• Combat Shock (Severin Films)



    Released by: Severin Fims
    Released on: July, 2017.
    Director: Buddy Giovinazzo
    Cast: Rick Giovinazzo, Veronica Stork, Mitch Maglio, Michael Tierno
    Year: 1986

    The Movie:

    Shot on location in Staten Island for next to nothing, Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock (presented on this Blu-ray in its director’s cut under its original American Nightmares title) was picked up by Troma and marketed as an action/war picture – which it really isn’t. It’s much more of a dark, urban thriller. Regardless of how you want to classify it, the film is a serious cinematic punch to the gut and one of the most depressing pictures you’ll ever see. It’s also incredibly well made and a testament to Giovinazzo’s skills as a director and to the talent of his cast and crew.

    When the film begins, we see a soldier named Frankie (Rick Giovinazzo) in the midst of a firefight in the Vietnam War where he guns down a group of Vietcong. Cut to the present, or at least the early eighties, and Frankie and his wife (Veronica Stork) aren’t doing so well. He’s been out of work a long time and their baby, born a mutant thanks to his father’s exposure to unknown chemicals during his tour of duty, needs to eat. She pressures him to call his dad and ask him to help them out but Frankie’s got his pride and so instead he puts on his worn overcoat and heads out into the ghetto of Staten Island to check out the employment center.

    As Frankie travels across town, he meets up with his old pal Mike, a junkie who wants him to help mug a woman at the train station but Frankie doesn’t want any part of that. Instead he keeps trudging towards the employment center even after almost getting beaten up by some thugs that he owes money to. Of course, there are no jobs for Frankie, his trip was in vein, but he knew that ahead of time. As he heads back and has to deal with his ever increasing war flashbacks, an understandable and constant source of stress, circumstances arise that cause Frankie to take some rather drastic measures and to ultimately do what he thinks is best for his family.

    As bleak and desperate a film as anything else out there and far more grim than you can probably imagine, Combat Shock (or, if you prefer, American Nightmares in its director’s cut) is an incredibly depressing slice of life. Shot on a miniscule budget with an amateur cast, the film lets its authentically seedy locations stink up the film with the aroma of piss and garbage – the Staten Island of the mid-eighties was apparently the perfect place to shoot this!. It’s a gritty, dirty, ugly film that hits you like a brick but it’s also incredibly well made and remarkably effective, particularly when you consider that the film, at its core, is really little more than a man walking across town for ninety minutes. That said, it’s the voyage and not the destination. It’s made perfectly clear very early on just how desperate Frankie is and Rick Giovinazzo’s completely convincing performance is bound to hit home for anyone who has ever had to worry about taking care of a family and dealing with ever increasing stress. We know from the onset that Frankie is going to snap, we just don’t know what ‘s going to be the straw that breaks this particular camel’s back or what’s going to happen once he does go over the abyss.

    Shot on 16mm, the film is a sea of dirt, a wash of urban decay and a fascinating character study about a man at the end of his rope. Rick Giovinazzo is fantastic in the lead role, clearly entirely committed to the part. As he breaks down, he wears it on his face, the man just looks finished. Veronica Stork is also quite good in her role as the wife and the supporting players all do fine work as well but this is Rick’s show for the most part and he really makes the most of it. It’s surprising that he didn’t go on to do more acting (though he has kept busy in the film world on the music side of things).

    A raw and honest look at just how bad things can and do get for some people, it’s a deadly serious picture that more in common with the works of Lynch or Scorsese than it does with the Cannon Films output that its original marketing plan made it out to resemble. This isn’t an action film despite a couple of tense scenes, it’s a dramatic and serious piece that holds up incredibly well in today’s day and age, where we’re not lacking for unappreciated veterans or socio-economic turmoil in the least.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Severin presents the ‘American Nightmares’ director's cut version of the movie in its proper 1.33.1 aspect ratio on a 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in a transfer taken from a “new 4k scan from 35mm Inter-negative with 2k inserts from the Director's personal 16mm answer print.” While the movie still looks like the grubby low budget picture that is it, there are substantial improvements here over past DVD editions in terms of picture quality. Detail is much stronger, as is depth and texture. The movie is still very grainy and there’s still some print damage here and there but it’s very minor stuff, just the occasional small white speck and what not. Colors don’t pop off the screen but they probably shouldn’t, the movie is a dark and grim looking affair shot without a ton of light, but they are well reproduced. The reds of the blood look pretty vibrant and in the scene where the horrors of war are projected onto Frankie’s face you can see some the greens and the purples quite clearly. The image is film-like, never looking digitally scrubbed or overly processed. There’s no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement and the image is free of compression artifacts.

    The 16-bit DTS-HD English language mono audio, which was “remastered from original mag tracks,” also sounds about as good as it probably can. It’s a bit flat in spots, no doubt stemming back to the original recording, but dialogue is clean and clear. The track is properly balanced and the score sounds really good. There’s some occasional sibilance and a bit of background hiss now and then but again, this is a pretty big improvement over the previous Troma DVD release. Optional closed captioning is available in English only.

    Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary with writer/producer/director Buddy Giovinazzo, his brother actor/composer Rick Giovinazzo and special makeup effects Artist Ed Varuolo (who we learn also did some of the camera work and some set design on the movie). This is a reasonably scene specific track that starts with Buddy talking about how he was driving around Staten Island one day and thought to himself that the swampy areas looked like they could pass for Vietnam. They then talk about heading out into those areas with some props and some cast members to start shooting some footage. Buddy talks about the importance of how and why Frankie is introduced the way that he is in the film, different extras and bit part players that appear throughout the picture (including the woman who was Buddy’s wife at the time popping up as a Vietnamese woman), how he started shooting the film was forty dollars to his name, how he slowed down the shooting speed for certain scenes, and how Rick was a trooper, doing many of his own stunts. They discuss the apartment location that was used in the film, what was done to make it look as dire and nasty looking as it is, how people will sometimes react more strongly to the sour milk in the film than the violence in the film, and how the apartment building used in the film has been razed to make way for a huge apartment complex. Buddy talks about how he got Mitch Maglio to appear in the movie after running into him at a comic book shop, how they took advantage of the run down and impoverished buildings in the area for the shoot, the importance and significance of certain music used in the soundtrack, and how you can use a van instead of a dolly to get certain shots if you’re careful. There’s a lot of great stories in here, all three chime in throughout the track with different memories about the film and making it and it’s loaded with detail.

    From there we dig into the featurettes (all of which include some great behind the scenes photos and ephemera throughout) beginning with The Brothers G, a twenty-seven-minute interview with Buddy and Rick Giovinazzo in which they talk about getting into horror movies at a young age with Frankenstein and The Wolfman, heading to 42nd Street as a teenager to take in triple bills, and how Buddy stuck with horror while Rick sort of drifted away from it as they got older. Lots of stories here about growing up together in Staten Island, the family environment they grew up in and how music was a very important part of that, and how once Buddy was old enough he went ‘head first’ into film after taking a class in college to fill his schedule to get financial aid. He then talks about the influence of early John Waters movies on his own work, where the idea of Combat Shock came from, how Rick came on board to help with it and how Buddy used half of the money he got when he got married to finish the movie (which understandably became a sore point with her!).

    In Nightmare Effects we get a seventeen-minute chat with special makeup effects artist Ed Varuolo who sits in front of a shelf full of action figures and eBay boxes as he tells us how he met Buddy at film school, how he left school once he started getting work on films, working with him on some of his short films, how those shorts led to the making of the feature, how elements of Taxi Driver and Eraserhead worked their way into the movie, and how he worked with three other people on the effects in the picture. He gives credit to the other three and talks about what they did but also details his own work on Combat Shock, having to deal with equipment rental schedules, and how really everyone on the shoot had to make do with what they had. They also talk about the importance of Rick Sullivan’s weekly screenings at a dive bar in Manhattan and how that introduced him to a lot of cult films that he’d never heard of before, and how his zine The Gore Gazette and a screening at Sullivan’s event had a hand in getting the word out about the film.

    Combat Shots is an interview with director of photography Stella Varveris that runs just over five-minutes. Here she talks about how she meet Buddy at college in Staten Island and how once they started working together they’d both graduated and were working at the school. They struck up a friendship and how her interest in shooting documentary projects wound up connecting with Giovinazzo’s intention of making a feature in the area. She then talks about using handheld cameras using models that were meant for news gathering, shooting on location and the compromises that you have to get used to while doing that. She talks about having to improve on set, the gore used in the film and its impact, and the difficulty of getting certain shots ‘right’ in the film.

    Up next is Playing Paco, an interview with actor Mitch Maglio that runs just over eight minutes. He talks about getting to know Buddy when they went to high school together, how they reconnected at a comic book store where Buddy asked him to join the film and take a part in it and he accepted. He talks about getting his first look at the script, seeing some test footage that Giovinazzo had in the can, his thoughts on playing the drug dealer/pimp character that he was cast as in the picture, the rough look of the film, how they intentionally shot in the worst looking parts of Staten Island they could find, blocking and rehearsing certain scenes so they could get them in a take or two. He also talks about Giovinazzo’s relaxed directing style, how he was open to input from those he worked with and having to deal with Karo syrup during his death scene.

    Actor Michael Tierno shows up in Mike The Junkie Memories, a six-minute piece where he talks about meeting Buddy who was teaching drums at the time, how he wound up in college with him and how he was ahead of everyone else in the program and by working with him, how he was able to really learn from him. He then talks about working with him on some of his early super 8 shorts, how he came to be involved with him when he decided to make Combat Shock, and how everyone involved knew it would ‘up the game to some extent’ and how it was fun to work on something you felt would actually get out there and be seen. He talks about the importance of Buddy’s vision, working off of the script, taking direction from Buddy, and how occasionally a scene or two would be improvised. He also talks about how impressive the final film is considering it was shot and made with no money.

    After that we get American Deep Red, an interview with artist/critic Stephen Bissette (whose contributions to Swamp Thing remain a high point in comic book history) that runs thirteen-minutes. He speaks about his involvement in the horror fanzine scene of the eighties, getting his first art published in a zine, and how he started writing for Deep Red after writing Chas Balun who brought him on board to contribute. He then talks about interviewing Buddy Giovinazzo and writing an article on Combat Shock for Deep Red, his impressions on seeing it for the first time, the edge that the film has and how there was nothing else out like it at the time despite the prominence of Vietnam vet movies being made around the time. He then gives his thoughts on the film, how there’s ‘nothing playful’ about the movie, and how Buddy’s career sort of mirrored his own work on Swamp Thing at the time in that both projects were under the radar of the mainstream but getting recognition and good reviews that eventually brought it to the attention of more people. He also talks about Buddy’s work with Spinell and how/why that fell apart and his thoughts on some of the shorts, Rick Giovinazzo’s contributions to Combat Shock on screen and with the music and quite a bit more.

    Shock Xpression sees international film journalist Alan Jones that runs just over eleven-minutes. He starts by talking about how as a film critic at the time he was able to see Combat Shock while working for Shock Express, who had a very good relationship with Troma at the time. Jones then talks about how he was never a Troma fan but how he appreciated the movie as something far, far away from the label’s typical output. He then talks about the ‘network’ that existed in the UK in terms of writers and fans that were able to find out what needed to be covered in a scene where there wasn’t an internet to use for research. He then talks about how Combat Shock compared to other Vietnam movies, the brilliance of the film and Buddy Giovinazzo’s direction, writing the review for Shock Express overnight because he wanted to keep things fresh in his mind at the time and how he has no regrets over what he wrote even if there are some lines he thinks were in bad taste.

    In the Out-takes And Tests we get a chance to see fourteen-minutes of material that was shot for Combat Shock but that was cut out of the final product. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t but it’s interesting to see it – there’s some war time footage here, footage of the mutant baby being fed ,loads of location footage just showing off the fantastic urban decay that was obviously a big part of the film’s intended look and a fair bit more. There’s no dialogue or sound to accompany the footage so music from the soundtrack plays overtop in its absence.

    Post-Traumatic: An American Nightmare which is a retrospective piece that talks about the film’s success and influence. Featuring interviews with the likes of Bill Lustig, Jim Van Bebber, Roy Frumkes, Richard Stanley, John McNaughton and others this is an interesting if unapologetically lauding piece that talks about the impact that the film had when it was first unleashed upon the public in the eighties and how that impact hasn’t lessened one bit over the years.

    The Hellscapes - Locations Then And Now segment runs just under three-minutes and, as the title suggests, it shows off what the locations used in the film looked like in the film compared to what they look like now (now being when the Troma DVD came out a few years ago in 2008). The differences are pretty substantial, it’s interesting to see how these parts of Staten Island have been cleaned up in the years since the movie was made. Also carried over from that Troma DVD is Buddy Giovinazzo and Jörg Buttgereit at 2009 Berlin Film Festival, where the pair talks for eight-minutes about the festival, getting to know one another once Buddy moved to Berlin, how and when Jörg first saw Combat Shock by way of a friend in the Netherlands who got him a bootleg copy, his thoughts on the movie and more.

    Also well worth checking out is the Short Films of Buddy Giovinazzo section, which is broken down into 16mm and 8mm shorts. The 16mm segment starts with the rather infamous Mr. Robbie/Maniac 2 footage that Buddy Giovinazzo shot with Spinell before he passed away. This ten minute short was originally shot in 1989 as a promo to help secure financing for the proposed film, but obviously Spinell's death from a heart attack later that year wound up making completing the picture impossible. The footage doesn't really have much to do with the story of the original film, but it's definitely worth a watch as it has that great, seedy feel and it features Spinell going all out. This has been newly transferred in in 2k high definition from an answer print for this release and is available with optional commentary by Buddy G and Rick (who worked as the composer on the film) that puts all of this into context and talks about his experiences working with Spinell on the project. Additionally, there are nine-minutes of outtakes included here – footage of Spinell hanging out at home, going to the bar and then just sort of freaking out a bit before murdering the guy in the kitchen - it’s cool stuff to see.

    Also found in here is a cool vampire short called Jonathan Of The Night where a vampire and his sister cruise the neighborhood looking for prey – this is taken from a new 2k scan of a work print. Up next is the 16mm version of The Lobotomy, which demonstrates one rather unorthodox way of curing a man of his addiction to sex. The Christmas Album is an interesting short where a man gets the urge to kill after listening to a record that he receives as a Christmas gift. Also included in the 16mm section is the Leave This World music video that Buddy made for the band Circus 2000 A.D., which he was in with his brother

    In the 8mm section we get the 8mm version of The Lobotomy, which follows the same basic story structure but which is still worth seeing for the differences that are there. Maniac Drummer
    is up next, an odd short in which, over six minutes, a familiar looking drummer sets up his kit in the brush and goes to town on a bitchin’ solo! After that is the fairly disgusting More Than A Mouthful – which is just footage of people chewing gross things and spitting them out of their mouths, as well as the more interesting Paranoiac which is an interesting short in which a guy who may or may not be paranoid walks and then runs through a park thinking that someone is following him.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is a three-minute trailer for Combat Shock, animated menus and chapter selection.

    Severin has also included a bonus soundtrack CD which marks the first ever release of the score. It’s been newly mastered from recently discovered original 1/4" tapes and it not only includes the eight pieces that were composed for Combat Shock but it also includes the piece composed for Mr. Robbie as well. An insert card inside the Blu-ray case includes the track listing and credits for the music on one side, while the reverse has some notes from Rick Giovinazzo that detail the history of the music and what went into restoring them for use on the CD.

    Both the CD and the Blu-ray disc fit inside a standard sized Blu-ray keepcase with the insert containing the notes on the soundtrack. This case in turn fits inside a slipcover that has been signed and numbered by Buddy Giovinazzo.

    Accompanying the two discs in the set is a full-color book entitled The American Nightmares Scrapbook that contains the entire script for the film as well as Buddy Giovinazzo’s shooting diary. Some interesting stuff in there, including some rough sketches and storyboard work. The diary is pretty revealing, it obviously allows us some insight into where Buddy’s head was at the time and some of the challenges that were encountered on set.

    Lastly, tucked away inside the book cover is an actual piece of film from Buddy Giovinazzo’s work print of the film.

    The Final Word:

    Combat Shock stands the test of time incredibly well. It’s one of the most depressing film’s you’re ever likely to see but it’s very well made, a gritty, intense look at just how bad things can get sometimes. Severin Films’ limited edition Blu-ray release is pretty much the definitive work on the picture, presenting it in an excellent transfer and loaded with extras. The soundtrack and the book are welcome additions as well – all in all, a fantastic release, essential for fans of Buddy Giovinazzo’s twisted low budget masterpiece.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!





















































    And some images from the short films and extras!

























































    And some pictures of the packaging/book!



















    Comments 11 Comments
    1. Maureen Champ's Avatar
      Maureen Champ -
      Stunning work!
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      This film will never get a better, more in-depth review.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      I don't even like this film, but this review makes me want to upgrade anyway!!!
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Too bad they didn't include Troma's edit of the feature.
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      Considering the Troma cut was done with no input from the creator, it not being included in this set is no loss. Old Lloyd will probably crap out a blu of that cut soon to cash in on Severin’s hard work on this restoration!
    1. Jack J's Avatar
      Jack J -
      Great review, Ian. (y)

      The only thing I don't get is this; seeing as everybody says this is the definitive release of the film why on earth would they (Severin) only put it out in such a limited edition!?!? I didn't have the dough when it came out, I do now, but now it's gone. For fuck's sake! I hate and despise releases that are made to become collector's items on purpose right away. I'm fine with labels that put out an ordinary version and an additional ltd collector's edition. But a limited edition only of a highly popular cult film like this? Sucks! S-u-c-k-s-!!! (said in my best Rick from the Young Ones impersonation).

      PS: Yes, I see several sellers have it on eBay now but I'm not paying £100 for a blu-ray.
    1. Keeth's Avatar
      Keeth -
      I think it's speculated that another company will do an unlimited release sooner or later.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      I was 'told' that the reason it was limited to 2k units was because that's what the director requested. If there's another domestic release coming out, it won't be through Severin.
    1. Jack J's Avatar
      Jack J -
      Hmm, it seems odd that a director would want fewer copies of his film to be available than as many copies as possible! o_O I remember it took a long while for the director to sell his film back in the day so, hey, maybe he's so used to it being unavailable that it's a kick he needs. Haha.
      Thanks for the replies. I hope there'll be another edition but I could imagine it wouldn't include the Severin extras.
    1. moviegeek86's Avatar
      moviegeek86 -
      The troma cut wasn't included? That's a shame. Like it or hate it that's the cut that I first watched.

      Hopefully Vinegar Syndrome releases it in the future.
    1. VinceP's Avatar
      VinceP -
      I'm pretty sure it is still licensed to Troma and they allowed a 2,000 limited run to Severin for their restoration and special edition. Troma will probably use this transfer for their own release at a later date.