There are not a lot of movies like Combat Shock. Buddy Giovinazzo's debut is an extremely bleak look at a day in the life of a Vietnam vet that will stick with you long after you watch it. When I am having a terrible day or week, all I have to do is think of Combat Shock and I realize that life could be much, much worse. Although there is nothing happy about this flick, for some reason I was not left with the sense of emptiness that I felt after watching something like William Lustig's Maniac. Instead, I appreciated my own life and felt that the main character found peace although his method of doing so will have you questioning the morality of the situation. This type of filmmaking is rarely seen by a first time writer/director and will have you feeling either completely appalled or impressed by the rawness of Giovinazzo's vision.
Ricky Giovinazzo (the director's brother who has since gone on to writing orchestral arrangements for mainstream movies) stars as Frankie, an unemployed vet who lives in a shithole apartment with his wife and deformed baby. The baby is constantly crying and the wife is constantly complaining making for a very unnerving environment. Frankie goes out to try to find work and is met with one negative situation after another. Whether it is bad news at the unemployment office, a meeting with his junkie friend Mike, or a run-in with the local thugs that he owes money to, nothing seems to go right for Frankie and his desperation grows by the minute. In addition to the transition from one depressing scenario to another, Frankie also experiences frequent war flashbacks surrounding the annihilation of his unit in Vietnam. A series of chance events results in Frankie hitting rock bottom and then obtaining a weapon that could be the answer to all of his problems.
I have always been drawn to movies about urban decay. Whether it be Escape from New York or Street Trash, seeing society in a state of anarchy is a theme that I have always found interesting. Combat Shock is one of the finest examples of the grittier side of life presented in a way that feels real. Ricky Giovinazzo is completely believable as Frankie and was able to gain my sympathy almost immediately. I kept hoping that Frankie would get it together throughout the picture even though I knew from the opening scenes that he was doomed from the start. The droning keyboards setting up a war sequence as the movie begins set the tone for what is to follow and you know that both you and Frankie are beginning a journey that is not going to end well. Nevertheless, I still had hope that Frankie would find a way out of his predicament and by the time the finale sank in, I felt relief that he did.
Many films shot in New York City in the 80s had a certain quality to them that somehow could only be achieved in that city. We have seen great use of the urban locations by William Lustig, Larry Cohen, Martin Scorsese, and members of the Cinema of Transgression movement like Richard Kern and Nick Zedd. One of the many things that you will walk away with after watching Combat Shock is what a huge difference it makes spending some time looking for cool places to shoot. You will also walk away with a sense of what life is like for someone trying to get by in a world populated by people who are doing whatever it takes to survive in a world of crime, drugs, and poverty. It is an eye-opening experience that will help you to appreciate your own circumstances and look at things a little differently the next time you are in a seedier area of a city. (Josh Pasnak, 10/1/12)
Directed By: Buddy Giovinazzo.
Written By: Buddy Giovinazzo.
Starring: Ricky Giovinazzo, Veronica Stork, Mitch Maglio, Michael Tierno.
aka: American Nightmare.