Review Index


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 remains unforgettable.

The Package
     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 BLOOD SIMPLE. 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 advantage.
     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.

The Story
     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 into it!
     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 attackers.
     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 head.

The Direction
     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 and unvarnished.
     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.

Vital Statistics


Director/Producer/Screenwriter/Editor: Buddy Giovinazzo
Cinematographer: Stella Varveris
Cast: Ricky Giovinazzo, Veronica Stork, Mitch Maglio, Asaph Llyni, Nick Nasta, Michael Tierno