Film Review: The Exterminator (1980)

 

The Exterminator. The man they pushed too far! 

The Exterminator is a vigilante action film from 1980 directed by James Glickenhaus. It stars Robert Ginty as John Eastland,  the vigilante himself,  Christopher George as a cop hunting Eastland and Steve James as Eastland's war buddy Jefferson.

It tells the now cliched story of a Vietnam war vet who vents his spleen on various NYC mooks after his best friend is beaten and paralyzed by said mooks. 

The story opens with a flashback to the war and Eastland's unit during an interrogation session by their NVA captors. Eastland's war buddy springs them from the POW camp in a last second getaway.   Flash to 1980as the two buddies work on a loading doc in NYC.  After dispatching some would be robbers, the two go for an after work drink when we learn Jefferson and his family are the only friends Eastland has.  Unfortunately for Jefferson the thugs didn't care much for the way he roughed them up earlier.  They show their anger by promptly choking him with a chain while shanking him in the spine. 

Eastland takes this about as well as you can expect and sets out to avenge his best friend. We are then treated to Eastland menacing a street punk with a flame thrower to get the location of the guilty party.  Cut to Eastland implausibly pulling out his war bring back M16A1 for the raid. He finds the mooks partying with some hookers and jamming to Disco Inferno. He then dispatches one thug by playing him "18 rounds of the 20 round twist" on his M16 and delivers one of the film's more powerful lines. When asked why he is so angry over a N$#*%!,  Eastland angrily replies " That N*%&#$ was my best friend you Mother F****!"   He then knocks him out.

  We cut to the basement as he gags and ties them up in a rat filled basement giving the rodents something to nosh on for the next few days.

This seems to give Eastland a taste for the street vigilante life and we see him turn a mafia boss into hamburger, break up a child sex ring and clean up the streets from random street punks with ever increasing satisfaction.   During this time he is being chased by George's character and the CIA acting on behalf of the US government who is worried Eastland is making them look bad.  It eventually comes to a head in a shoot out just like you would expect but with a nice little twist.

Some noteworthy points about the film.

The Exterminator wasn't the first film about a Vietnam Vet coming home to even more woe, having PTSD and seeking his own bloody satisfaction after the police let him down. Rolling Thunder is an earlier example but no where near as fun .  Eastland clearly has bouts of PTSD but it's not heavily played. When his best friend is killed, it's clear he lost his only family.  While dispatching a mook, we see a quick flashback to one of his kills during the war.  This works well demonstrating his mental scars.

Some of the violence in the film was probably shocking for a lot of viewers at the time.  A man gets processed into hamburger, a pedophile shot in the groin and a man tied to a bed and set on fire to name a few.  Some of the worst stuff is not shown on camera but it's implied. A hooker with burn scars on her body and a young, naked boy tied to a bed and gagged for thepedophile that later gets in an argument with Eastland's 44mag and loses.  We don't see any of the physical or sexual abuse happen, but its enough for the imagination to do its horrible work.

The actors of the film are exploitation regulars. Christopher George, the detective after Eastland, is notable for being the bad guy in the Canon masterpiece Enter The Ninja. The war buddy who meets a rough demise is played by Steve James. James went on to be in such timeless classics as American Ninja 1,2 and 3 and The Delta Force among others. Ginty went on to do do the sequel to The Exterminator and a few other things not really applicable to our subject matter.

The Director of the film, James Glickenhaus went on to direct a few more films such as McBain and Shakedown. He Produced some other works of high art like Frankenhooker and Basket Case 2.  In my opinion The Exterminator is his best film.  

Because It's in my nature, I have to mention a well known scene where Eastland drills holes in his bullets to insert mercury.  This makes for a very cool scene showing how serious Eastland has taken his vigilante craft. Even displaying his no doubt recently purchased just for thug hunting, reloading equipment. Sad to say adding mercury to bullets is pure Hollywood BS that would accomplish little more than mercury poisoning of yourself and contamination. 

The Exterminator is one of my favorite films in the vigilante genre. It features a character and story told a thousand times by now but was still fairly new during its day. The action of the movie is tame by modern standards, but its still graphic at times and it's action scenes keep you engaged. The graphic sexual abuse is implied but you don't have to set through any I Spit On Your Grave rape scenes.   The story is of course set in sleazy, grimy NYC in the 1980s. This is a time when the crime rate there was so infamous even a kid like me heard about it all the way down in KY.  Movies like The Exterminator appealed to lot of people sick of out of control crime.  The movie is clearly a more exploitation version of Death Wish but that is not to say it is not worth watching.  One of the things I like about the story is how much fast Eastland works and how much more effective he is over Bronson's character.

The movie locations show some of the conditions in the city at the time and works as a cool little time capsule. The main character walks down 42nd street at one point showing it in its glory days.  The commentary by the director mentions the actor walked down the street with real people about their business. An early shot in the film of shows one of the neighborhoods in NYC and it looks a lot like a bombed out German city during WW2.  

I highly recommend watching it.  Especially if you like the revenge story.   I personally like it better than Death Wish. My only gripe would be that I wish it did have some more gun fights but it's a small gripe   Synapse Films released it on Bluray disc and you can purchase it from their website.  Easily it's a 4.5 out of 5 stars.