Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Ricky Giovinazzo, Veronica Stork, Mitch Maglio, Asaph Livni, Nick Nasta, Michael Tierno.
Tag-line: "Fighting, killing, maiming. Agent orange and the torture cages were the easy part!..."
There's no way around it- COMBAT SHOCK lies so deeply in the shadows of TAXI DRIVER and ERASERHEAD that consequently, it must struggle twice as hard to find its own artistic voice. Ultimately, I do believe that it finds it- through a combination of grubby, DIY sincerity and utter lack of pretentiousness (the director Giovinazzo credits himself as 'Buddy G'). Executive produced by Lloyd Kaufman (and his notorious Troma Films), it's the sort of film that makes you mad– mad that Troma has always aimed its artistic ambitions squarely at the gutter (instead of shooting for the moon with $40,000 and missing, like COMBAT SHOCK does). Sure, the film is something of a failure, but it's a gritty, glorious one! Following in the footsteps of subterranean New York filmmakers like Bill Lustig, Frank Henenlotter, and James Glickenhaus, Giovinazzo transforms Staten Island into a dilapidated, godforsaken vision of a ramshackle'd hell on earth (well, I guess it didn't take THAT much effort). [Furthermore, this is something I know a thing or two about.]
Plus, it doubles as Vietnam in flashbacks (and what look to be testy bodega owners in bamboo hats are the V.C.!). It's full of avant-garde, shoestringy editing and 16mm cinematography choices that most readily recall the 'Fish Heads' music video. Our hero, Frankie, is played by Buddy's brother, Rick, who provides the stringy-haired, wild-eyed intensity required for a 'Nam Vets Go Wild!' picture.
Rick also provides the zany, twangin' synth soundtrack. Frankie's life is an endless parade of demeaning exchanges- from his nagging wife
to his mutated son
to the employment office to a trio of laughably costumed loan sharks who use colorful expressions like "shitstain."
Said loan sharks at one point try to get Frankie to sell his deformed son- "You know they pay extra for retards?" –"No shit?" "Sure, it's a delicacy to fund retarded kids." WHUTTTTTTT?!
Two little girls on the street corner shout "Bitch!" at one another:
Then one of 'em kicks our hero!
there's a poor-man's Fred Williamson-esque pimp:
Maybe this guy is more like "The Ball-peen Hammer."
and there's the legendary line reading, "I am become God... Eieeeh-hehe-heheh-ehh!”
It's frequently incompetent and occasionally asinine, but there are a few moments of genuine, transcendent power. Three stars.