To describe Combat Shock as life changing would be somewhat of an understatement. Love it or hate it so much you still can’t sleep right, you’ll always remember your first time laying eyes on Baby Napalm, and if you make it to the end, you’ll certainly remember seeing this grotesque bundle of joy stuffed into an oven.
Before all this goes down, though, first timer Buddy Giovinazzo reels you in with 90 minutes of what can only be described as Vetsploitation. The film opens with Frankie running through the rice paddies of Vietnam, where he stumbles upon mutilated bodies of women and children. Taken captive by VC, he is tortured but eventually released into hospice, only to find himself reliving the events in a crusty apartment with a mutant baby, an eviction notice and overly greasy hair. Some crazy shit for sure, but give the director credit for pursuing all of it with such straight-faced determination; even the leather-clad gang member with a Karate Kid headband is the real deal.
Unsurprisingly, a cast of mostly memorable caricatures inhabits the gritty world of Combat Shock. Pimps, dealers, addicts and child hookers parade before Frankie as he wanders the ghettos of Staten Island. Not content with always being at the business end of a fist, he visits the local Unemployment Office and tries reaching out to his ailing father, before ultimately turning to a career in crime he is ill suited for.
Though leaning on a certain nightmarish logic, the film flashes moments of intense realism. Simply watching Frankie put on his shoes is heartbreaking, as he hides the holes in his socks then tears a lace while tightening it. These small defeats – the meals of breadcrumbs mixed with water – not the beatings dealt by Paco, are what ultimately cause Frankie to view his life and that of his family as forfeit. All of this builds to a masochistic expression of love, overpowering in both its directness and arterial spray. Did I mention that baby in the oven? Well, Frankie goes all Terminator on it first.
Since the majority of Combat Shock is more Warriors than Jacob’s Ladder, draw parallels to Iraq at your own risk. Really, unless you’re a seasoned b-movie veteran, I’d recommend avoiding this one at all costs. Otherwise, just sit back, relax and learn how to get your fix with a coat hanger when you’re short the works.
DVD Edition: This Troma release is packed to the gills with useless features, which gives the disc much of its charm. Of note is the T.I.T quiz, which flashes soft-core porn for every correct answer and hardcore violence for every wrong one. Definitely check out the short director interview, where a cameraman is balled out for not shooting close-ups.
Worst Combat Shock IMDB message board post: Is this movie appropriate for like 12 year old kids?
What to watch for: a complete non sequitur of a director cameo that involves a Veg-O-Matic.