Where do I begin in a review of a film as powerful as "Combat Shock"? Here is the film that shoots holes in every patriotic belief. It is an art film with subtle moments throughout that don't even feel subtle, for even its calmest, most non-violent scenes get under the skin of the viewer. In it, Ricky Giovinazzo (writer/director Buddy Giovinazzo's brother) gives an excellent performance as a haunted 'Nam vet named Frankie. With his pregnant wife and severely disabled one-year-old son (totally mutated because of his father's exposure to Agent Orange), he struggles to survive in a ghetto filled with poverty and rot. Desperate to find a way out of his hopeless situation for his family and himself, he wanders the streets, having hellish flashbacks, being beaten by drug dealers, and searching for a job that doesn't require killing, robbing, or technical experience. Frankie's only friend is a quivering, bitter junkie who steals just to nurse his drug habit, and Frankie also encounters unfortunate people such as two young children being pimped on the street. As he wonders how this could happen in the country he had gone off to fight for, his sanity continuously crumbles before cold, graffiti-sprayed, industrial backgrounds. Adding more to the cold, relentless intensity is a droning mass of white noise that fills the soundtrack from the machines when the score isn't going. Soon Frankie sees that the very nation he has called home is a battleground all its own. There is not an uplifting moment in the entire film, not so much as even an iota of dark humor. "Combat Shock" offers strong insight into just how human even the most inhumane of killers are. Not once do the filmmakers glorify the violence seen in the movie, instead using the horrific and gory elements in the ugliest, most depressing way possible. Believe you me, this is no complaint, because this is what makes "Combat Shock" a powerful and unforgettable experience. It is raw, gritty, and very deep, as it is made for those who prefer films that force them to think. The score (by Ricky Giovinazzo as well) is one of the best I have ever heard, and fits the film like an uncomfortably tight glove, conveying a horror-movie feel while combining it with more melancholy and dramatic sounds (as well as some dirty, seedy, bored, punked-out-sounding death disco sensibilities) to help give this movie a feel of a study of reality as a horror movie. The gore FX and the mutant baby are very well-done, but this is not a movie for people who just want to see blood and guts. As I said, where most splatter films dehumanize their characters, "Combat Shock" makes you feel for the characters. It's so much more disturbing and moving that way, and I must say that this is more horrific than any of the full-on horror films that I've seen. The director was obviously a fan of "Taxi Driver" and "Eraserhead", but this film is not derivative and not only stands up well on its own, but stands up so well that it is much better than both of those films, gaining intensity and momentum until the shocking and heart-wrenching climax. I've watched this movie several times and still come away laughing at the end every time, not because it's funny (which it's not), but because it's a feeling of relief and release I get when the catharsis finally occurs in the brutal, climactic scenes. Don't think this is some cheezy, goofy movie just because it took Troma to release it. After all, nobody else would. It's been a long while since I have seen a movie that I would be ready and willing to crown as my favorite above all others, but this amazing masterpiece of independent cinema definitely deserves the title. (It's not its fault that it shares the title with many others, but that's beside the point!) And, by all means, see the unrated version!!!
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