June 28, 2015

Movie Review: Combat Shock

Do you ever watch a movie that, once finished, you feel rather meh about? A movie that may have some good stuff, but you wonder about the execution and whatnot? I am sure you have, everyone has, whether you recognize it or not. Now, have you ever had one of those movies stick in your brain, rattle around a bit and ultimately leave you with a changed opinion of said movie, for better or worse? Well, Combat Shock is one of those movies for me. I came out of it with a middling feeling that changes into something that I really liked. Although, it is certainly not a movie for everyone.

Combat Shock was written and directed by Buddy Giovinazzo, credited simply as Buddy G. It was the debut feature for the New York City native, who would go on to work on the short film that was supposed to be a test for Maniac 2 with Joe Spinell. He was also one of the directors involved in the Theatre Bizarre anthology film. With this one, he demonstrates some interesting ideas in what feels like a blend of Eraserhead and Taxi Driver. Sounds weird, but it works, and better as I reflect on it.

This Troma production was made in 1984 but did not see a release until 1986 and then in a cut form. Apparently, the MPAA had some issue with the momentary graphic violence. Fortunately, the version I saw was the original, uncut version. It is certainly a low budget film that was shot primarily guerrilla style, with no permits or anything. The result, while unpolished, has a grimy authenticity that fits the era, and is another example of cinema in a pre-cleaned up NYC.

The movie centers on Frankie (Buddy G's brother Rick Giovinazzo), a Vietnam veteran who is dealing with the issues of his experiences that have haunted him for the fifteen years since his return. The film opens with scenes of him in Vietnam, it is accompanied by voice over of what he did there, and things that happened. He was captured, tortured, and when he returned home, was hospitalized for three years.

In the present, he lives with his wife and severely deformed baby (believed to be the result of Agent Orange exposure) in a shabby, rundown apartment with no food. The relationship is strained as Frankie has lost his job and been unable to find a new one. We follow him into the streets where he meets a number of interesting characters, friends, foes, weirdos. As he walks and meets these people, his internal monologue ruminates on the past.

His wartime past and seeming hopeless future twist in on each other and become intertwined as his mental state goes into a rapid deterioration. It all builds to an inevitable conclusion as facts are revealed about the truth of his experience.

The low budget, weird feel of the movie left me a little off at first, but as I thought about it, it grew in my estimation. There was an interesting honesty in it. I liked how everything slowly blended together and the present situation in the city became a twisted mirror image of what he experienced in the war. The film as a whole has this weird not quite real feel to it with the mutant baby and everything else going on. It is not a fast paced movie, which contributed to my,eh reaction, but if you watch, you will see something fascinating

Combat Shock is not an action movie, it is an internalized drama, a study of character. It is a grimy, gritty, ugly looking movie. It is not particularly well acted, outside of the lead. It is a slow burn that takes a while to worm its way into your brain, but is ultimately pretty effective and makes for a solid experience.


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