Monday, June 28, 2010
Combat Shock (1986)
Anyway, so we're back with this picture called Combat Shock which has been labeled a "Tromasterpiece" by Troma themselves. I find myself agreeing. It's the only Troma movie I've seen that actually feels like a real movie. And, it's depressing as all hell, although that depressed feeling is lightened somewhat by several goofy vintage Troma moments as well as some shitty acting.
The picture opens with some cheap scenes set in Vietnam where this guy Frankie was sent to fight the Cong. Things didn't go well over there for Frankie but at least he made it home. Unfortunately, his home was Staten Island which, if you ask this movie, was not much better than Vietnam at the time. See, Frankie returns home a broken man and also a broke man. He has a wife but she's an overweight nagger with an annoying New Yawk accent. He's got an infant son but his son has been mutated due to the agent orange that got into Frankie's sperm. He's got a job but his job only involves walking around all day, avoiding gangs, waiting in line at the employment office, talking with his best friend whose a junkie, and avoiding underaged hookers and their pimps. And, his job doesn't pay.
So, like most movies that deal with Vietnam War veterans life is not good. It's downright terrible. You might say that you can take Frankie out of the war but you can't take the war out of Frankie to regurgitate some oft used cliche about war veterans. Combat Shock does something no Troma film (at least ones I've seen) has ever been able to do. It manages to achieve a gritty realism. The acting is shoddy, almost across the board, but it's not self referential. It's not cutesy. Strangely, it feels genuine. Basically, this is Troma's Taxi Driver. We got the Vietnam veteran that hates what his city has become. A vile cesspool of filth and smut. At one point, Frankie even talks to a fifteen year old prostitute but that conversation is abruptly cut off by her pimp and we never see her again. Unlike Travis Bickle, Frankie isn't really interested in cleaning up the streets. He just wants to "save" his family. If you're wondering why I put save in quotes you can probably guess that it means he wants to save them in the wakco sense of the word and not the literal sense.
The entire picture takes place over the course of one day. Frankie walks around. A lot. Every now and then we're treated to a flashback from the war of Frankie in "the box" or some shit like that to illustrate what he went through and kind of give us a sense of why he is where he is. He calls his father, who had a lot of money, from a payphone and begs for his help. His father doesn't recognize him at first, thought he died in the war, and is dying himself. Also, he lost all his money so thanks anyway pops. Frankie is in debt to some loan sharks who hound him throughout the picture. Eventually, they catch up to him and beat the shit out of him in some abandoned warehouse. During the course of his travels that day, Frankie came across a gun. He blows his assailants away in the first truly visceral moment of the entire picture. Unfortunately, it took nearly an hour for us to get to this point. Everything else before was just about the slow build to what is ultimately a brutally shocking, and strangely humorous, climax.
Spoilers to follow so beware. Frankie finally makes it home where his wife has spent the day scrounging around their filthy apartment looking for food to feed the baby (she settled on stale bread crumbs and water). She immediately starts in with the nagging to which Frankie responds with a pull of the ol' trigger of love....meaning he shoots her. Ok, none of this is really "strangely humorous". I'm not sure where I got that from now that I think about it. He blows away his wife and then walks into his kids room and blows away his baby (which by the way, resembles the love child of E.T. and Belial). As the sirens close in, he grabs the baby and drops the thing in the oven (and turns it on) before putting the pistol to his own head and pulling the trigger in a shot that is an obvious nod to the climactic blood bath of Taxi Driver. So, the part with the baby in the oven elicited a bit of a chuckle from this guy probably because the thing was a mutant but also because of now why the hell would he put the baby in the oven? It's just so absurd. Maybe he thought the starving baby could eat itself when it was done? I have no clue.
So, this is one of the better Troma movies. It's a bit of a smolder, has some ridiculous parts, but, other than the finale, never really turns offensive which is why it might throw some people off a bit. I mean, it's weird watching a picture like this and not being subjected to even just a little bit of nudity. And, not much happens until the last twenty minutes. It's probably not well made enough to be taken seriously by most film critics or film snobs but if you're looking for something a little different that might end up punching you in the balls while also tickling them a little bit (not in a sexual way, more in a I'm laughing and this is sort of uncomfortable kind of way) this picture might be what you're looking for.