COMBAT SHOCK -an online tribute
by Edmund "ed droogie" Varuolo (updated 2009)

This page is a tribute to the Buddy Giovinazzo ("Buddy G.") cult classic, COMBAT SHOCK (original shooting title: "American Nightmares")...which me and Bri Droogie worked (toiled) on back in the mid-eighties...way before industrial TELEVISION. This diatribe can serve as a compliment to the DVD director's commentary track, on which a wealth of background information on the film can be found. Much has been said and written about this underground legend of nihilistic cinema, I will try (to the best of my drug-scarred memory) to document my experiences on the film, which was a pure labor of love by Buddy G. (nobody received any pay over the course of two years in production.)
Back in college together, after many long hours in the editing room, (with many "doob" breaks) Buddy and I would muse to ourselves how "film theorists and historians" will be arguing over these scenes in the future...I was just goofing at the time, but I believe it has come true. ESPECIALLY with the new edition release. Just check the results from the "combat links" section at the bottom of this page. Also worth reading are the great comments on Amazon and the internet film database (links can be found for these at the bottom also)...meanwhile, the accolades keep coming!....Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Film Comment, the NY Times, and-

S.I. ADvance article 8-30-09 PART 1 S.I. ADvance article 8-30-09 PART 2

From the video review section of Fangoria september 2009 issue, where it was deemed "DvD of the Month"
fangoria 2009 DVD review

Here is the cover of the new dvd's great!

here's a great article from RUE MORGUE,
july 2009:

The Combat Shock legend lives on!...
here's a very cool shirt from the nice people at
Rotten Cotton!
Rotton website

Although I get screen credit for special make-up effects, I was but one of 4 different effects people on the film as well as Ralph Cordero, Jeff Matthes and Brian Powell (Bri Droogie!)... Ralph and I went on to work on a few more projects including: The Toxic Avenger, The Oracle & The Brother from Another Planet. I did a little of everything on Combat Shock, including cameraman, pulling focus, some editing, grip, set and costume destroying, etc. One has to wear many hats with a zero budget! Because nobody recieved any pay, as a parting gift, Bud printed up some photos from the shoot and gave them out to the crew as parting gifts. Somehow, these rare behind-the-scenes pics survived and are posted here for your enjoyment. The shot below was taken on the day of "Frankie's" suicide gunshot, as one can tell by the 3 cameras present!
combat shock crew pic
ME, Jim Gribb (lighting), Stella Varveris(camera), Buddy, Bri Droogie, & on the far right the head of Ricky G. ("Frankie")

I seem to remember going through over 6 gallons of blood throughout the whole shoot, & to this day on Buddy's sets one will hear: "More Blood!" much so that on the set of "No way home" I heard crew members refer to him as "Bloody G."

to achieve this effect, workprint footage was projected directly onto Rick's face

Anyhow, those days shooting Combat Shock in that apartment were just sometimes just as harrowing and nerve-bending as what was portrayed in the final film. It was filthy, hot, sweaty, smoky, smelly and everything one touched had that Karo stickiness to it. (that's the base ingredient of film blood) I remember Ralph and I suffering long hours under the table operating the baby puppet. I was responsible for the bladder and "arms" (there were none) while Ralph moved the eyes and "tongue", which was really just his thumb! There was some great behind-the-scenes video (& super-8 film) shot which are now lost scene in particular I remember was lip-synching the baby's mouth between takes to either Foreigner or Def Leppard which happened to be on the radio in the background, we would fuckin' cry with hysterical laughter whenever we seen that...too bad it's gone.

half-a-jeff AND the bloody hands (hey, that's a good title!)
Somemore of my "handiwork"...seen briefly in the film as a blown-in-half corpse,
that's Jeff Matthes half-buried in the dirt with my bloody hands. Ingredients used:
paper towels, chicken parts/bones and lotsa Karo blood

Buddy states on the DVD that the film was shot "guerilla stlye" without permits. While that was true for the most part, I do recall having a permit for under the trestle shoot-out/massacre...they even assigned a NYPD cop to the set! What Buddy DID have was the infamous "letter from Phill Niblock" which got us out of jams in at least 2-3 different situations. Phill was the film professor at The College of Staten Island, as well as mine & Buddy's teacher. Many times in film class it would be only Buddy, me and 2-3 other students, we would just close the door to the small screening room, Phill would say: "allright, who's got the hash?"...and we'd set up the projector and watch movies for a couple of hours! Ahh, those were the days! You just don't see that kind of warm student/teacher bonding today! Anyhow, the letter from Phill just stated that Buddy was "legit" and to accord him all the assitance they could. When you think about it, setting off woodland explosions, having fights/drugs/shoot-outs on the street, and generally portraying Staten Island as a hellhole, it's amazing nobody got arrested! And yes, the flick was shot in it's entirety on S.I., not in New Jersey as some rumors have stated. Also there never was a scene at the end shot where "frankie" stuck the gun in the baby's mouth to finish him off....just another rumor.

Whenever Bud & I would see "behind-the-scenes" photos from major motion pictures, we noticed a lot of them always had people pointing at things...this became a running joke which we would mimic on the set whenever there was a still camera present...

this pic is a prime example.
(Buddy, Me, Rick, Jim, and Brian)

the 2 auteurs
Buddy (pointing again), Me (behind the camera) and I think that's Bobby, Bud's other bro on the other side...Notice the hospital
shirts on me & Bud...when I showed some of these pictures on the "No way home" shoot, crew members ridiculed Buddy on
how he still owns/wears that hospital shirt! Hey, they are comfy & were free!

I also recall things being not so rosy a couple of long days on the set between Buddy directing his brother Rick. One particular time it got real testy, it went something like this- Buddy: "do it! - now!"...Rick: "I'm not ready",... Buddy: "do it! - now!"...Rick: "I'm not ready"...Buddy: (to crew) "allright everybody, we'll all just HAVE to wait until Ricky's ready to do the scene!!" give credit where it's due, I don't know how Rick put up with the grueling shoot on some days...the shit I seen him go through like a real trooper, I would not ask a dog to perform. I don't know where he pulled it out from, but his performance speaks for itself, it's brilliant.

Another rumor confirmed: the "Frankie Dunlan" character was in part inspired by an obscure punk song: "Frankie Teardrop" by the seminal industrial/punk/noise band SUICIDE. (whom I got to actually see PERFORM live back in the day at Max's Kansas City in the village.)

There's a scene in the unemployment office with Ray where he says: "Life is hot, Frankie...and because it is hot, I am compelled to remove my jacket." Buddy recalls on the comentary track that he would have done this differently now loking back in retrospect. The real story is that Ray showed up the next week to complete the shoot, but forgot his jacket and we had to shoot the jacket removal the "Life is hot" line/scene was put in there just for continuity purposes. Interestingly enough, this phrase went on to become the title of Buddy's book & recent film: "Life is Hot in Cracktown."

see what happens when you drink sour milk?
This is the photo that was printed on all the flyers for "American Nightmare" (Combat Shock's original title)
when it was making the festival look at this and you knew what you were in for!

Buddy entered the film ("American Nightmares" version) in a few festivals and local screenings. People would walk out at the coat hanger scene. Whenever we would set up local screenings, Buddy and I would always crack up at audience responses to certain scenes/lines of dialog. The biggest laugh, however, always came up during the interregation torture camp scene because in the background is Jerry G., Buddy's late father, whom most of the audience knew. Just the sight of him tied up with that "why me?" look on his face was enough to send the crowd a-howling with laughter. The biggest communal groan always came at the "pouring sour milk clump" scene...which John Waters has been quoted as "the most disturbing thing I've ever seen." It's funny, how after all the gunplay, mutated baby killing, blood and death that transpires right before this, it's the sight of some "chunks" in the milk (ice cream actually...) that sends the crowd a-reeling.

the fool on the hill
Here's ME behind the camera shooting one of the Vietnam scenes in the heart of the S.I. greenbelt "jungle"

On some shooting days, it was just me, Bud & Rick...that was the whole cast and crew! Buddy mentions that walking through the "toxic mud" shoreline was so bad I did not get out of the car, he's wrong...I shot some of those scenes, just refused to get down in the mud! I remember those boots Rick wore were ruined and would never come clean because of that mud. No matter how much they were washed, they still stunk.

Amazingly, this small college film got picked up by Troma and distributed in limited release to certain markets. I was the only one associated with the production to actually view the film when it played on 42nd street with a genuine "times square" audience.

check out this rare pic from 42nd street (RIP)

Some things that we thought were too obscure to read or were overlooked by the student and festival crowds were picked up on immediately by the crowd on the "duece"...Rick Sullivan (the Gore Gazzette) commented that only the most shocking films would shut up the usually unruly & vocal crowd on the strip, and CS left their mouths agape.
Combat Shock played on a double bill with "P.O.W. - The Escape" and to the 42nd St. audience, it was just another hollywood movie. Some observations: After beating Frankie up, when one of Paco's gang says: "let me break his fucking arm", one old black woman whom was engrossed in the plot says to the screen: "Oh, NO, NO...please don't break his arm TOO"...after Ray takes the pills in the office and later recites the "Life is hot" line, he looks spaced-out, which the brothers picked up on right away..."He's stoned on da pills!" would be heard from the crowd...Outside the theater was a video monitor set up running the trailer (with excised scenes included, by the way)...I watched that over and over at least for a half hour just to see passerby's reactions. The best came at the shot of the baby, to which I heard from the brother: "Dat's the orange agents done dat there!"...funny as hell, I'm telling you you can't write this shit! Finally Combat had found it's correct audience!

please, when do we wrap for the day?
On the set: Stella, Jim and me (looking shagged, fagged, fashed and burnt)
blown in half/shattered leg
top: Jeff resting betwen takes, bottom: Leif whose leg is blown the background
you'll notice one of the many gallons of blood used on this shoot!

when released on video around 1987, Combat Shock recieved accolades from the underground film press. Here's a couple of reviews I saved:

slimetime review
deep red review

Just in case there was any doubt, here's an ultra-rare behind-the-scenes picture from the Staten Island Advance (our local newspaper) that appeared during the shoot...That's me with the Bolex...notice Bud, how it says: "cameraman ed varuolo" see, you see!...ha!...ha!...ha! (please point mocking finger when reading that last bit) I think I got the Dummy and Ed arrows mixed up, though...

an ultra-rare behind-the-scenes picture

The secret of Combat Shock revealed!...A few years before Buddy filmed Combat Shock, he had a secret meeting with Beldar Conehead, where the evil plans were laid for the future! Doubt me? Here's the proof!MIPS!

links: (buy it, read the rumors and reviews, they're great)



Buddy's with family at the NY premiere of his latest film, LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN: