I love Synapse films. Along with Blue Underground, these guys are pretty much Criterion for fans of horror and exploitation, with movies like "Thriller: A Cruel Picture", "Frankenhooker" and "Maniac Cop" under their belt. So it makes perfect sense that they would release the vigilante movie favorite "The Exterminator" on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. This is a mixed bag for me, as I don't have a Blu-Ray player, but I do have a DVD player, so I can watch the movie but not judge the two discs. I can however, judge the movie.
John Eastland (Robert Ginty) is a Vietnam vet whose war buddy and long time best friend Michael Jefferson (Steve James.) When Michael is fatally wounded by thugs, Eastland decides that not only those responsible should pay: the pimps, pushers and filth of the streets must be exterminated. Thing is, this is bad for the mayor, whose got an election coming up, so it's up to Detective James Dalton (Christopher George) to stop the man known to the city of New York as "The Exterminator."
While there are flaws in this movie (the relationship between Dalton and a nurse played by Samantha Eggar feels unnecessary), this is a prime example of early 80's exploitation. While gore-hounds will be let down (only a gnarly decapitation in a Vietnam flashback), the violence here is vicious and unrelenting-in fact, largely skimping on splatter actually helps enhance the brutality on display-and boy is it a vicious little movie. Eastland is not a man who plays around, setting people ablaze, dropping them in meat-grinders, shooting them with mercury laced bullets-he means business. Also, exploitation fans will more than likely enjoy this, as this is the type of movie that shows you New York before it was cleaned up. This is a world of drug pushers, murderers, and more-the scum of the Earth, and The Exterminator has had enough of them.
It also helps that this is a well directed and mostly well acted movie. James Glickenhouse* films the whole thing in a matter of fact style-no flashy editing or tricks here, just the worst the city has to offer and ugly violence pushed into your face, which aids the already gritty tone of the movie. Meanwhile, Ginty (who most may remember from the MST3K movie "Warriors of the Lost World") has a kind of Charles Bronson like quality-not as good of an actor, but he doesn't really look like an action star. He just looks like a regular guy, and the actor thankfully manages to make Eastland human but not too sympathetic. If anything, he's a psychopath. George meanwhile, plays the guy who may be the most likable character. He doesn't want The Exterminator killing people, but he understands why he's doing it, and doesn't seem to care much for the corrupt political and police establishment around him.
For fans of revenge movies and exploitation, "The Exterminator" is something that must be seen. Is it a perfect movie? No, but it get's the job done without any added bullshit.
*Glickenhouse also wrote this movie, and directed the Christopher Walken action movie "McBain", Jackie Chan's ill-advised U.S. debut "The Protector" and the Peter Weller/Sam Elliot cop movie "Shakedown." He also produced "Basket Case 2", "Frankenhooker", "Maniac Cop" and the Joe Don Baker vehicle "Ring of Steel."
There was a sequel to this movie, but Glickenhouse had nothing to do with it. It's a bad movie, and not in a "so bad it's good" way.