Troma's Most Disturbing Masterpiece
Greetings from Tromaville!
Troma has acquired many movies from first-time filmmakers. In fact, one of our very best films was made by a first-time filmmaker from Staten Island named Buddy Giovinazzo. That film, Combat Shock, is one of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen! It's the story of Vietnam vet Frankie Dunlan readjusting to life back home. He thought Vietnam was bad, but it was Disneyland compared to the sleazy nightmare of junkies, prostitutes, and street crime back in Staten Island!
Combat Shock is the latest entry in our Tromasterpiece Collection. Like other Tromasterpieces (and my penis), Combat Shock didn't get much attention when it first came out, but has since achieved tremendous critical praise. In a two-page feature praising Combat Shock in The New York Times Sunday edition, Dave Kehr called it "uncompromising and relentless." Film Comment called it "One of American independent cinema's most powerful and uncompromising triumphs." Here's a trailer!
I felt that Buddy G's movie, which was originally called American Nightmares, was a masterpiece and should have a theatrical release, but there was just one small problem: no theaters would play it! That's why I changed the title to Combat Shock. The film had the Vietnam elements and theaters wanted movies like Rambo and Platoon (directed by Oliver Stone - see The Battle of Love's Return, which he acted in, and Sugar Cookies, which he co-produced.)
We renamed the movie Combat Shock, bought some very expensive Vietnam war stock footage, and cut down the runtime of the film by removing the slow pieces, all under Buddy G's very watchful and acquiescing eye. Also, the movie was shot on 16mm and we blew it up to 35mm, helping us get the film into a number of theaters across the country.
Most critics gave it positive reviews, but I always felt bad about tampering with Buddy's work, even though he was appreciative of what we had done. For the two-disc special edition DVD of Combat Shock, we have included both versions of the film - Buddy G's American Nightmares and our 35mm Combat Shock- so you fans can decide if I was a savior or a butcher. I've always felt uncomfortable about it because I don't like tampering with anyone's art. I don't know what I would have done if someone had chopped 10 minutes from Poultrygeist and added scenes I had nothing to do with, but at the time, Buddy was appreciative of our efforts and that we got it released theatrically, which put it in a more prestigious profile when it came out on home video.
Combat Shock has been cited as a huge influence on many important directors like John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), who said Combat Shock "makes you want to slit your wrists!" The new two-disc uncut 25th anniversary edition DVD of Combat Shock includes the documentary Post-Traumatic, An American Nightmare, which explores the continued impact and influence of Combat Shock. Post-Traumatic features interviews with filmmakers John McNaughton Richard Stanley (Hardware), Scott Spiegel (Evil Dead II), William Lustig (Maniac), Roy Frumkes (Street Trash), Jim VanBebber (Deadbeat at Dawn), and more!
Here's what John McNaughton and others have to say, and if you like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, check out Bloodsucking Freaks.
John McNaughton: "Combat Shock was produced at about the same time as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and I got contacted by these people in London putting on this 24 hour festival called Splatterfest. And I hadn't been in London before and they were paying, so I went to London. It was 24 hours of horror films and Buddy's film was playing. I thought it held up really well and was a really good picture. Of course it makes you want to slit your wrists.
I never went to Vietnam, mercifully, but many of my friends did and not one of them was the same person who went off there. Their lives were all pretty bumpy after coming back from Vietnam.
Scott Spiegel (Evil Dead II): The film was quite... In fact its one of themost disturbing films I've ever seen! It's weird. Combat Shock... It was all this subtext! And all this weirdness. It still haunts me and still stays with me. It's really creepy, but Buddy somehow keyed into really the darkest side, even past the Travis Bickle kind of mentality of an American psycho.
Everybody was talking about Henry and that's a genius movie, of course. Combat Shock is kind of like the little underachiever. It's almost like, not a snuff film, but he's really chronicling this guy's really extreme and depressing horrifying life! There was just an incident in the news. I think this soldier was on his third term in Iraq and was undergoing psychiatric treatment. I think he flipped out altogether and shot five or six people at this mental clinic or facility I guess, so it's a big problem. How do we deal with our soldiers?
Richard Stanley (Hardware): My initial reaction to viewing Combat Shock was the same as everyone else's would be: one of palpable horror and disgust. It's hard to actually enjoy Combat Shock. We're still in a recession, people are still unemployed, we've just got the Gulf War instead
of Vietnam, and coming back from a different war and having terrible problems getting work, and no money around. That side of the movie hasn't changed one bit. The initial release of Combat Shock, one of the amusing things was always it was marketed as a straight up action movie. The poster with all the guns and the action on the outside would have drawn an audience more used to The Warriors or expecting something closer to First Blood. Whereas the film itself is more of a collision between Suicide, the "Frankie Teardrops" song, Eraserhead, and maybe a dash of Taxi Driver for seasoning. It's much grungier and more grueling experience than anyone could have expected.
William Lustig (Maniac): You know there's that Woody Allen line, I think it's from Annie Hall, and it goes, "The world is divided by the miserable and the horrible." And I think that of sums up Combat Shock. It's a movie where [he shoots] his wife and baby, and it's the happiest part of the movie. Maybe I should be thinking of Buddy as more of a prophet than the guy who has the most bleak outlook on life. I think that tonally, Maniac and Combat Shock have a lot in common. They were both shot in the same time period in New York, more or less. Combat Shock was film in 16mm, so was Maniac. So they both have that gritty urban look to them.
He goes from the worst of Vietnam to this urban hellhole. I'm not sure where they shot it, but it looks like it might have been Staten Island. It has a very troubled central character. In the 70s, there became a subgenre of horror films that focused on a serial killer or contemporary real life monster, versus a make-believe monster. Serial killers were being written about, you had Ted Bundy, Son of Sam, Henry Lee Lucas, they were becoming kind of pop culture characters, so horror movies began to reflect these people. I know as an example, Maniac was a compilation of several of these serial killers, and there's a couple of others Joe referenced in his character. Maniac opened to great controversy mainly because the poster epitomized or symbolized everything that was being attacked in the media, and well intending political groups. We had of course a killer standing in a pool of blood with what appears to be an erection in his pants, holding a woman's scalp. It became a lightening rod for the attacks on horror films and the violence in movies at that time.
The relevance of Combat Shock could be applied to the Iraq War. That's one of the things that our government today sugarcoats. Nobody wants to talk about the traumatic experience of being in war and how it affects their lives post-war. It's a kind of a timeless movie. Unfortunately, it's a timeless movie.
LK, here again. Speaking of war, you should check Troma's War. While Combat Shock is a movie about someone with post-traumatic stress, the people who went to see Troma's War actually got post-traumatic stress!
Finally, in order to create a great movie about war, you naturally need to know all about CGI. As an exclusive gift to our fans, here are the secrets about how we at Troma create CGI and special effects. Enjoy!
The Birth of Troma
The Godfather of Gore Speaks
2 or 3 Things I Know About Toxie (2 and 3)
The Troma Acting Method