Certain film horrors are easily identified. Say you’re watching a movie where some guy is walking down an alleyway alone at night (that was your first mistake you schmuck) when suddenly, a two-headed aardvark man (both heads are aardvark heads for the record) jumps out from behind a dumpster wielding a machete. Maybe he eats the bear, or maybe the bear eats him (well, aardvark), but the horrific threat is tangible and concrete.
However, some horrors are not so obvious. Take, for example, Combat Shock, a movie where the principal monster is hopelessness itself. Granted, our “hero” Frankie suffers from Vietnam shell shock and this greatly contributes to his mental collapse, so you could say that war itself is the monster here. However, hopelessness is what surrounds Frankie in the present. He’s unemployed with no prospects, living in the biggest NYC shithole apartment ever witnessed (the apartment from The Young Ones wasn’t this shitty, and that apartment was incredibly shitty as a joke). His wife is constantly nagging him, and his super creepy mutant baby (supposedly a byproduct of agent orange) is continually crying in a synth-filtered death wheeze.
He leaves the house every morning, ostensibly to look for a job, but he mostly just wanders around a pre-apocalyptic urban wasteland, wasting time. Or, as his wife puts it, “you’re not looking for a job; you’re just waiting for the world to end”. His job prospects are nil, so this becomes Frankie's way of "escaping" his home life. He occasionally bumps into both a trio of tough guys looking to collect on a loan and a local junkie begging for some money.
Surprisingly, the main junkie’s junkie friend is played by comedian extraordinaire Eddie motherfuckin’ Pepitone. Now, I know what you’re thinking; that’s a pretty creepy middle name to give your son. Alas, that is not actually his middle name, but rather a bit of improv on my part. Sometimes comedians (like Eddie) like to spice things up by “going off book”. Anyway, watching Eddie’s performance, it looked like he took the role to try out his recently developed “Pepitone method” approach to acting. I also noticed that the director thanks “Staten Island Community College” in the end credits. I’ll let you put the pieces together on that one folks.
Anyway, the main junkie resorts to stealing, but Frankie makes it clear he never wants to go down that road. He still has a shred of humanity, unlike the addict who would do anything for another hit. However, his day starts off horribly and keeps getting worse, from his shoelace snapping to him receiving an eviction notice to something so bad you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you (unless you already know, either from watching the movie or hearing about it). Along the way, what little humanity he has left wilts and dies. It's like a bad hair day but for your soul.
I won’t spoil the ending, except to say it’s not one of those “love conquers all with a song and dance” deals. To put it another way, Combat Shock is Taxi Driver for the hopeless. Wait a second, Taxi Driver was already for the hopeless. Well, if you’re so devoid of hope that Taxi Driver wasn’t hopeless enough for you, you’ll absolutely LOVE Combat Shock!!!