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The Exterminator (1980)

You want gritty? A 1970’s feel as we rang in the 80’s. A guilty pornographic look by way of 42nd street? Then this Death Wish meets Taxi Driver, Paul Kersey or Travis Bickle affair is just what the vigilante within you ordered up for a late night viewing.

It’s an impressive pre-credit sequence featuring a fiery stunt during the Vietnam conflict to open this James Glickenhaus directed actioner which introduces two of our main actors, Steve James and Robert Ginty. The pair will come within inches of death at the hands of the Vietcong only to kill their captors and escape the brutality of an all too certain beheading that a fellow soldier has fallen victim too. It’s a scene carried out in gruesome fashion though from an F/X standpoint, it’s very well done.

Roll the credits and we’re in New York. The pair are now working the docks and scraping together a living. James is a married man with children and Ginty takes life day to day. When the two run afoul of some local hoods, the street gang will retaliate by leaving James in a near comatose state, unable to ever function again from the neck down. Seeing the man who saved his life in Vietnam near death, Ginty takes up the title role and with no remorse begins his killing spree. He starts with the gang members who have destroyed James’ life.

Next up is a notorious scene where Ginty kidnaps the local mafia don and leaves him hanging over a giant meat grinder while laying his hands on the cash within the don’s safe. Things don’t go as smoothly as they should which forces Ginty’s hand to play exterminator in a rather grotesque fashion. I’ll leave it to your imagination.

All the while these vigilante killings are going on, local detective Christopher George is on the case attempting to piece together who is responsible for the recent attack on local criminals. He’ll have his hands full when Ginty pays a visit to a local pornographic theater that sees the owner cater to some rather disgusting habits of one low life in particular. It involves both torture and procuring underage children for reasons I’m not about to get into.

No this isn’t pretty and may offend more than one or two viewers. On the flip side, Ginty dishes out his own brand of justice that in itself is quite nasty. Still, if this were made today, the producers would soften the footage of the villains and allow Ginty’s character to still deliver the same brand of justice only with a smirk and a one liner tossed in for good measure. Paging Bruce Willis. Oh wait, he’s already doing that in the trailer for the Death Wish remake.

Top billed Chris George gets a romantic interest for his troubles and it’s not his real life wife, Lynda Day George. It’s Samantha Eggar cast as a hospital nurse that takes a liking to the cop on the vigilante case. It’s a throwaway role for Miss Eggar that I’m sure served as a payday and there’s no harm in that. Political intrigue is about to enter the story when the C.I.A. begins investigating the case and finds themselves at odds with George over how the investigation is being handled.

The ending does contain a couple surprises that I won’t divulge here though I will say that Chris George has the coolest hot dog cooking set up I think I’ve ever seen. You’ll have to check it out for yourself but I know I want one in my office.

There’s a healthy dose of blood splashed about here and the filmmakers are rubbing your nose in the violence that’s depicted in the script that’s also written by director Glickenhaus. For the sequel released in 1984 by Cannon, leading man Ginty was back on board though the director had moved on to other action oriented fare, The Soldier and The Protector. Low budget this may be it does have a following and would make for an appropriate second feature at a drive in showcasing Death Wish 2.

Want a copy? I got my blu ray through Arrow Video which serves up a nice helping of extras and interviews.

Do you like checking out what movies are playing in the background scenes when filming passes by real life movie theaters? I know I do and look closely for James Coburn in Firepower and the thriller, Beyond the Door. Seeing those playing in a movie house makes me long for a time past.

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11 Comments »

  1. This actually sounds kinda fun…although based on the photos I see above, I’m not sure I buy Robert Ginty as a pissed-off killing machine. Does he pull it off? And yes, I love spotting a movie marquee in the background of a movie; my favorite would be ‘Play Misty for Me’ showing on a marquee behind Clint Eastwood in a scene from ‘Dirty Harry’.

  2. Oh, this film is a total hoot! I actually saw the sequel first with Mario Van Peebles and his crew skating/dancing out of those bathroom stalls (lol), so I was surprised that the first film was actually more violent in terms of a few bits. Still, the bad guy in 2 gets his in the funniest way, but I’ll let you review that at some point and let us know what you think.

  3. This was one of the first ever VHS tapes I rented. As I was the tallest I’d normally be sent in to get the films. Few years later I’m buying the fags and booze.
    Thing I remember that unfortunately stayed with me until this day was the beheading! Jeez man that was so horrific. Obversely at school everyone pretends to be big and not bothered by it but I’m sure we all secretly wished we hadn’t seen it. It looked so real. Nowadays heads are flying off in blockbusters and tv shows on a daily basis but man that was the first we saw! Also the rumour round the school was the later scenes being a snuff film. We knew it wasn’t but being so young and thinking shit man what if it was. Lol it was a crazy experience for a 11/12 year old.
    That poster with the flamethrower is pretty iconic

    • Yeah it’s a pretty nasty opening. For whatever the reason I never saw it back in the day. Now I see it and felt like I needed a shower afterwards. Hopefully you weren’t paying from your own pocket to supply all the goodies to your buddies.

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