8/15/2011

Revisiting Combat Shock

Director/ writer/ producer Buddy Giovinazzo's shocking cult classic Combat Shock remains one of the most nightmarish and shocking films of all time, even though it is now 25 years since it was released by Troma upon the world. It's nihilistic and gruesome power will shatter even the hardest of viewers. And, although, I had already seen it, it still struck me and struck me hard as a punch by Brock Lesner.

I first saw Combat Shock when I was in high school. I was very young at the time and the movie deeply disturbed and shocked me. I first heard about this movie was when I read about it in one of Chas. Balun's Gorezone columns. I clearly remember him mentioning that if you saw this movie with a girl, you weren't gonna get any afterwards. He wasn't kidding. This is one seriously nasty and depressing movie. You will feel like shit after watching it!

Anyway, I really figured it couldn't be that depressing. I mean look at the cover. It looks like some really kick ass action flick. I figured it's a Troma release and Chas. gave it his approval, it's prob some really bloody action flick. I'm a huge fan of action movies that get gory and bloody. At the time I loved (and I still love) stuff like Die Hard, Death Wish, and other shoot-em ups that let the blood flow freely, I figured this was like some Death Wish meets Rambo (two franchises I love) type flick. Man, that was mistake number two. Troma clearly wanted to sell it as an exploitation style action flick, which it ain't. In fact, said style of movie is as far from this film as you could get.

The movie opens up with our "hero" Frankie (Ricky Giovinazzo) in Vietnam (actually Staten Island). He guns down some pretty Vietnamese girl and soon wakes up screaming in the present. His pregnant wife is soon nagging at him that the toilet is broken and to get a job. Their Agent Orange mutant baby is wailing away. He heads out to unemployment where there is a long ass line. The day goes from bad to worse, as he talks to his estranged dad, sees coke addicted friend, is harassed by thugs he owes money to, sees an under-aged hooker, all while still being haunted by his past and tortured by his present living conditions. It all leads to one of the most jaw-dropping climaxes and endings in the history of cinema, that will haunt days afterwards.

If there are problems with the movie it's the budget. It's extremely low budget and cheap and it shows. But, at the same time it adds a feeling of sleaze and crudeness that works to its advantage, well at least some of the times anyway. The other major problem is the very slow pacing. Not much happens between the beginning and the climax. Which is further proof that the movie's poster was waaaay off.

The acting is good, though. But, let's be honest it's the gut punch that movie delivers that is it's strongest point. The FX are not the best, in particular the baby, which freaked me out when I was young. But, it looks really fake and cheesy in hindsight. The squib work is excellent and gory as fuck, though. And, the Nam flashbacks are filled blown up torsos and maggots.

One scene I simply could NOT watch as a kid was the coke fix scene. I hit the fast foward button (something I NEVER did or do). The dude uses a fucking coat hanger!!! The scene was said to have caused major walk outs during the original screening of the film. I was able to look at this time, but it is still fucking grotesque.

Nothing preceding the movie though prepares you for those last 15 min or so. I don't want to reveal them, because it would ruin the power of the moment. Some websites reveal it, I would rather you not know. But, I do want to make this clear, it is not for everyone. And, will test the limits of what you can take.

Revisiting it I liked it more, but this is not a fun movie. I didn't like it when I first saw (nor did I hate it). But, I think I appreciate more, now. I still am not a big fan of it, but I certainly understand it better. The most shocking moments of the film have lost NONE of their edge.

But, what is most "scary" is how more relevant it is today. With unemployment at all time high and so many of our young men and women coming back from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it really hits harder than ever. It remains the single most harrowing Nam film, ever.

The DVD features the longer and more gruesome director's cut, AKA American Nightmares,(devoid of the tacked on war footage from the original release). That said the opening seems to drag more in this cut. The picture quality ain't the best, but extra features (which I am not done with) are excellent, though.

See it but only if you are truly, truly ready and prepared to see it.

*** out of ****

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