August 8, 2012

Filthy Review - 'Combat Shock'

Combat Shock (1986)

Review by Jude Felton

When you think of Troma’s movies, aside from thinking they are low-budget affairs, you may well think about the fact that most of them have a somewhat comedic element to them. This certainly rings true of most of Troma’s in-house productions. The movies they acquire though can quite often be a completely different kettle of fish and none more so than Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock. There is not one ounce of humor in this deeply dark and depressing slice of hell.

Quite often, especially in this day and age, a lot of films have a dark edge to them; a bleakness if you will. Movies like The Bunny Game, Martyrs or A Serbian Film are all example of the anti-feel good movie. Regardless of your opinions of the films themselves, there is no doubt they are downbeat, to say the least. Well, Combat Shock takes that darkness and sustains it for its entire duration; there is no respite, no escape and absolutely no hope. Am I overselling it? Hell no. When this movie finished I felt drained, relieved it was over and in no hurry to return to it. Did I like it? Double hell yes; it was an absolutely terrific movie.

Now, before I go into the movie itself, I will say that contain on this release from Arrow is the Troma cut of the film, entitled Combat Shock, and then there is Giovinazzo’s cut of the movie, which is called American Nightmare, and this is the version I watched.

The story of Combat Shock/American Nightmare concerns Frankie Dunlan, an ex-soldier, who after returning from a horrendous time in Vietnam, still finds himself haunted by the war. Not only that, but he now has a wife and child to support, with no job to bring in any money. He also owes some local thugs money. Life is not good for Frankie, his wife is none too supportive and his child is hideously deformed.

The film follows Frankie as he spends his days looking for work, the whole time the memories keep flooding back to him, causing him to lose his sense of reality and pushing him closer to the edge.

To spin a few words on the plot really does not do the tone of the movie any justice whatsoever. The film is accompanied by a downbeat narration from Frankie, which plays at odds with the surreal and almost campy soundtrack which plays throughout. You just know that this isn’t going to end well, but you have no idea just how bad it will be.

This is a graphic film, but more in the sense of what is said, rather than overt bloodshed or gore (of which there is a fair bit). Aside from the expected violence, some of the descriptions of pretty brutal, there’s child prostitution and also a conversation about Frankie using his baby as part payment for his debt. Fucking brutal I tell you.

Add into all of this the sleazy low-budget look and feel of the film and you get yourself a thoroughly nasty piece of work, but that is the whole point. There isn’t supposed to be any light at the end of the tunnel, and in this respect it work so damned well. There are some dodgy acting moments here and there, and the picture is a bit on the rough side, but this is still a really good movie. On a side note, the picture quality on Combat Shock, as opposed to American Nightmare, is considerable crisper to view. With that version though you get a fair bit of stock footage from Vietnam and American Nightmare is in my opinion the superior cut.

So, the movie destroys but what about the release itself? Arrow has given us two discs of goodness here. The prerequisite reversible sleeve, two cuts of the film, a collectors booklet, an audio commentary, a documentary, hell, I could go on and on. In fact the only disappoint for me is the fact that there is no Blu-ray release. Still, this DVD is a quite superb release and I highly recommend it.

Combat Shock/American Nightmare is a solid kick to the head. There is no sensationalism about it, it just delivers the story and makes no apologies for it. Quite stunning. Quite why it took me so long to watch this film is beyond me.

Combat Shock is released by Arrow Video and can be purchased here.

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