Synapse Films cleans up Jim Muro’s STREET TRASH with a brand new high definition transfer on their Blu-ray “Special Meltdown Edition”.
The term “rotgut” gets a whole new meaning when liquor store proprietor Ed (M. D'Jango Krunch) discovers a sixty-year-old case of “Tenafly Viper” hidden in the crawlspace of his store basement and decides to sell it cheap to the local winos. When a handful of local hobos are discovered inexplicably melted into puddles of goo and assorted limbs, badass cop (Bill Chepil) suspects the culprit is insane Vietnam vet Bronson (Vic Noto, VIGILANTE) who lords over a gang of bums-turned-shakedown-artists in a local junkyard that neighbors. In the neighboring auto-wrecking yard, sleazy owner Frank’s (R.L. Ryan, THE TOXIC AVENGER) ballsy secretary Wendy (Jane Arakawa) has been looking after orphans Kevin (Mark Sferrazza) and his older brother Fred (Mike Lackey) who brings trouble to their doorstep by sleeping with the drunk mistress (Miriam Zucker, PRIME EVIL) of mobster/restaurateur Nick Duran (lounge singer Tony Darrow, GOODFELLAS). Fred already has Bronson on his back since he’s been ambushing his “foot brigade” for the price of a drink; but when Duran’s girlfriend washes up dead in a nearby canal after having been raped by Bronson’s horde, Fred soon has the law and the mob on his tail.
Originally a one-joke 16mm short about winos melting after drinking tainted hooch produced in 1983 by School of Visual Arts students Jim Muro and Mike Lackey (with peripheral involvement from their professor Roy Frumkes who was still trying to complete and distribute his George Romero documentary DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD), STREET TRASH was expanded into a feature by fleshing out the social hierarchy of the hobos and tossing in villain Bronson, an unlikely murder investigation headed by cop Bill (and a coroner who makes sculptures out of human remains), giving Fred a kid brother (and the kid brother an Oedipal love interest), as well as mafia don “Nick the Dick”. It doesn’t really all mesh that well with the melting wino scenes, as if the script had started as a feature version of the short and taken on a life of its own; although without them, the film might have still become an eighties cult classic (of the Troma variety thanks to its milieu and lapses into surrealism aside from the meltings). Since the highlights of the short are preserved in the film, it’s easier to observe how Lackey’s acting had improved in the meantime (he was originally just going to do the make-up effects for the short but took over the lead when the hired actor – an actual junkie – didn’t turn up for the shoot). Most of the lead performances are quite good for a low-budget horror film, with special nods to Darrow, Arakawa, Ryan, Noto, and stage actors Clarenze Jarmon as Fred’s resourceful buddy Burt and Nicole Potter as Bronson’s “winette” concubine; however, James Lorinz (FRANKENHOOKER) is a delight as Duran’s motor-mouthed doorman (originally a one-line role expanded into a couple scenes, including a coda intercut with the ending credits). The lighting of cinematographer Dave Sperling (Ulli Lommel’s THE BOGEYMAN) and director Muro’s fluid Steadicam photography give the film an incredibly slick look beyond the gooey and colorful melting scenes, with some strikingly-lit night exteriors and nightmare sequences, placing it in good company with distributor Vestron’s other unrated releases from the period EVIL DEAD 2 and RE-ANIMATOR.
Synapse’s new Blu-ray is their third release of the title. One of their most anticipated title since they moved from laserdisc to DVD, they first released the film in the format in 2005 in a barebones anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 edition) as somewhat of a teaser to their 2006 “Special Meltdown” 2-disc edition which featured the same transfer as well as a new 5.1 mix (in addition to the original 2.0 track) and a number of extras that have been carried over to the Blu-ray. I haven’t seen any of the previous releases but the new transfer on display here is practically pristine (I’m not sure if restorationist Robert A. Harris actually supervised the 2005 transfer, but he is seen in the documentary assessing the elements and finding them to have been well-preserved). Not only is it damage free, but it is also appears to be free of any overt digital manipulation (reportedly Synapse’s Don May pushed the release back when the first Blu-ray authoring house applied some filtering to their encode and published comparison screengrabs from the checkdisc) with a startling amount of detail and clarity - apparent from the very first scene - for a low-budget film. The original mono (in 2.0) and 5.1 remixes are presented here in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. The mono track is perfectly fine while the surround remix takes advantage of the wider sound field (the track is so clean that the separation of the dialogue from the music and effects makes the room tone more evident, especially when it disappears during inserted re-recorded dialogue). Optional English subtitles are also included.
Writer/producer Frumkes and director Muro are on hand for separate audio commentary tracks. Frumkes’ talk is more anecdotal while Muro’s is more technical. Frumkes has enough experience with commentaries (see THE JOHNSONS and the latest release of DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD) and interviews (having continued to follow the productions of Romero’s DEAD films) to know how to entertain and inform an audience; and, as a teacher, he has kept a detailed diary and archive of materials on the film. Among the highlights of the talk are the distasteful requirements various investment parties wanted to place on the project, after which he goes on to justify his own choices in tension-breaking shocks as a way of goosing up the second act during which there would be no meltdowns (indeed, one can forget about the whole melting aspect of the film during this extended portion of the film). He also sheepishly addresses the film’s sexism from Bill the cop’s argument with a feminist businesswoman to the rape scene (which he explains as a means of turning Bill’s investigation to the wrecking yard). Muro – who is otherwise mostly absent from the extras apart from some archival interview material in the documentary – goes heavily into detail about the realization of various set-ups, which upon reflection seem less like rip-offs of THE EVIL DEAD’s “force” POVs and more like the director’s opportunities to show off what he could do with his Steadicam rig (in addition to amping up the visual style of his debut feature). Muro was among one of the few non-Hollywood, unestablished filmmakers to invest in such a rig but he didn’t let it go to waste, being hired for numerous regional projects like SPOOKIES, BEWARE: CHILDREN AT PLAY, BRAIN DAMAGE, and MANIAC COP before moving onto the mainstream with FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN and THE ABYSS. His first assignment as cinematographer was 2003’s OPEN RANGE and he has since returned to directing with a handful of TV assignments. Lorinz makes a guest appearance at the end of Muro’s track. Also carried over from the 2006 release is the original 16mm STREET TRASH short (15:05), much of which was incorporated scene-for-scene (with some different context) and line-for-line in the feature. The gore is more amateurish and the ooze looks like watered-down paint, but there are some surprising optical wipe transitions (considering the extremely low budget and shooting gauge). Frumkes has another cameo here as one of the bums ransacking the store.
A two hour behind the scenes “featurette” seems more than a little excessive for a one-hundred minute film; but “Meltdown Memories” (123:59) isn’t a series of talking heads. Structured using producer Frumkes production diary, the documentary includes archival interviews from eh shooting period, talk show clips promoting the film on the local “Variety Tonight”, behind the scenes video, outtakes and deleted scenes, as well as contemporary (2005) interviews with several of the cast and crew members. Among the then-unknowns is production-assistant-now-mainstream-director Bryan Singer (who recalls going into the deli belonging to Fangoria writer/later editor Anthony Timpone’s father but not being able to talk about the film since the crew were sworn to secrecy). Virtually every reference by Frumkes or the cast/crew to scenes that didn’t make the final cut is surprisingly illustrated with workprint and video excerpts from those scenes – including scenes and shots pertaining to the “Huck Finn” aspect of the plot that were removed – and it’s fortunate that this material was preserved (presumably Frumkes used all of the deleted and behind the scenes material as teaching tools for his classes). The mammoth documentary concludes with a what-are-they-doing-now epilogue that generally finds the remaining cast and crew (the film was twenty years old at the time so there are a lot of them) generally happy, having returned to the stage, continued working in film, or moved onto other interests like music or UFO conspiracies (and moving on further from there).
Actress Jane Arakawa was MIA from documentary but appears here in a video interview (9:15) ported over from the Arrow UK release. Arakawa doesn’t talk much about the shooting of the film itself other than recalling working with Ryan and Noto, but she does recall the moment – after more than a decade traveling the world with her musician husband and The Rolling Stones – when she discovered STREET TRASH’s status as a cult film (the crew of a slasher film she was working on quoting lines from the film to her once they recognized her). Also new to the release are approximately seven minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes – including variations on a profane expository monologue by Darrow on his way to the police station complaining about his doorman’s incompetence (which was obviously nixed when they decided to give Lorinz more scenes, including the bit at the police station) – which are different from the ones excerpted in the documentary and certainly not as plentiful. In addition to the film’s trailer (2:10) – which the documentary identifies as the film’s European trailer – there is also a promotional piece (3:07) created after the short in order to attract investors for the feature. It suggests nothing of the melting plot element and focuses on defining the titular “street trash” in a single vignette. Fans will want to pick up the Blu-ray not so much for the new extras – as welcome as they may be – but for the chance to see this 1980s classic in such exquisite condition. (Eric Cotenas)
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