Part 12 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.
An extremely personal, overwhelmingly depressing, low-budget film written, produced, and directed by New Yorker Buddy Giovinazzo. Originally American Nightmares, it was retitled and reportedly toned down by the notorious exploitation film company Troma, so as to secure and R rating and a videocassette release. Even “toned down,” the movie is still one of the most uncompromisingly bleak examinations of a person’s dead-end existence ever made. (In a critique, Chas Balun states that the movie has been “thrown out of over fifty film festivals.”)
Combat Shock is the tragic story of a wasted Vietnam veteran, living in abject poverty in the Bronx with his wife and baby. Every day is a battle to stay alive; every night is a battle to retain what’s left of his steadily eroding sanity. If this weren’t bad enough, the couple’s baby is not quite human (can you say Eraserhead?), having been genetically damaged by the aftereffects of Agent Orange brought home by Dad as an added legacy of lifelong despair.
The film is so painful because the filmmakers make absolutely no pretense to soothe us with even a moment of happiness for anyone in the story. Every pitiful character is shown to be hopeless, knowing only drugs and violence and suffering. Incredibly, the man’s situation gets even worse—finally concluding with an extended murder-suicide bloodbath after putting the baby into the oven and turning it on high. Nearly unbearable in its raw intensity, Combat Shock makes the violence and nihilism of Taxi Driver seem like a Walt Disney production.