Blu-ray/DVD ComboLabel: Synapse Films
Release Date: September 13th 2011
Region Code: Region FREE
Duration: 102 mins
Video: 1080p 16x9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: DTS-HD MA English 2.0, DTS-HS MA English Mono
Director: James Glickenhaus
Cast: Christopher George, Robert Ginty, Corky O'Hara, Samantha Edgar
Tagline: If You're Lying I'll be Back
THE EXTERMINATOR opens in Vietnam with quite literally a bang - an explosion in fact, an enormous APOCALYPSE NOW worthy explosion that sends a soldier through the air. That airborne man is John Eastland (Robert Ginty, COP TARGET) who's on patrol with his squad when they come under fire from heavily-armed VC troops. John and the other soldiers, including Michael Jefferson (Steve James, VIGILANTE), are taken hostage by the Viet Cong who tie the men to wooden stakes. They're interrogated for information about a forthcoming strike and when the answers don't come as easily as he would like the VC commander takes a razor-sharp machete and slices the throat of one of the men as if it were warm butter, it's nearly a complete decapitation as if his head was on a hinge, it's almost comical in it's gruesomeness, his mouth agape in silent scream. Major props to the late great special effects man Stan Winston who created an entire animated human body for that one, it's jaw-dropping stuff.
During the commotion Michael is able to slip free of his binds and get the better of a VC soldier, commandeering his firearm and mowing down the enemy captors. It's a great pre-credit 'Nam sequence complete with napalm strafing and machine gun fire, it's complete chaos and it makes for a briefly epic intro. A helicopter evacs the soldiers and the film seamlessly transitions to an arial view of the New York skyline. It's sometime later and both John and Mike are employed at a warehouse, it ain't the good life but it's a life, the pay is shit but as they say - it's a job. When John and Michael catch a trio of punks from the Ghetto Ghouls gang attempting to heist some beer from the warehouse they intercede and kick some major ass, the punks just don't stand a chance against the seasoned 'Nam Vets. The punks have their revenge however when they later ambush Michael on his way to have a brewski with Eastland. They assault him with chains and a meat-hook which they sink into his spine leaving him paralyzed from the neck down unable to speak.
While Michael convalesces at the hospital Eastland can't simply abide this injury and swears vengeance against the thugs who crippled the man who saved his ass back in the 'Nam. Kidnapping one of the gang he interrogates hims with a flamethrower, after squeezing the info from the punk he tracks the remaining trio to abandoned building where they're partying with whores to the beat of The Trammps "Disco Inferno". Eastland blasts one of 'em dead and quickly incapacitates the remaining two, leaving them tied to a garbage strewn floor where the infamously large NYC rats make quick work of 'em, killing one outright and horribly disfiguring the other.
His streak of vigilante justice doesn't end with the Ghetto Ghouls and he next sets his sights on Gino Pontivini, a mafioso who collects protection money fom the warehouse Eastland works for. In an elaborate scheme Eastland awaits the mobster in the bathroom trashcan of a restaurant, drugs Pontivini and takes him to a warehouse where he suspends him from the ceiling with chains directly over an industrial sized meat grinder. Pontivini desperate for his life after a quick demonstration of the machine, tells Eastland the location of the safe at his home and gives him the keys to the security alarm. Eastland tells the mobster "If you're lying I'll be back" leaving him suspended in the warehouse. He enters the kingpin's property and is promptly attacked by a vicious Doberman barely escapes with his life by carving the canine with an electric knife. After securing the cash, which he intends to give to Michael's family, he returns to the warehouse and he wordlessly lowers the shrieking mafioso into the grinder feet first, apparently pissed that Pontivini neglected to mention the ravenous canine surprise that awaited him.
The crimes eventually catch the attention of the NYPD and detective James Dalton (Christopher George, PIECES, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) takes a particular interest in the string of crimes. He starts to piece together that the acts are the work of a singular vigilante, but he's not the only one to put two and two together. A CIA spook named Shaw (Patrick Farrelly, TH NESTING) is brought in to dispose of the could-be political threat discreetly when local politician's fear Eastland's one-man crusade to burn the scum off the streets of NYC will have an adverse affect on incumbent politicians re-election campaigns. In the 80's it was either crooked politicians or toxic waste and usually both, gotta love it.
THE EXTERMINATOR is a film I recall seeing on the VHS shelf many times at my favorite mom and pop video store as a youth but somehow it's eluded my grasp until now. I guess in hindsight I was more into zombie and slasher films at that age, not so much the revenge exploitation or action stuff but if I knew then what I'd be depriving my future self of all these years later I goddamn well would have picked it up. It's not so much that this is an original film, but it is a well-crafted actioner with some real horror elements, it's a very complete exploitation package.
The film is really one of the grittiest exploitation actioners I've ever seen, it's downright disturbing, particularly when Eastland lays the pain down on a child prostitution ring featuring a pervy senator played by David Lipman (TV's LAW AND ORDER) who get his kicks by dipping a hot soldiering iron into a vat of vaseline and burning the flesh of prostitutes and young boys, it's pretty disgusting stuff and we don't even see him actually doing it, just the setting up of the pre-burn scenario made my skin crawl. It's pure revenge nirvana as Eastland takes down the ring with extreme prejudice.
Robert Ginty didn't seem an immediately obvious choice for the man on a one-man revenge streak, it seemed more likely that the badass character Michael played by Steve James would be but it's a nice twist and Ginty turns out to be one of the silver screens most memorable one-man revengers. Also making a great appearance is the always enjoyable Christopher George as Detective Dalton. The man sweetens every film he's ever been in, and his performance here is no different. He's got a few fun foibles like a jury-rigged lamp wired to two forks that he cooks up hotdogs with, fun stuff. Dalton is given a love interest in the film by way of Dr. Megan Stewart (Samantha Eggar, THE BROOD) and while the two enjoy a Stan Getz concert in the park it is revealed that he too served in 'Nam and his character seems to serve as view of a 'Nam vet whose life has gone a bit differently in contrast to his driven-to-vengeance counterpart.
Eventually we know that the paths of Dalton, Shaw and The Exterminator must converge and you just know it's packed with squib rupturing exploitation actionwith giant 'Nam sized explosions - it does not disappoint. The film is not perfect by any means, structurally there's some rough narrative shortcuts, funky editing and the occasional bad bit of dialogue but for the most part, and where it counts, this is a visceral stunner of a revenge film.
Director James Glickenhaus has created not just a gory and violent revenge film but also a gritty New York City film that evokes a darker, meaner city that's long gone, the golden age of the 42nd street grindhouse, pimps, prostitutes and rampant drug use. See it here and in films like Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER because it just ain't there anymore, for better or worse. It's a great looking film and Synapse's HD transfer does it proper justice.
A few years later producer Mark Buntzman would direct a sequel also starring Ginty without the assistance of Glickenhaus who would only direct six more films before settling into the role of producer for a William Lustig's MANIAC COP and Frank Henenlotter's FRANKENHOOKER and BASKET CASE 2, 3 before leaving the industry altogether. This film has definitely whet my appetite to seek out Glickenhaus's other film like MCBAINE with Christopher Walken and THE SOLDIER with Ken Wahl. If you've seen his others films and have any strong suggestions please send 'em my way.