Combat Shock. Film Review


Arrow Films

Starring: Rick Giovinazzo, Veronica Stork and Mitch Maglio

Directed by: Buddy Giovinazzo

Rating: 18

Duration: 95 mins

Reviewed by Guy Adams

I’ve just watched COMBAT SHOCK. I’m a hero God help me.

A micro-budget feature from Buddy Giovinazzo, Combat Shock (née American Nightmares, the original cut of which is also included within this double disc presentation) confused many of its audiences when released in 1986, not least because the Troma studio, concerned with ticket sales, had presented it as a military action movie. In fact it’s an extremely slow-paced day in the life of aVietnam veteran who has left one battlefield for another: the grubby streets of Staten Island. Leaving his mutant baby (the result of the chemicals he was subjected to during service) and his non-sympathetic wife in an apartment he’s about to be evicted from, he walks around trying to find work, food, money… anything he can take home to prove he’s not a failure. Needless to say, the man who finally returns is not quite the same as the one who left.

There are many loose threads you can pick at, this is a rough-around-the-edges picture which wears the fact that it’s a virgin project for its cast and crew clearly on its stained sleeve. The 16mm film looks rough (despite best efforts at cleaning it up), the camerawork is questionable and it’s not a movie altogether troubled by acting (I’m pretty sure that’s Buddy’s mom behind the beard and bandana). Everything about it, when viewed objectively, should make it a lousy experience. But it can’t be viewed objectively because, somehow, the whole damn thing gets under your skin and the film affects you.

It’s so grimy you’ll be taking Windolene eye-baths within ten minutes.Staten Island is presented as a place where something horrid lurks around every corner. Possibly Buddy’s brother, Ricky Giovinazzo on his Casio keyboard (he composed the soundtrack as well as taking the starring role). It’s the kind of place where locals gather around dog turds to enjoy the view.

Very little happens, the film just strolls through its urban warzone and waits for critical mass to be achieved. The scenes set in Vietnam were shot a stone’s throw away in a marshy rubbish dump so given that both terrible environments are on the poor sod’s doorstep it’s a wonder he lasts as long as he does.

I should say that, in a cast of amateurs, Ricky shines out. He had never acted before this and did nothing after. I’d say that’s a shame as he’s really rather good but, balls to it, who wants to be an actor? He’s probably had a much better career. At least here he has something to show the grandchildren, when they’ve been misbehaving and he wants to ruin them forever.

I can’t say that I enjoyed it and yet it lingers. And that makes it more than worth your time. Arrow’s package is as exhaustive as you’ll ever need with both cuts of the movie, some of Giovinazzo’s early shorts (light-blue, drawstring waist, check… sorry), interviews with both of the Giovinazzo brothers (and if I never have to type out that name again I’ll be a happy man) and a documentary looking at the impact of the movie featuring a wide range of talking heads including Richard Stanley being all strange, intelligent, South African and lovable as per usual.

It’s an impressive set, just make sure you stock up on anti-bacterial wipes and stay off the vodka while watching it.