the junkyard, and wants a piece of George Harrison lookalike Fred (Mike Lackey), who lives with his brother Kevin (Mark Sferrazza). Bronson has committed a very gory murder, and local hard ass cop Bill (Bill Chepil) is assigned to catch him and investigate the goopy killings. Kevin is in love with Wendy (Jane Arakawa), who works in the yard and fends off her fat boss (bearing a startling resemblance to the aforementioned Murphy). Fred has more problems than this, as he’s attracted the attention of local mafia boss Nicky Duran (Tony Darrow) due to something that I’ll come to in a second. Bronson goes completely bat shit loopy, loads of tramps die from the Viper, and the film ends in a completely surreal way.
This is an odd film. I read that it started life as a short, and you can really tell. Viper, which should be the crux of the film disappears after about half an hour only to reappear right at the very end. Instead, the second act is comprised entirely of snapshots of life on the street, most of which are, unsurprisingly, viscerally unpleasant. Fred, for example, has attracted Nicky’s attention by duty of copping off with Nicky’s girlfriend. Unfortunately, she’s then gang raped and murdered in the junk yard by the tramps. As if this wasn’t enough, the film then has fat boss molesting the corpse. Thankfully the rape and necrophilia takes place off camera, but, well, bleurgh, how vile.
Which, I think, is the point. This is an intentionally offensive and revolting movie. The gore effects are fantastic and hugely entertaining, but they’re as viscerally unpleasant as could be managed, and I did enter a weird state of mind where the splatter had completely overwhelmed me leaving me totally numb and almost blasé about events. The film honestly goes out of its way to be as obnoxious as possible, and while it is, when things are going well, monstrously entertaining, it’s simultaneously never too far from a scene like Bill puking on the mafia hitman that just pushes the envelope that little bit further. Eventually, as I say, desensitisation kicked in on me, and as a direct result the entertainment value of the film dropped.
It’s funny, actually, thinking about this, because it doesn’t feel like a coherent film. It feels like three short ones welded together. The second act, in particular, is completely incongruous, and this slimy snapshot of the underclass wasn’t actually particularly interesting. Take, for example, the shoplifting scene. This not only goes on far too long, but also isn’t that entertaining, and it seems to have no real purpose to the drive of the film. It’s mildly amusing for a minute or two, but by the time the tramp had stolen half the contents of the supermarket by stuffing them in his pants I was starting to wish the film could move on.
In part this sense of dislocation is caused by the fact that all the characters are almost totally unsympathetic. Bill the cop is a blatant roid freak with anger management problems, for example. Fred initially appears to be the most sympathetic and likeable, but by half way through the film he’s turned into a bit of a dick as well, and I was kind of wishing for him to get slapped. The grubby sex scene with Fred in it kills any sense of empathy for the character, and he’s devolved into being just another mutant for the film to push around.
Then there’ s Bronson. He’s another character where less screen time would have made him more entertaining. His early appearance with smashing the dorky guy through the car windscreen was brutal and shocking, but we’re then treated to his extended Vietnam flashbacks involving vampiric Viet Cong, and his antics become increasingly insane and therefore less interesting. Noto is good in the part, in fact all the acting is solid, but it’s a single note howling lunatic role, and grew fairly tiresome. It sounds silly to write this, but his psychopathic shenanigans were so totally random and without motivation that by the time he manifested himself as the real villain of the film I was a bit bored of the sight of him.
Yet, despite all the above, when it works, it works really well. The game of piggy in the middle with the amputated cock, for example, was very funny, and there’s a gleeful atmosphere to the movie. It’s light and shallow, but it isn’t trying to be anything other than a horror-comedy-drama hybrid that rocks along and for the most part entertains in its own repugnant fashion. As a result of this, particularly during the first half an hour, I was laughing with it, and it was great fun. This is helped by the fact that it isn’t a grainy and nasty mess to watch- there’s a polish to it, that helps the film roar along throwing its absurdities and freaks at the screen with a big nasty smile on its face.
I do wonder if this shouldn’t have stayed as a short. To be honest, there isn’t enough material here to pad it out to feature length, and many of the problems with the film relate directly to this. With some pruning, and removing some of the more extraneous and gratuitously sordid sections, then this would have been a leaner, more streamlined beast. However, simultaneously, to do so would have neutered it, and as the purpose of Street Trash is to be as exuberantly and virulently disgusting as possible then this would have made it an utterly tiresome and pointless waste of time. Thus, I find myself sort of torn, as I can see what is wrong and how to fix it, but it strikes me as a massive waste of time to do so.
Overall, this isn’t an awful film, and it is streets ahead of modern grindhouse trash like Hobo with a Shotgun (which is blatantly trying and failing to be Street Trash). When it works, it’s a riot, but the middle section is so virulently unpleasant that it kills a lot of the entertainment value of the film. This is a notorious movie, sure, but its cartoonish gore, and gleeful sense of stupidity make me think that the reputation it carries is almost totally unjustified. As a result, I feel totally meh about this one, it’s fun in patches, but all in all isn’t a success. It does, however, look like pure cinema gold compared to the likes of Hobo or Nude Nuns. I’m not sure I recommend Street Trash, because if you’re in the right mood and suitably beer assisted then it will entertain, but for this kind of gorefest, I reckon that something such as Bad Taste would be a far better choice.
Before I sign off: as a pointless piece of trivia, Street Trash was the first film Bryan Singer worked on.
Until next time,