The Exterminator (1980)
By: Julian on October 10, 2009  | 
DVD
Rialto (Australia), Region 4, PAL. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 94 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: James Glickenhaus
Starring: Robert Ginty, Steve James, Samantha Eggar, Christopher George
Screenplay: James Glickenhaus
Country: USA
External Links
IMDB Rotten YouTube
I watched The Exterminator some time ago on VHS and snapped up a copy of this Rialto DVD when it was released a few years ago. I thought a Digital Retribution themed week – and the recent passing of its star, Robert Ginty – was as good a time as any to revisit James Glickenhaus's riff on Death Wish. On one hand, The Exterminator is incredibly dated and rife with such technical ineptitude and hollow performances that Ginty's Exterminator is rendered impotent and benevolent, certainly not a patch on Paul Kersey or many of the other avengers to be showcased this weekend. On the other, there are some gloriously exploitative scenes in this and implicitly (although this disc is cut; more on that later though) it's incredibly violent, sporting an exceptionally seedy atmosphere. So on review, The Exterminator is a mixed bag – certainly more bad than good, but worth checking out as a curio.

Robert Ginty plays John Eastland and we're introduced to him in the jungles of Vietnam as he's being held captive by a sadistic band of Vietcong soldiers alongside his mate Michael (Steve James). After a deliriously violent (at least, it would be if Rialto's disc was intact: I'm referring to my memories of the uncut Australian VHS here) prologue in 'Nam, we fast-forward to John and Michael in their outside-world jobs, both labouring at a food storage warehouse. John catches a couple of thugs trying to steal pallets of beer and he and Michael give them a flogging before sending them on their way. Later that day, the thugs follow Michael to his house where he lives with his wife and kids and brutally assault him, rendering him paralysed.

John suits up and boots up and takes the gang out, putting to good use the flamethrower that appeared so prominently on the lurid Australian VHS cover for the film and is emulated in some lacklustre cover art here. But John doesn't stop there – his revenge is first concerned with Michael's well-being, as he tortures a mob boss withholding money from the employees of the warehouse, before moving on to matters of preserving society-at-large: pimps of child prostitution rackets, corrupt Senators and muggers aren't safe as the Exterminator roams the streets.

As The Exterminator progresses, it becomes increasingly disjointed and plotless, with writer/director Glickenhaus eventually settling for just indiscriminate killing. As a fairly discerning exploitation viewer, I need some sort of purpose to indiscriminate killing on celluloid: The Exterminator has none. It's completely illogical and thoroughly idiotic: Michael's assault was avenged in the first third of the film – the rest is filler. And before cries of "well, it's an exploitation film" drown me out, it's still a prerequisite for a film to be cogent in order to be good. The Exterminator isn't, and it suffers severely for it. Shocking acting by most of the key players does nothing to help, either.

The Exterminator does atone for a few of its sins via its incredibly sleazy atmosphere. While the bloodshed is limited, there are some pretty potent scenes in this: John rampaging through the brothel among them. There's also a generally downbeat mood that really adds to the film. It's probably best comparable to the sort of mood that hung around in Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer, a film that by way of direction, camerawork and acting has aged terribly, yet has kept a certain inimitable griminess. This is certainly one of The Exterminator's few successes and admittedly, it's a significant one.

In Australia, the film enjoyed an uncut release on the Thron-EMI label before being banned, lending The Exterminator a certain notoriety. This release was classified in 2005 however it is not the 'director's cut' as promised on the cover slick; it is, in fact, a censored print sourced from a UK VHS release. The cuts total 3 minutes 38 seconds and include a beheading in the first shot, Michael's bashing, the torture of a prostitute and a mugging. Oddly, one sequence – where John fills a dum-dum bullet with mercury – was cut by about two and a half minutes. Whether the British censors thought this would give young aspiring exterminators hints, I'm not sure, but the cuts are all enumerated on the Exterminator page at Refused-Classification.com.

Some exploitation fans might get a kick out of this one but as far as revenge movies go, you can do a lot better.
Video
Presented in 4:3, the picture is little better than VHS quality, muddied and very dull. The cinematography is unremarkable but the man behind it was Robert M Baldwin, a bit name in the Americana exploitation circuit having lensed Let's Scare Jessica To Death, Troma's Zombie Island Massacre, Basket Case 2 and Frankenhooker.
Audio
English audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby. It's not very good and I needed to strain to hear a good chunk of the dialogue.
Extra Features
A trailer and a photo gallery.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Poor audio/visual presentation, as well as a print excised of over three and a half minutes, no doubt severely diminished my repeat viewing experience of The Exterminator. It's worth a watch because it's deemed one of those essentials, and it manages to hold a really vile atmosphere throughout, but The Exterminator looks, sounds and acts like a low-budget, quasi-backyard thirty-year-old film.

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