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by Bill Gibron

30 Jun 2009

In the world of adult films, the word “star” is used loosely, not literally. There are very few names within said bulging billion dollar industry that are recognized outside of it, and most of those - Linda Lovelace, Ron Jeremy, Jenna Jameson - lack any real meaningful mainstream credentials. No, the famous people in porn as noted for their proclivities, not their personalities or their non-physical performances. Granted, today’s member of the XXX media are far savvier than their smut peddling predecessors - and nowhere is this more obvious than in Blue Underground’s ongoing release of Al Goldstein’s infamous Midnight Blue TV program. Up to Volumes Six and Seven, these latest installments focus on the infamous names and faces/forms of ‘80s and ‘90s erotica, and what we eventually learn is that while celebrated in the sack, these people are unimpressive interview subjects.

First, some background. Anyone who still speaks to him will attest to the fact that Al Goldstein was and remains an angry, bitter little man. He’s an admitted pornographer and one horny old bastard. For decades, he was the guiding light behind Screw magazine, the only notorious skin rag never to make the leap to mainstream acceptance. Even Hustler found its way into more American homes than Al’s newsprint novelty. The basic explanation for the lack of worldwide success can be attributed to the fact that Screw was available mostly in New York. When he tried to take it national, Goldstein found himself battling the same censors that were giving Larry Flynt carnal conniption fits. Another reason why Screw wasn’t more popular was because many saw it as nothing more than Al’s personal propaganda factory. It featured his rants on all manner of subjects, self-serving reviews of Screw-sponsored products, and an overall approach that reflected Goldstein’s editorial philosophy—which was basically, “Love everything I do, or go to Hell.”

In 1974, Al took his mind for the media visual and started up a cable access show. Originally utilizing the magazine’s moniker, the title was later changed to Midnight Blue and the rest, as they say, was New York television history. More or less a weekly video version of his sleazy periodical, it featured off-the-wall interviews, exciting sexposés, reviews of current X-rated fare, and those time-tested middle fingers to figures both public and personal. Sometimes, it was Goldstein leading the way. Other times, his producer and show co-creator, Alex Bennett, stood in for a segment or two. While it was never a certified classic of the outsider talk show genre, it was a clear cult phenomenon, and paved the way for public access to go more puerile and perverted. Now, thanks to the Big Blue U, we get a chance to witness the wackiness, the weirdness, and the wantonness of Goldstein and his TV tenacity. But while other installments offered a more varied look at his guest list, this is nothing but porn stars doing what they do least effectively - talk.

That’s not to say that every Q&A here is a waste of time. Vanessa Del Rio starts off Volume Six in a very upfront and sultry manner, though her partner in patter is the very definition of a dirty old man. He’s all flopping tongue and groping mitts. Later on, both Veronica Hart and Nina Hartley prove why they are still part of the business some two decades after they first go their start. They are knowledgeable, personable, and more than able to hold their own with an often crude Goldstein. But when put up against their Hall of Fame betters, era-specific entertainers like Annette Haven, Desiree Cousteau, and Kristi Lane lack impact. Luckily, the male part of the DVD - Ron Jeremy, John Leslie, and stud turned director Paul Thomas (Mr. Vivid himself!) - provides a wonderful bit of on the job perspective. Since he’s clearly not interested in their private parts, Goldstein actually conducts informative and insightful conversations.

Volume Seven sees the same pattern, except with even more questionable “star” quality. Both Tom Byron and Randy West are a delight, delivering the kind of backstage drama and intrigue we come to such a collection to hear about. They are upfront, honest, and quite committed to their craft (both before and behind the camera). But when we start maneuvering through the hodgepodge of honeys on display, as a Viper meshes into an Ashlyn Gere who then drifts directly into Jenna Fire, we become disoriented. Sure, Christy Canyon is memorable, but it might have more to do with her DD mammaries than anything she says about being in porn. Besides, the questions are always the same - “How did you get your start?”; “Do you like having sex onscreen?”; “Does it bother you to have so many different partners?”; “How long will you continue to do adult films?” By the fifth or sixth Q&A, the sameness really stunts the entertainment value.

Of course, Goldstein knew which side of the bread his bare bodice butter was spread and viewers who only want to see naked girls (and the occasional guy) in all their unshaven, un-retouched glory, will be happy with the ample flesh offered as part of the overall Midnight Blue experience. There are even a couple of hardcore moments that apparently snuck in uncensored before going out live across the greater Manhattan area airwaves. Between the archaic, hilarious phone sex ads, the occasional laugh out loud commercial for “specialty” bakeries, and the mesmerizing escort offer from a bi-sexual “hunk” who looks more like an insurance salesman, The Midnight Blue Collection has its terrific time capsule pleasures. But if you want real insights into this particularly ‘smutty’ side of show business, you’ll be better served by the DVD’s main bonus feature.

Called “Money Shots”, this text only take on the material, acting like a combination commentary track and biographical back-up, gives us a great deal of the information the interviews do not - especially in the “where are they now” department that the show couldn’t possibly address. The data is often delivered in a very tongue in cheek manner, especially when some of Midnight Blue‘s more baffling segments (including an old crone who gives out unsavory sex advice and a creepy “Uncle” character who advertises bizarre/fake sex devices) show up, but for the most part, we are treated to personal profiles and insightful trivia. Elsewhere, Volume Six sees Goldstein roasted by legendary media misanthrope Wally George, while Seven shows Mr. Screw giving porn princess Jenna Jameson a big “F*ck You!”

That was typical of Goldstein - biting the hand that was supposedly feeding him. It is an attitude that pervades almost every aspect of Midnight Blue. Instead of engaging his already open-minded audience, he decided to bash them over the head with his beliefs. For many, that was an easy trade off for the chance to see some otherwise illicit material. But in today’s free-for-all media, where even the most outrageous of XXX concepts have gone mostly mainstream, such stridency is a big fat flesh feast turn off. Because it offers more than the nubile acknowledging their limited cultural significance, Porn Stars of the ‘80s/‘90s is an interesting experience. While it remains a curiosity, it’s the kind of oddity that’s easy to enjoy.

by Bill Gibron

29 Jun 2009

It’s official - the great cinematic experiment known as the video game adaptation is an outright failure. There’s no denying it. Just look at the evidence. There have been so many bad examples of the attempted genre, weak-willed efforts like Hitman, House of the Dead, Max Payne, and the ridiculous Resident Evil franchise that the few noted successes (Silent Hill, umm….) barely make a dent in the discussion. Apparently, the inherent motion picture quality that most console titles come with just doesn’t translate over to big budget Hollywood hit making - or put another way, whatever made these immersive adventures successful in the first place just can’t survive the seemingly destructive Tinsel Town focus group process.

Just look at Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. In this proposed prequel to the popular Camcon classic, our heroine is raised as a pianist, learns martial arts from her mysterious businessman daddy, and then is devastated when he is kidnapped by corrupt corporate CEO (and moonlighting mobster) Bison. As she ages, she receives an ancient scroll that tells her to seek out a seminal member of The Order of the Web. His name is Gen and he was once a criminal compatriot of Bison. Now he plans on stopping the evil entrepreneur once and for all. With Bison’s plans to take over the ghetto district of Shanghai and turn it into one big upscale residential area, thousands of lives are threatened. Chun-Li trains with Gen while various heinous henchmen like Balrog and Vega protect the villian’s project. It seems the Order has its work cut out for them. Luckily, our heroine is a very fast learner indeed.

This sloppy second attempt at bringing the Street Fighter franchise to the big screen (the first being the Raul Julia/Jean-Claude Van Damme effort from 1994) violates one of the primary rules for any Playstation to motion picture translation - never mess with the mythology. Fans love these games because of the way in which legend is meshed with logistics to make the often difficult and time consuming game play that much more meaningful. Sure, in the end, something like Street Fighter is a mere set of remote moves tested against an opponent’s/computer’s competing motor skills, but devotees love their digital folklore. So when a studio takes the story of Chun-Li, one of the geeks most beloved female ass-kickers, and turns her into a superficial shadow of her formerly aggressive arcade self, you should be prepared for the backlash.

But this new Street Fighter goes even further. It screws around with all the characters. Bison is no longer a military man. Instead, he’s a suave and sadistic corporate weasel who uses his mob connections and regular crew of street toughs to enact his malevolent desires. Balrog is his sidekick, not a solid ex-boxing champ. For his part, Vega shows up late, gets his butt handed to him by a suddenly psycho Chun-Li, and then disappears from the narrative all together. That just leaves our heroine and Gen to pick up the slack and with no martial arts competition to support the story, what we wind up with is a lot of talking followed by some less than entertaining action scenes. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak has a lot to do with how incredibly lame the fisticuffs are. He’s been trading on the reputation of Romeo Must Die for far too long now. Here’s he’s too enamored with a sense of gritty authenticity to make the martial arts meaningful.

What’s even worse, we don’t really understand all the backstabbing set-ups and diabolic double-crossings. So Bison wants to drive all the people out of the waterfront shanty towns so he can buy up the property cheap and build his exclusive suburb. Aren’t their better ways of eviction than trying to beat up a couple hundred thousand people? The police seem as ineffectual as humanly possible, especially a visiting Interpol agent played with obvious contractual discontent by American Chris Klein. One look at his face and his pathetic performance posture, and you know he was hoping that his American Pie fame would lead to something other than this. Elsewhere, Neal McDonough makes a good villain, if a rather standard and manipulative baddie. Sure, we wince when he cracks a victims head open with his hands. But for the most part, he’s all gun pointing and pouts.

But the real problem, performance wise, is leading lady Kristin Kreuk. Smallville may be a good place for her rather limited range, but she’s not a convincing action hero. She comes across as sheepish and ineffectual, even as the CG-ed stuntwomen are giving her all the moves she needs. Even worse, her hobbled backstory is so blank, so “I love Daddy” oriented that her sudden decision to move beyond such motives seems silly. Bartkowiak obviously believed that if he took this material more seriously, if he toned down the cartoon and upped the angst, we’d get something akin to The Dark Knight. But the truth is, he should have handled the material like Corey Yuen did for DOA: Dead or Alive. Realism just doesn’t go with such over-the-top, male minded adolescent fairy tales.

Sometime, in the near future, when comic books have stopped being successful sources and big budget blockbuster bombast is again desperate for another saleable subject matter infusion, the video game will indeed get another chance. And perhaps someone like Timur Bekmambetov who more or less turned Wanted into his own personal Nintendo title, could enliven the material with their own unique cinematic vision. Until that time, we will be stuck with massive moviemaking disappointments like Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Anyone who loved the game, either during daily visits to their local mall or in the privacy of their own basement bachelor pad, will more or less hate what is happening here. But movie mavens shouldn’t feel left out. For all its faux feeling of authenticity, this is unsuccessful cinema at its worst.

by Bill Gibron

28 Jun 2009

It’s amazing how quickly illustrators and designers forget that animation is art. For most of them, the concept of cartooning and commerciality are so closely linked that, as long as it looks good and can be sold across the widest possible demographic, the job is all but done. But when you look at some of the more inventive designs, when you look at the time and effort taken with something like Robots (ridiculous to sit through, gorgeous to look at) or any Pixar title and you realize that there can be some beauty inside the box office. This is especially true of French import Dragon Hunters. While some may mistake it for a low rent direct to DVD offering, this motion picture based on a famous TV series is actually quite pleasant. The script is rather pedestrian and crude. The computer generated images, on the other hand, are magnificent. 

In a sensationally surreal world slowly falling apart, various floating islands and spheres make up the crazy kingdom of Lord Arnold. When the latest in a long line of monsters known as dragons show up, the despotic ruler demands his knights avenge his empire. Sadly, the last of these noble warriors has been driven insane by the evil creatures. Hoping to help, Zoe, Arnold’s grand-niece, suggests that two wandering drifters - hulking hero Lian-Chu and his con artist assistant Gwizdo, take on the horrific beast. The only problem? They have no skills as dragon hunters. But with the realm crumbling and falling away, it is up to these novice champions to save the day. But as they will soon learn, this World Eater is the most vicious of all the mythic beings - and perhaps, the most difficult to destroy.

Clearly a case of getting lost in translation, Dragon Hunters is a drop dead gorgeous CG adventure with a script that sounds like someone’s idea of what everyday English-speaking stooges say in the face of imminent danger. The dialogue, absolutely dripping with toilet humor putdowns and calm clichéd platitudes can’t rob this stunning film of its visual grace, but it damn sure tries, you smelly ass-face! With only a single recognizable name among the other voice actors (Oscar winner Forest Whitaker is Lian-Chu) and a narrative that sets up a simple adventure, it is up designers and directors Guillaume Ivernel and Arthur Qwak (who also created the original TV show this is based on) to build upon the idea - and what they construct will have your jaw almost permanently affixed to the flooring below your home theater.

It’s hard to describe the look and feel of this film. Imagine Terry Gilliam collaborating with the late Edward Gorey with the results filtered through a very European view of science fiction. Sure, the look of the leads is very exaggerated, shoulders, hands, and heads embellished to give the characters a clear, otherworldly look. But the background elements, from floating farmland orbs to disintegrating Baroque buildings are breathtaking in their execution. One could literally sit and watch the film without its soundtrack and still experience something incredibly exciting and optically moving. As the heroes come to their final stand-off, as the world continues to fail all around them, there is a Wall-E level of desolation and destruction that is hard to forget. Even in its most idiotic moments - and there are more than a few - Dragon Hunters is heaven on the eyes.

But it’s the plot that will constantly give you pause, if only to keep you wondering about why this particular story is being told (when we learn it is a prequel of sorts to the standard 2D animated TV series, the idea makes more sense). Zoe can be a bit of a pain, especially since she’s not necessarily involved in the hyper-heroics. Whitaker is wonderful, underplaying the role of champion Lian-Chu with just enough halting humility to make us fully comprehend the traumatic youth we witness in flashbacks. The main stumbling block for some will be Gwizdo, voiced with Steve Buscemi like prowess by Rob Paulsen. Though small in size, he has a massive ego, lots of interpersonal issues, and tends toward selfishness, cowardice, and an overall unpleasant disposition - and this is someone we should be rooting for. By the time of his denouement, we have grown to literally loathe him.

Luckily, the direction both in action and art saves the day over and over again. Perhaps in its native tongue, without all the Americanized crudities included, this would play perfectly. We wouldn’t cringe at the implied fixation with farts and other bodily belches, nor would the various arguments and confrontations sound so forced and flippant. Since this is one of the rare speculative fictions that creates its own clever world and its unusual gravity defying rules, we wait for the moment the filmmakers violate same. After all, it takes an equally extraordinary person (or persons) to preserve said scenic prerequisites every step the way. Dragon Hunters does so, and then just to make things a little more exceptional, it attempts to reinvent the animated movie genre as well.

It’s a shame then that so few will seek out and actually find this film. Though it’s a big hit in other foreign markets, and the TV series has been seen worldwide, the USA can be so closed minded sometimes. Indeed, tell someone that this is a French made sci-fi parable with incredible CG and some equally visionary work behind the camera and they will probably crack wise. In their mind, if it’s not Shrek, or Ice Age, or any number of mindless animated pop culture comedies, they turn their head and tune out. For once, they should instead open their eyes and see what they’ve been missing. Other international efforts may make for rough going for American mindsets, but Dragon Hunters is different. This is the rare cartoon that takes its art seriously - and it shows. Boy, does it show.

by Bill Gibron

27 Jun 2009

Titles are a tough thing. Ask any writer or creative individual and they will agree - naming a thing is far more difficult than making it up in the first place. Such labels have to legitimize your efforts, explain them without fully giving away the entire premise. Sometimes, the shell game works too well. Who would have imagined that There Will Be Blood would wind up telling the story of a wildcatting oil man at the turn of the century? On the other hand, Masked Vigilante vs. a Psycho in Clown Make Up sounds a heck of a lot sillier than the far more brooding The Dark Knight. Sitting somewhere in the middle is the latest from Troma Entertainment, Pot Zombies. Yes, like the classic chainsaw massacre Pieces once stated, this is exactly what you think it is. On the other hand, the up front moniker masks a movie almost rebellious in its flailing exactitude.

A bunch of rednecks come across a marijuana field tainted with radioactive waste. A few blunts later and they are hankering for human flesh. When some of this wicked wacky weed winds up in local smoker’s circles, the cannabis’s cannibalistic tendencies start to spread. As more and more young people light up, a full blown zombie Armageddon occurs. That’s it. No major league hero steps in to save the day. No game government reaction to the entire bleary eyed living dead mess. No last girl limping around waiting for her date with the undead’s incisors. It’s just people getting high and then (as the cover art claims) getting the munchies for people pudding pops. Yum!

Pot Zombies is the senseless shampoo of scary movies. Director Justin Powers simply sets up his roach = reaction conceit, breaks out the green face paint, and repeats. Ad nauseam. As the mind behind the lame HP homage LovecraCked! The Movie, Master P is a titan of limited financial returns. He can make a mockery of no budget cinematics and still find a way to undermine one’s expectations - for good and for bad. Like a broken record, a hyperactive teen, or an accused politician, Powers constantly duplicates his ditzy horror hack brilliance as if we didn’t quite get it the first 253 times. Actors attempting to replicate news reporters do their damnedest to undermine our suspension of disbelief, and it’s not long before we wonder why it took a team of four - that FOUR - screenwriters to come up with what is, in essence, a collection of cinematic sameness.

The answer, of course, is desire. Moxie can make up for a lot in the world of independent art, and with Troma’s own Lloyd Kaufman as a lisping pizza “boy” flitting around the fringes (he appears and disappears for no apparent reason), Powers is clearly inspired by his peers. It takes guts the size of Godzilla to offer up third rate lesbians (why do all post-modern girl lovers have to be covered in a collection of proto-punk prison tattoos???), glowing green-eyed hillbillies, and arterial spray that looks like red Kool-Aid laced with cherry Hi-C. Powers doesn’t pretend to have a plot, can’t be bothered with things like characterization, storytelling subtlety, or directorial prowess. Had he made a movie about giant battling robots looking for some goofy garbage known as the All Spark, he’d be Michael Bay. With Pot Zombies, he’s more like Michael Bong.

Taken on its own Make Your Own Damn Movie terms (a call to aesthetic arms fostered by Kaufman and his company), Pot Zombies is still a direct to digital disaster. One imagines apes with amputated frontal lobes could foster a more fulfilling scary movie experience. But if you move beyond such bourgeois mainstream expectations and take this film for what it is, Powers’ peculiar approach will finally have its way with you. Instead of being humiliating, Pot Zombies becomes humorous. Instead of representing the bottom of the barrel in homemade horror comedies, we wind up with something dangerously close to the cream of the crop. Sure, it’s stunted, stupid, and sloppy, but it’s also a pure representation of one man’s desire to mimic the media that inspired him in the first place.

And isn’t that the main purpose behind any real work of art. Da Vinci wasn’t painting some manly she-male named Mona (or Lisa) because he was the Glamour Shots of Ancient Rome. Picasso didn’t fidget with the human form because he hoped someone would name an entire painting movement after him. Everything in expression, from Georgia O’Keefe’s vaginal flowers to Robert Maplethorpe’s S&M sex pics were crafted because of an unfettered need to create. Pot Zombies is the same way. Powers can be called all manner of misguided names - amateurish, unskilled, braindead, retarded - but he’s not. He’s merely bitten by the artisan’s bug, and the bite is clearly infected and running with pus. If he doesn’t pick at it, it will never scab over and heal.

By embracing the common consumer sense of truth in advertising - there are no lovelorn Yetis, dreamboat vampires, cocaine sniffing werewolves, or meth-crazed aliens in this able arthouse triumph - and delivering nothing but said reefer rejects, Justin Powers makes the convolution of cinematic standards into its own unique visionary statement. Sure, LovecraCked! will kill you with its overriding rancidness, and it’s hard to see anything helpful coming out of this undead doobie delight. Still, for all its gaping flaws, for its need to entertain and its middling ability to do so successfully, Pot Zombies should be celebrated. Go in expecting Mozart and you’ll be kicking yourself for days. Drop those designs down a couple hundred notches and you’ll be giggling all the way to the nearest Santeria head shop.

by Bill Gibron

23 Jun 2009

With time comes perspective. With time comes greater understanding and wisdom. When you’re young, you don’t fully appreciate subtext and thematic resonance. When you’re building your own personal aesthetic, elements like context and creative boundaries are in their infancy, incapable of being readily comprehended and accepted. Back in the late ‘80s, a certain champion of independent cinema announced the arrival of a raw and gritty “war” film entitled Combat Shock. Best known for its hilarious horror comedy splatterfests like The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High, adolescent fans anticipated another raucous ripper, a genre gem made up of 60% rude attitude and 40% crude arterial spray. What they got instead was a dark and deadly serious look at a Vietnam veteran at the end of his rope. The only “shocking” for these seemingly disappointed Troma geeks was the level of unfiltered truth being hurled at the camera.

For you see, Buddy Giovinazzo’s urban grit masterwork remains a wholly unsettling experience. After the sudden massacre of an entire village, GI Frankie Dunlan (Buddy’s brother Rick) kills a Vietnamese girl. He is captured and sent to a POW camp. There, he is tortured for information. Later, he takes up residence in a VA hospital, but is still terrified of the nightmares he has surrounding the war. Now he’s an unemployed drifter, a married man with a pregnant wife and a mutant baby (the result of Frankie’s exposure to Agent Orange). With street hood Paco owning his very soul, there is very little hope for the failing family. Even a phone call to his once influential dad earns Frankie nothing but bad news. With his flashbacks getting more heated and the possibility of eviction on the horizon, our hero is not sure what to do - that is, until he happens to come into possession of a handgun.

Made before Oliver Stone’s apologetic Platoon and containing an entire squadron of squalor, Combat Shock - or as it was originally conceived, American Nightmare - is a brilliant, brazen denouncement of how our nation treated its returning war “heroes”, and a prophetic statement of how little things would change over the next three decades. Delivering a ‘day in the life’ portrait of poverty and pain so devastating that it just might lead you to the same suicidal conclusions haunting its main character, this is starkness as a soiled symphony. Sure, there seems to be obvious nods to David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but Buddy Giovinazzo is not paying homage. Instead, he’s exploring the same urban and interpersonal horrors that stain both of those ‘70s classics, and doing so in a far ballsier manner than his far more famous celluloid brethren.

Combat Shock is clearly meant to be a political statement, albeit one wrapped up in the neo-realistic filth of a NYC crumbling into decay. There has never been a movie this fetid, this streaked with the stains of a million displaced and dour people. From the desolate apartment which Frankie calls home to the bombed out buildings that resemble the ruins of a defeated nation, Giovinazzo turns the Big Apple into one incredibly sour fruit. Even worse, he turns Frankie into the kind of hopeless case that no amount of government aid can help. With the constantly howling freak child in the crib and an angry, emasculating wife in his bed, our lead is less a man and more like a combination of quasi-human pieces. Held together with spit and sickness, Combat Shock ideas were always meant to be a slap in the face. Frankly, Troma fans didn’t expect it to sting so badly.

And that’s part of the film’s mythology - and misinterpretation. Back when Uncle Lloyd and the gang were seeking ways to market their films to the widest audience possible, Giovinazzo’s original 16mm American Nightmare was cut in order to conform to both ratings requirements and perceived commercial appeal. To this day, few have seen the longer version of the film and that’s a shame. Presented as part of the Tromasterpiece Collection of Combat Shock, Nightmare itself is quite amazing. It’s as disturbing and dark as the released take, but thanks to the added time (about ten more minutes overall), Giovinazzo has a chance to elaborate on all the possibilities he’s introduced. There’s more war both at home and in the battlefield, and a greater feeling of metropolitan alienation. We get more drugs, more death, more despair.

But that’s not all the new two disc DVD has to offer. Giovinazzo (now an expatriate living in Germany) is joined by controversial auteur Jörg Buttgereit for a commentary track that’s part trip back in time, part anecdotal evidence of Combat Shock‘s endearing genius. Our director has an answer and a story for everything, from the obvious allusions to one Henry Spencer to the unquestioned influence of the No Wave band Suicide (and the song “Frankie Teardrop”) on the movie. Buttgereit acts more like a fanboy, reflecting on elements of the film that he simply adores. This is carried over to the second part of the package, where many famous filmmakers (including John Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer McNaughton, William Maniac Lustig, and Roy Document of the Dead Fumkes, among many others) extrapolate on how influential - and unfairly marginalized - Giovinazzo and his movie truly are.

Perhaps The Manson Family‘s Jim Van Bebber says it best when he describes Buddy’s brother Rick as being ‘Travis Bickle without all the pretense’, and it’s a feeling expanded upon by the brand new interviews with the men behind and in front of the camera. Looking nothing like their former selves, the Giovinazzos describe their early career as musicians (we see music videos for their band, as well as several startling short films) and speculate on how well Combat Shock holds up some 25 years later. They also explain some of the reactions they’ve had both then and now. Fleshing out said retrospective is a look at some of the locations. A few stand in sharp contrast to their former filthy selves. Others, sadly, have remained exactly the same (or horrifically, much worse). With trailers and the aforementioned copy of American Nightmare in tow, this is about as definitive as the digital format gets.

And we are dealing with a movie that definitely deserves it. Combat Shock may be a bad memory for anyone coming to the Troma title hoping for the standard bile, boobs, and beasts. It’s definitely more like The Bicycle Thief than Bloodsucking Freaks. In fact, if you are looking for a film that tells the true story about what life was like for returning veterans in the ‘70s, if you want all the pain and political posturing, unresolved emotions and lingering social failings, this is the film to seek out. Somewhere in the great halls of misbegotten movies stands a pedestal waiting for Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock. It’s a true American original, a portrait painted in the scum, sweat, and the fears of both its subject and its supporters. Time does have a tendency to play tricks on you. It can alter even the most concrete of critical snubs. A quarter of century ago, few found this film exceptional. Today, it stands as one of the ‘80s independent best.

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