“The punishment’s gotta fit the crime.”
Believe all of the hype and controversy. In the language of the day The Exterminator was one bad mother. And when I say one bad mother, we’re not talking Casey Anthony. The Exterminator came at the tail end of the era of grindhouse, exploitation, and revenge films. So, how do you close out a memorable era like that? You do a movie with all three. You put the violence and the grit out there for all to see, and you don’t make any apologies about any of it. That’s exactly the attitude that writer/director James Glickenhaus plays it, and the result is… well… one bad mother.
John Eastland (Ginty) saw his share of violence when he served in Vietnam. He watched one of his buddies get beheaded by the enemy, and he saw more than his fair share of violence and death. When he got back home he took a job at a beverage warehouse and tried to put the nightmare behind him. But when his best friend and Army brother in arms gets beaten nearly to death and left paralyzed in a hospital bed, he decides that enough is enough. He starts by taking out the thugs who beat his buddy. They’re part of a street gang called the Ghetto Ghouls. But Eastland doesn’t stop there. He decides to go on a vigilante spree that targets pimps, rapists, and mob bosses. He doesn’t just kill them either. He makes them pay. When I tell you that he feeds a mob boss to the grinder, I’m talkin’ a real meat grinder. He fills the tops of his bullets with mercury. To the community he’s known as a hero called The Exterminator. To the cops he’s a dangerous vigilante who has to be stopped. It’s Detective Dalton (George) who has that unenviable job. There is a bit of a muddy plotline that has the Feds wanting him out of the way as well.
I’ve included the title in the horror category because there is plenty of blood and guts, enough to satisfy the most hard-core torture-porn lover. We’re talking about a guy who dips a hot soldering iron in Vaseline and goes to work on a guy who pimps out unwilling young boys to folks like “The State Senator From New Jersey” (Lipman). Glickenhaus isn’t afraid to linger on the carnage at all. Yes, we have the whole revenge angle, but by the time Eastland finds his stride this is about more than just revenge. This is gritty grindhouse the way it used to be. But, unlike many of the great grindhouse films of the era, you’re not taken on a mindless journey of sleaze and soft-core porn. It’s safe to say that John Eastland is a template that has been picked up by almost ever Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris movie ever been made. You end up rooting for the killer here, because he’s not killing hapless teenagers or innocent bystanders. He’s taking out the trash. The sociological message here can’t be ignored. And while many of the exploitation films of the decade took on social justice as a cause there was always that Hollywood Shaft presentation that made us laugh. You couldn’t help leaving this film thinking about those same urban issues that lo and behold are still with us today, 30 years later.
The Exterminator is presented in a slightly altered aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. This high-definition image presentation might be so good it works against many of the low-budget limitations. You can clearly see a guy launched from a platform during a staged explosion in the Vietnam prologue. You’ll find very nice levels of sharpness and clarity. The print even appears to be in better condition than you have any right to hope for. You get a full taste of the down-in-the-street grittiness that Glickenhaus carefully crafted. Colors are impressive and black levels are above average. Way to go Synapse.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is a bit rougher, but that’s OK. There’s plenty of fullness for just two channels. The score is one of those driving affairs that can get a little fatiguing after a time. Dialog comes through as do all of the screams and explosions. The original audio tracks appear to have been lost, and this was rebuilt from an earlier release. Works just fine, thank you.
There is an Audio Commentary with Glickenhaus. It’s a strong track, and he delivers non-stop information. There’s a moderator providing questions. At first I didn’t like the idea, but it turned out to work great because he was obviously a fan who asked things I would have asked.
The film was a low-budget affair, and it makes no apologies. Much of the location footage was obviously stolen on the run. Ginty doesn’t have to really act as much as he has to pose. We’re looking at the darkest part of the city where the rats aren’t the only vermin. If you think these places don’t look the same today, you might want to take a closer look at your own city. There’s nothing pretty about this movie. It doesn’t end cleanly, but there is a certain satisfaction to the conclusion. A conclusion, by the way, which got the film banned in several countries. Credit to Synapse for pulling this one out of the gutter and cleaning it up just enough to take a trip back in time. As for you next trip to the video store? “Got to mean one thing, The Exterminator.”