Reviewed by: Ryan Doom
and Mitch Maglio
What's it about
An American Vietnam vet descends into madness while attempting to save his family from utter ruin in the 1980s.
Is it good movie?
Poor Frankie, his life just sucks. His wife is an annoying hag. He has an alien baby. Heís broke and about to be booted from his apartment. His rich father has shunned him. And heís a Vietnam vet unable to readjust to society.
On the surface, these elements arenít exactly fresh or original. Weíve seen the psycho vet (Taxi Driver). Weíve seen the surreal (Eraserhead). However, sometimes a film manages to take clichťd elements and carve something new from them. And in the case of Combat Shock, it creates a near perfect snap shock into a decaying mind with solid characters living out tough lives. Taking place in NYC during the earlier 80s, director Buddy Giovinazzo takes no short cuts in demonstrating the effects of war on a man or the depths that the brain can reach. Itís as if Rambo in First Blood made it back home and snapped. Itís as if Travis Bickle never found the taxi job and went crazy all alone.
A movie like Combat Shock (or the original directorís cut entitled American Nightmares; the film was renamed and recut by Troma for a wider release) isnít the easiest thing to recommend to the masses. Why? Well, Combat Shock is the definition of a gritty, independent movie. Made in 1984, Combat Shock is dirty, mean, and unapologetic, not the type of flick that the average Joe comes home to and pops it in to relax and enjoy his evening. No, this thing is cheap, eerie, and sometimes unwatchable for all the right reasons. Itís not because of the horror or the violence, but because itís not your usual flair of film. Itís an unrelenting view of the world and itís characters. Plus, for the average movie going public, Combat Shock is a tad on the slow side with characters who are neither appealing nor likeable. But they could not be anything else considering the movie is about poverty, desperation, junkies, and people at the brink. Everyone is at their end, all ready to break. In particular, the scenes with Frankie and his wife and their sort of alien-mutated baby are painful to view. Of course the acting is terrible (seeming like a really bad community theatre play), but itís their child thatís just f-ed up and unforgettable. Thereís no other way to put it. A little screaming alien baby. Just f-ed up.
Of all the components of Combat Shock, the music stands out as one of the best. Written by ďRicky GĒ (the star of the film), itís pure 1980ís with nothing but synthesizers, reminding of the best of John Carpenter. Two other elements also make the film unique and worth visiting. One: the ending, which is both shocking and revolting and harkens back to the Taxi Driver comparisons. Two: the sour milk sequence. I donít want to spoil it for anyone whoís never seen the film, but someone drinks a glass of chucky, lumpy milk with no reaction. For all the death and carnage that occurs throughout, itís that spoiled milk that hurts most of all.
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen presentation (grainy, old-school). One print is 16 mm while the other is 35 mm.
Audio: Presented with the power of 2.0 sound.
This Tromasterpiece Collection DVD contains the original version of the film plus the rarely seen original directorís cut American Nightmares, which runs roughly eight minutes longer and with a different edit and lesser effects.
Commentary: An entertaining, self deprecating track by Buddy Giovinazzo and Jorg Buttgereit. Entertaining and interesting, I always enjoy the tracks more on indie movies because it makes one appreciate the film that much more.
Post-Traumatic, An American Nightmare: A 30Ėminute doc with interviews of fellow film directors who admire the film and its legacy. Pretty interesting.
The Early Works of Buddy Giovinazzo: Six shorts (including a collection of music videos). I loved the videos most of all. C-h-e-e-s-y.
Interviews: Four different and new interviews with director Buddy and his brother, actor Rick. I always dig the updates to see where they are now.
Hellscapes: I love something simple like this. This feature shows the sets as how they looked 25 years ago and how they look today. Simple, yet entertaining.
Because Combat Shock is so raw and independent, itís tough to get into at first as everything feels so damn cheap and amateurish. But once a viewer gets into the grove, its worth the painful and depressing trip.