COMBAT SHOCK isnít mentioned in
many film books (and if so is usually snidely dismissed), yet itís one
of the seminal independent films of the 1980s. Itís also a keystone of
modern horror cinema, a devastating depiction of grit and gore that
This film was a no-budget labor of love by
writer-producer-director-editor Buddy Giovinazzo, filmed without permits
in the skuzzier parts of Staten Island. Completed in 1984 and initially
titled AMERICAN NIGHTMARES, it premiered on the festival circuit around
the same time as another budget-lite debut, the Coen Brothersí
That film is known for its slickness, while COMBAT SHOCK (as it was
retitled and is now known) is ragged and cheap--yet it has a
transcendent impact that remains virtually unmatched. Itís perhaps the
ultimate example of a filmmaker using limited resources to great
The film was famously released by Troma with a montage
of stock combat footage over the opening credits, and a completely
misleading one-sheet that made it look like a standard eighties war
movie a la FIRST BLOOD or MISSING IN ACTION. It wasnít a huge
moneymaker by any means, but has acquired a richly deserved cult
following over the years.
Buddy Giovinazzo went on to direct the films NO WAY
HOME (1996) and LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN (2008), and publish the books
LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN (1992, from which the above-mentioned film was
adapted), POETRY AND PURGATORY (1992) and POTSDAMMER PLATZ (2004).
Giovinazzo now lives in Germany(!), where he makes a living by directing
local television programs.
Frankie is a severely disturbed Vietnam veteran with
problems. He lives in a filthy Staten Island apartment with his
constantly nagging wife and mutant baby. Heís been out of work for
several months and is about to be evicted. Frankie heads out to scrounge
money on what is to be the final day of his life.
After much aimless wandering through nightmarish
cityscapes Frankie is accosted by three gangbangers he owes money. He
manages to break free of them, but then he runs into a junkie pal--who
rips open a vein in his arm with a coat hanger and rubs uncooked heroin
Next Frankie visits his local employment office, and
gets confirmation on something he already knows: thereís no work
available. He leaves dejected and, to make matters worse, runs into a
young girl who propositions him.
By now Frankie has reached the end of his tether, and
does the only thing he can to make money: he steals a womanís purse.
Unfortunately he runs into the three gangbangers heíd earlier escaped.
They chase him into a filthy street underpass and beat the crap out of
himÖbut in the stolen purse is a pistol Frankie uses to gun down his
Empowered, Frankie heads back to his apartment to ďsave
my family.Ē There--SPOILER ALERT!!!--madness overwhelms him, and
he shoots his wife several times, cooks his baby and ventilates his own
One has to forgive a LOT of low budget scuzziness in
this film, from the overlong and unconvincing Vietnam flashbacks (shot
in Staten Island swampland), to the oft-lousy acting by an amateur cast,
to the quintessentially eighties synthesizer muzak. Those things are
annoying, but countering them is an overall directness and simplicity
that work to the filmís advantage. The unforgettable garbage-strewn
locations are a further asset, largely because theyíre all entirely real
Also, amateurish though much of the acting is, the lead
performance of Ricky Giovinazzo (the directorís brother) is flawless.
With his greasy hair, threadbare wardrobe and overall filthiness, he
definitely looks the part (even though Ricky G. is said to be a neat
freak in real life), and performs with a great deal of conviction. Itís
a shame he hasnít acted since.
Itís Buddy Giovinazzoís uncompromising commitment to
his own twisted vision that really elevates COMBAT SHOCK. Itís neither a
splatter film nor a shock fest (though itís been falsely classified as
both), but a straightforward glimpse into a personal Hell on Earth, made
all the more horrific because (the mutant baby aside) itís all so
real. Whether you appreciate Giovinazzoís nihilistic poetry or not,
the chances are this ferocious little film will lodge a permanent place
in your consciousness.
COMBAT SHOCK (a.k.a. AMERICAN NIGHTMARES)
Director/Producer/Screenwriter/Editor: Buddy Giovinazzo
Cinematographer: Stella Varveris
Cast: Ricky Giovinazzo, Veronica Stork, Mitch Maglio, Asaph Llyni, Nick
Nasta, Michael Tierno