Saturday, February 18, 2023

#2,897. Combat Shock (1984) - Troma Triple Feature


As gritty as 1980’s Maniac and as unsettling as Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you on a blood-soaked journey through hell.

Haunted by the horrific memories of his tour in Vietnam, Frankie (Rick Giovinazzo) lives in a rundown apartment in Staten Island, New York with his nagging wife (Veronica Stork) and infant child (which was born deformed). Unemployed and struggling to find work, Frankie, at one point, was forced to borrow money from drug dealer Paco (Mitch Maglio), who is now demanding to be repaid.

While walking the streets day in and day out, trying to find a way to make ends meet, Frankie experiences flashbacks of the war, including his stint in a POW camp and three years recovering in a military hospital. His back against the wall, Frankie will try to borrow money from his estranged father (Leo Lunney) and even resort to stealing, an event that will mark the first step on his final descent into madness.

Distributed by Troma, Combat Shock is much more than a cheapie exploitation film; Giovinazzo explores the crippling effects of PTSD in a manner few movies have before. From the moment we meet Frankie, played so well by the director's brother, we sense he has been irreparably damaged by his wartime experiences. This is further conveyed to us throughout the movie via flashbacks and dream sequences. While the Vietnam scenes aren’t particularly convincing (they look like they were shot in an abandoned lot), director Giovinazzo does a masterful job navigating the urban decay and squalor of Staten Island, drawing parallels between his lead characters’ past and present, and how both are taking their toll on his already fragile psyche.

As with Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Frankie narrates the film, clueing us in on just how warped his mind has become. We the audience know it’s only a matter of time before Frankie snaps, resulting in a blood-drenched final act that, for a low-budget film, features violence that is astonishingly realistic.

Combat Shock is one hell of a disturbing motion picture, and if you’re like me, you won’t have an easy time recovering from it. Yet I enthusiastically recommend the film. Combat Shock will, indeed, shake you, but it also stands as a testament to what can be accomplished with a vision and very little money.

Combat Shock is a low-budget tour de force.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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