Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Exterminator, The - 3/5

The late 70's and early 80's was a glorious time for the grindhouse revenge films which were put into motion by Death Wish. Unlike Death Wish these films had lower budgets, higher amounts of violence, and that lovable gritty grindhouse feel. Out of this short era we had the sequel Death Wish II, Vigilante, Rolling Thunder, Class of 1984, Savage Streets and perhaps the most notorious The Exterminator.

The film opens with a flashback sequence to the Vietnam war. What better candidate for revenge than a Vietnam Vet? This short but memorable sequence shows our main character John Eastland (played by Robert Ginty) get caught by the enemy and how he violently escaped with his buddy (Steve James baby!). Cut to modern 1980 where our two war vets work at a meat packing plant. One day a group of thugs threaten to steal some goods until our James and Ginty duo take them down. The thugs don't take kindly to having their ego kicked so they decide to attack James later, paralyzing him from the neck down. Ginty loses it and goes ape shit on the thugs who did it. He doesn't stop there as the continues to go vigilante at night, killing all sorts of trash. He becomes nicked named The Exterminator and a bad-ass cop (played by genre great Christopher George) is hot on his trail.

This is one mean-spirited, bleak and down-right cruel revenge flick....and that's why I love it. It pulls no punches when it come to showing the trash of New York. Robert Ginty's character is also one take-no-shit man on the edge and does some nasty shit to criminals that would even make the likes of Paul Kersey wince away. We are talking about feeding a guy to rats, setting a pervert on fire, and even lowering a crime lord into a meat grinder! This guy is fucking hardcore! The whole film is taken seriously unlike some other revenge flicks like Savage Streets which had had its tongue firmly pressed in its cheek. Because of this some people might find this film just a little too cruel.

The cast is wonderful here and Robert Ginty is perfect in the in the lead revenge role. He's atypical for the part but that's what makes him great. He's an average guy pushed over the edge! He actually got so popular from this film that he made a career of playing major roles in these grindhouse revenge flicks. Christopher George is also great as usual as the typical police officer. Christopher is always likeable in whatever role he plays and he brings a nice quirkiness to the role (the part I love is a sequence in which he cooks a hotdog with some forks attached to his desk lamp). Samantha Eggar (The Brood) is in a rather thankless love interest role for George's cop character but films like this have to get the love interest into the plot one-way or another. I almost forgot to mention Steve fucking James. God rest his soul as he is one of my all time favorite character actors and his presence brings any film up in quality for me! One thing I was a little disappointed when I first saw this in high school was the fact that he doesn't use a flamethrower to kill any thugs, despite brandishing one on the poster art. Deceptive advertising (but they did fix that wrong in Exterimator 2) but don't let that stop you from seeing the film.

Overall this is a must see for fans of revenge films. It's dark, it's mean, it's serious and it's violent...everything a good exploitative revenge film should be. The plot is nothing new but people shouldn't expect it to be. Fans of gritty grindhouse cinema from the early 80's must see this flick especially in its director's cut form. My original VHS was the R rated cut and the director's cut really adds to the carnage. There's even an extremely realistic be-heading sequence at the beginning of the film that left my jaw on the floor. They made that effect look real and it's a damn shame that good effect got cut for the theatrical version. The only downfall with the director's cut is that both DVD editions have numerous short audio drop-outs (somewhere around 8 or so, but I can't remember the exact number). Don't let that little hindrance stop you though. This DVD belongs on every cult film enthusiast's movie shelf!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

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