27 May 2024

Combat Shock

Frankie is a traumatized Vietnam POW struggling to keep his sanity back home in bottom-of-the-barrel Staten Island.  He’s plagued by vivid war nightmares, and then wakes up to his equally-nightmarish daytime reality: poverty, an ugly, hectoring wife, an Agent Orange birth defected crying baby, a shabby, filthy apartment.

Two notes before we proceed further:

1). Whoever designed the vet’s hideous apartment should have been given an Academy Award for Best Production Design.  It’s the most depressing-looking urban living environment I’ve seen on film.

2). Filmmaker Buddy Giovinazzo cleverly ripped off David Lynch’s domestic arrangement from Eraserhead.  The ugly apartment, ugly wife, ugly crying baby (also needing a constantly running vaporizer) are essentially the same, just set in different nightmare worlds.

Released in 1986, the same year as Platoon, there can be no mistake as to which film is authentically anti-war.  Platoon is usually mislabeled as anti-war, but its poetic, romanticized view of combat neutralizes any anti-war sentiment, indeed, it probably inspired a lot of unemployed dopes to join the army.  I guarantee nobody who sees Combat Shock will be running off to enlist.

That’s not to say Combat Shock is a better movie.  I doubt many in our current age will have the patience to sit through this ultra low budget production with its amateurish acting and thin script.  Indeed, to call it a *script* might be overly generous, as that would imply it was written.  This thing was probably scrawled in red crayon by somebody on suicide watch in a psychiatric hospital.

Combat Shock might be the most depressing movie ever filmed.  Nightmares, poverty, illness, family dysfunction, government dysfunction, addiction, crime, violence, death, that’s the plot synopsis.  There are probably only three smiles in the entire movie, which occur during the film’s final third, when the filmmaker’s primary influence seems to switch from Eraserhead David Lynch to Paul Schrader/Martin Scorcese Taxi Driver, complete with a child prostitute that Frankie tries to help.  Other than that brief moment, the rest of Combat Shock is a bleak, hopeless death march to its grim conclusion. 

It’s an ugly-looking film with a thin, predictable plot that is as subtle as a sledgehammer.  But, if you appreciate Art Brut, outsider art presenting the raw, authentic, personal expression of a creator uninterested in following the artistic herd, you will admire Combat Shock, particularly if you have a pessimistic world view.

Consider this ten second clip:

I’ve never seen poverty so quickly, effectively and genuinely presented in film.  These type of small moments bubble up in the grotesque ragout that is Combat Shock and earn it a rank of Five Stars for its complete lack of pretense and its ardent nihilism.  It’s a brutal cinematic smelling salt in the somnolent celluloid Platoon/Saving Private Ryan war movie world.

23 May 2024

The Sect (aka The Devil's Daughter)

Have you ever wanted to see a movie where a kindergarten teacher gets raped by a stork? Or a cocky subway pick-pocket artist gets knocked down a peg or two when he pulls a human heart out of his target's jacket pocket? If so, then The Sect (aka The Devil's Daughter) is the movie for you.

But. . .if you’re looking for a film with a coherent plot, logical characters speaking natural-sounding dialogue and competent acting, best pass this one up.

The Sect is a collaboration between greaseball horror/giallo legends Dario Argento and Michele (not the girl's name 'Michele' but the Italian boy's version of Michael) Soavi. Though the oddball film has the look and feel of 1970s Argento, it was filmed in 1991.

It might seem like I'm describing a terrible movie. It’s not. It’s not terrible. Of course, it’s not a movie, either. At least, not a conventional movie. Soavi and Argento are non-representational artists. Plot and character are like blotches of paint thrown on a canvas to provoke dread, fear, madness, etc. Instead of painting black and red squares or abstract patterns, Soavi and Argengto paint splotches of sex and violence. 

The plot, as near as I could untangle from one viewing on Shudder, is as follows:

In a 1970 California desert a happy, carefree hippie commune is ritualistically slaughtered by a Satanic cult. CUT. About 20 years later we are in Frankfurt, Germany watching a lonely kindergarten teacher go about her dreary life. Driving home one day she nearly runs over an old bum.  Feeling sorry for the shaken-up geezer, she invites him to rest up at her house (yes, of course, that is a stupid idea). The old bum speaks a lot of cryptic shit, then appears to fall asleep on her couch.  The kindergarten teachers goes upstairs to her bedroom, talks to her pet rabbit and plays with a snow globe before she, too, falls asleep.  But the old bum was just faking being asleep!  He creeps upstairs, goes into the kindergarten teacher's bedroom, lightly molests her and injects a beetle into her nose (of course, she never comes close to waking up).  While the newly beetle-infested teacher slumbers on, the old bum goes down to a barely-hidden basement temple which the kindergarten teacher has somehow never stumbled upon even though it's about the size of St. Peter's Basilica and contains a well(?!?!) which apparently goes all the way down to Hell and in which swims some sort of devilish creature that oozes some sort of sperm or something that will be used to impregnate the kindergarten teacher and birth the anti-Christ.  OK.  Meanwhile, one supposes because of the beetle in her nose, the kindergarten teacher has a horrible nightmare about the stork (the same stork which will eventually rape her).  This nightmare wakes her up, she hears some clattering from downstairs, whereupon she discovers the old bum, now back upstairs, has seemed to pass out or die on her living room floor.  She can't telephone for help because the old bum has does some stuff which renders her phone useless, so she drives over to a neighbor doctor's house and convinces the doctor to come back to her house and look at the bum. CUT. Sometime prior to the previous cut we've also had the scene where the pick-pocket gets the surprise of his life with the human heart.  He steals it from the pocket of a cult member who has just cut it out from some lady's chest.  This does nothing to advance the plot, and, in fact, hard as it is to believe, only muddles it, but it's too cool of a scene not to leave in. CUT. The kindergarten teacher and the doctor go back to the teacher's house, and, surprise, the old bum is nowhere to be seen.  We get the inevitable "but, I tell you, he was there!" scene.  CUT.  From here the plot starts to get weird.  Haha.  But no, at least from this point forward the viewer understands the old bum is part of the Satanic cult, and the cult believes the kindergarten teacher is the Chosen One to birth the anti-Christ, and so we have some sort of plot line to hang on to while weird stuff happens involving the kindergarten teacher's rabbit, Turin-like shrouds, the stork rape, random murders and even a suicidal zombie.  CUT TO SPOILER.  Eventually the cult succeeds in impregnating the kindergarten teacher and the anti-Christ is born. . .BUT. . .the teacher is supposed to die in child birth. . .BUT. . .the anti-Christ sacrifices itself for its mother??  Maybe?  I don't know.  You tell me.  Oh, is there a connection between the kindergarten teacher and that slaughter of the hippy commune in 1970 California?  Maybe?  Does it matter?  The End.

The acting is pretty bad.  Herbert Lom of the Pink Panther films plays the old cult bum, and, unfortunately, he doesn't ham it up, but actually tries to play it straight, and gets more laughs in this film than he does in a Pink Panther film.

The only other actor worth mentioning is the girl who plays the kindergarten teacher: Kelly Curtis.  Kelly *Jamie Lee's sister* Curtis.  She's pretty bad. She delivers her lines like she's learning how to read.  And she refused to do nude scenes, so. . .she's nowhere near the Scream Queen her sister is.

I know this sounds like a bad movie.  But like I said, if you want to see a kindergarten teacher get raped by a stork, and a whole bunch of other random nastiness, this is a pleasant amusement.  So what I am saying is, you know if this type of shit is for you, or not.