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Directed by: James Glickenhaus
Starring: Robert Ginty, Steve James, Dennis Boutsikaris, Christopher George, Ned Eisenberg, David Lipman and Samantha Eggar
Best friends John Eastland (Ginty) and Michael Jefferson (James) survived the horrors of the Vietnam war together. Michael even saved John’s life. After the war, both men work at a packing plant in New York City’s South Bronx. One day, Michael is assaulted and put in the hospital by a gang called The Ghetto Ghouls. Eastland then begins his quest for revenge in the seediest parts of the city - and in his attempt to clean up the streets he becomes vigilante hero The Exterminator.
Everyone from street punks to child molesters to upper-class mobsters become the target of The Exterminator’s retribution. He becomes so effective, he attracts the attention of Detective James Dalton (George), a man who wants to find and stop him. Even the CIA is interested in stopping Eastland. Will they catch him - or will Eastland live to flamethrow another day?
Yes! We here at Comeuppance Reviews HQ LOVE The Exterminator. As you can tell from the name of our site, we have a special fondness for revenge movies, and they don’t come much better than this. Movies of this type, from this place and time have a special fascination, and The Exterminator does not disappoint one iota. Everything from its killer opening set in Vietnam all the way through to the end, this movie delivers the goods in spades.
James Glickenhaus is a quality filmmaker, and we’re fans of his work. We also recommend The Soldier (1982) and Shakedown (1988), but this is the money movie. There’s more sensitivity and intelligence behind The Exterminator than most people give it credit for. There are subtle comments about Vietnam vets and their treatment once they came home, and the shoddy Jimmy Carter presidency if you care to look for them. Plotwise there is plenty of subtext and parallels - all of which add to the texture and interest of this fine film.
It’s rare that a movie can entertain and please an audience on an intellectual and a visceral level. But The Exterminator achieves this rare feat. While the movie does have elements from Taxi Driver (1976) and Death Wish (1974), Glickenhaus brings this style into the gritty 80’s, with fantastic results.
According to the DVD commentary, he shuts down critics that wrote off this movie as a Death Wish knockoff by saying he didn’t see Death Wish before filming. Glickenhaus has plenty of other interesting comments, such as when he says that Joseph Bottoms, brother of Timothy, almost played Eastland, or when he says he imagines First Blood (1982) as the ideal continuation of the Eastland story, not so much Exterminator 2 (1984).
Speaking of the DVD, Synapse knocks it out of the park with its excellent DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack. While I’d seen the film before on VHS, it was like I was watching it for the first time here. It looks amazing and you have to go on Amazon and buy this right now.
Being fans of stunts and stuntmen, we appreciated how in the end credits, it showed specifically which stuntman did what stunt. You don’t see that very often. As for the more recognizable stars, it’s great to see two fan favorites, Robert Ginty and Steve James together.
They have great chemistry and really seem like friends. The Christopher George-Samantha Eggar plot is interesting because it slyly implies that Dalton is not exactly rushing to stop Eastland, he’s doing it rather leisurely because he secretly approves of what he’s doing, but he has to keep up appearances. There’s actually a lot of sly moments, such as the use of the song “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps, among others. Anyone who watches Law & Order will recognize Dennis Boutsikaris and Ned Eisenberg who often play lawyers, as well as David Lipman, who often plays a judge on the show.
In the 42nd street scenes you can see the famous Lyric theater, where Glickenhaus says The Exterminator played to sold-out houses for 24 hours at a stretch. The Lyric is also featured in Shakedown, where the movie marquee is showing The Soldier, and The Exterminator.
So Glickenhaus has some history there. We love seeing 42nd street and the movie marquees of the time, and you can see theaters playing Beyond The Door (1974), Cauldron Of Death (1973), and the O.J. Simpson vehicle Firepower (1979). It truly was a time when O.J. Simpson was simply an athlete/actor, and the World Trade Center was still standing in all its glory. There’s a gigantic nostalgia factor at work here, and it just shows we need The Exterminator now more than ever.
The Exterminator simply rocks and is a must-see. Go Eastland!
Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty
Also check out reviews by our buddies, Tars Tarkas and The Video Vacuum!