War is hell!
Johnny and Gil are just like "brothers" in that they both grew up in an orphanage where they purposefully tried not to get adopted. World War II stepped into the middle of their lunatic recluse quest, and while Gil was saddled with pushing papers and pencils, Johnny has fought Gerry on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields, in the streets, and on the hills. But soon those dastardly Deutschlanders are in his brainpan as well. A sudden scare leaves John with a bad case of mortar malaise, AKA Shell Shock, and he can't quite seem to snap out of it. Gil, newly transferred to be with his bestest buddy, wants to help him. But Rance, a rotten corpsman with promotion on the posterior, only wants to catch John in mid-cowardice, since the arrogant ass thinks he's faking. When John goes AWOL and flails behind enemy lines, a ragtag group of goofs—including Gil and Rance—go after him. Actually, along with Prof. Wrigley, that's all who go on the bugged-out hunt. Some live. Some die. Germans speak broken schnitzel. Some foreign femmes are tossed in, last minute, to spice up the storyline. In the end, we learn that the aforementioned mind mania is cured almost instantly…by napping in a woman's crotch.
We now join the Battle of Blood Island, already in progress. Actually, it's already over when Moe and Ken wash up on the tropical shores of some nondescript California…oops…"South Pacific" island. After the victorious Japanese soldiers finish off the last of the lubbers landing, Moe stops playing possum and rescues the horribly wounded Ken. A little spelunking later, and they have a homey cave for two. While Ken suffers in agonizing pain, Moe travels around the countryside playing tricks on the enemy. He also practices a little sidekick meatball surgery. One day, Moe and Ken wander over to the Hirohito Headquarters of the Axis ah-so-holes and watch in dismay as they kill themselves. Without a foe to fight, our borderline kooky castaways start going mental. Moe feels like a fishwife, taking care of the invalid Ken. And all the paralyzed prawn can do is make anti-Semitic comments. When a plea for help to God produces a goat(!), the desert-isle dunderheads think it's curry time. But little do they know that these "kids" are meant for a more "subatomic" supper date with Enola Gay's sister.
Shell Shock wants to address the very real wartime malady of post-traumatic stress disorder by basically boring you to tears. That's right, this psychological battle scar follows the weak-kneed Johnny as he gains the Bronze Star but loses his marbles, all in the span of a couple of completely unremarkable days in the most stupefyingly dull arenas in the entire European theater. This is a movie that feels like it lasts twice as long as the Hundred Years' War and makes just as much sense as the Nazi obsession with the occult. Scenes are randomly tossed at each other, hoping that they somehow create forward narrative momentum. The direction is devoid of said. Johnny is a Sybil-style schizo who is cheery one moment, vacant the next, and Sgt. Rock the next. His cranial crackup is handled in a wide-eyed, Reefer Madness manner and we never fully understand if he is really sick, or just incredibly bashful. As the two ends of the search-and-destroy spectrum, Gil is a marginalized man, reduced to fighting for his faux family member in decreasingly unsuccessful ways. And as the villain, Rance makes the adversaries look like nanny goats. (Gil's "milk" obsession leads him to consume a "fresh-squeezed" cup of said animal's teat liquor during a lull in the fighting. All warm too. Ew!). The last-act addition of female companionship does lend the film a little saucy shading, but mostly this is a silent exercise in static story telling. Every second is an eon in the world of those subjected to this form of Shell Shock schlock.
Mix Cast Away with the Bataan death march and toss in every hot button issue from WWII (the "yellow" scourge, nuclear bombing, genocide, and homoeroticism), and you've got the awfully high-minded talkathon known as Battle of Blood Island. The only war waged here is between a couple of shipwrecked GIs and their sexual preference. Moe is the kind of silent, stern disciplinarian type that always manages to find a frightened, blabber-mouthed rookie attached to his khakis. Ken is said verbal diarrhea king. This supposed farm-team pitcher for the New York Yankees (who's about as cosmopolitan as a pork rind) just can't stop asking questions: "Are we gonna be saved?" "Am I gonna be all right?" "Did you hear that?" "Daddy, what's Vietnam?" And poor Moe has to try to answer every one of these expositional enquiries. Just when you think the guys will find a way to get along, we fast forward seven months and there's racist exchanges and suicide attempts aplenty. The odd dynamic between the two sounds more like a couple of psychotic mental patients on a blind date than a pair of hardened army soldiers. And just when you think this narrative couldn't get any more bizarre, along comes Moe's rescue phobia and billy-goat speech to add instant mystification to the exile. While never dull, Battle of Blood Island is neither action nor packed. It's over-oral and tepid, sidestepping realism and controversy to flaunt flaccid symbols instead. It wants to shock and appall. It succeeds only in being stock and unappealing.
If there is any real "exploitation" element to this oddball offering from Something Weird Video, it would be the horribly un-PC propaganda films/short subject placed on the DVD as bonus features. The Bing Crosby (Mr. White Christmas, kiddies) in-theater croon-a-long for buying war bonds is fun, but when it comes to anti-German and -Asian sentiment, the twisted take on enemy analysis offered in Information Please and Our Job in Japan! is insidious. While the kraut cracking is substantially less vile (probably because most of the British cast can't sound Teutonic even when they try), the entire "bad brain" ideal in Our Job in Japan! is just so, so very wrong. Postulating that the reason behind the recent fracas with the Far East stems from their inferior, illogical gray matter, the use of epithets, derogatory slander, and gross stereotyping is almost too abhorrent to watch. The selection of war-themed trailers contains some of the same Tokyo Joe elements, but they also offer their own Rat Patrol/Combat kind of kicks. Visually, the black-and-white transfers are very good. There are print flaws and bad edit cuts along the way, but at least SWV gets its monochrome to contrast nicely, unlike other companies who try to sell us a world wrapped in gray.
One hardly associates straight-ahead war dramas with exploitation. After all, the erotic love camp crimes of Ilsa and others of her ilk have been a seedy, shameful pleasure for many a fan. The idea that Shell Shock/Battle of Blood Island somehow coexists with gore epics and nudist camp kitsch just doesn't make sense. While interesting, they are neither provocative nor prurient. The closest we come to any manner of mischief is when the soldiers grab a goat's teat. How's that for a war crime?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
• Battle Scarred Trailers
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