Director: James Glickenhaus
Cast: Robert Ginty, Samantha Eggar, Christopher George
Review by Brian M. Sammons
Now before you start whining that this isn’t a horror movie, and you’re right, it’s not, let me say two things. First, it’s got more gore and kills in it than your typical slasher flick, and second, it’s cool, and really, that second reason is all I need to watch, enjoy, and review a movie. So if ’80s revenge flicks with brutal violence that wouldn’t even make it into a Friday The 13th film isn’t your thing, go ahead and stop reading, this movie isn’t for you.
Still here? Alright you must be a devotee of groovy movies regardless of genre and I can appreciate the hell out of that. So grab you gun and your sense of justice and let’s start walking the mean streets.
Robert Ginty plays John, a Vietnam vet whose best friend, and the man responsible for saving his life twice, both in and out of that war, is attacked by a street gang with the awesome name of Ghetto Ghouls and left a quadriplegic . The injured man is played by the perennial badass token black buddy of the ’80s, Steve James who does his part well, for what little he’s in the film. As for Robert Ginty, he’s a great choice for a vigilante death dealer, as he’s not an over-roided slab of beef with legs (yep, Stallone and Schwarzenegger, I’m looking at you) or a steely, cold type like Bronson or Eastwood. He’s just an average guy pushed too far by the maiming of his friend and he’s out for justice.
Our exterminator starts with the thugs who injured his friend, but simple bullets aren’t enough for them. Nope, he ties them up in a garbage-filled basement and leaves them for the rats. Next, to help his wounded friend’s family out financially, he robs the local mob boss who has been extorting money from him for years. When the mob boss lies to him about the extent of the protection guarding his house, our vigilante hero tosses the mobster into a meat grinder, slowly and feet first, and makes hamburger out of him. After that, John just sort of gets a taste for dispensing rough justice and starts wasting any and all filth that cross his path. The exterminator’s visit to the scuzziest of S&M rape/torture joints, where he blows a pederast senator’s bait and tackle off with an exploding bullet has always been a favorite of mine.
The Exterminator is great, semi-exploitation cinema from the era (late ’70s to mid ’80s) that did it best. There’s an overall feeling of sleaziness to everything that you just don’t get anymore and I for one miss that, at least in this kind of film. Now days when a filmmaker tries to be sleazy, it tends to just be over the top graphic, which isn’t the same thing.
However, I don’t want to give you the impression that this is an exceptionally well-made film, because it’s kind of not. Take John’s journey to becoming a vigilante. The movie literally goes from Steve James getting attacked, to Robert Ginty telling his friend’s wife at a playground that her husband has been crippled, to Ginty having a gang member tied up in an abandoned building and interrogating him with a flame thrower, then he’s off to waste some gang members. Literally, the movie jump cuts around that fast, and while on one hand it’s good that it doesn’t waste time getting to the titular exterminating, it’s sort of disjointed and basically makes the protagonist a cardboard cutout that flips the switch to Death Wish mode without any of the character development that made the earlier Charles Bronson movie so much better. There’s also a subplot about the detective who is trying to stop the vigilante and his love life that adds absolutely nothing to the movie, other than padding, and a silly bit about the CIA getting involved that’s … well just silly. Still if you’re a fan of revenge flicks, then you’ll probably dig this movie. I sure did.
The new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Synapse Films looks, as always, great. Yeah it doesn’t look like a brand new HD movie, but it sure as hell looks a lot better than the last time I saw this movie, but that’s Synapse for you, they always go the extra mile when it comes to video presentation. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the special features. There’s a pretty good director’s commentary track, but that’s it, unless you count the usual (and boring) trailer and TV spots. While I wished there had been more goodies on this disc, this movie has been long out of print, so it’s great to just have it back on disc again.
For a good while this film had a cult following and it was popular enough to spawn a truly dreadful sequel, staring Mario Van Peebles as the heavy, no less, but it has basically been forgotten by most today. Well I still love this bit of retro revenge goodness and if you’re a fan of early ’80s action movies then I’m betting you will too. There’s no better time, and no better way, to get acquainted with The Exterminator than now and I can highly recommend fans of bloody revenge flicks to do so at once.