Directed by: James Glickenhaus
Category: Badass Cinema / Cult Classics
You know, I have to be honest. After everything I've read about this film, especially the uncut version, I was expecting more. More violence, more gore and pretty much more everything. But what it felt like to me was that it really missed the mark because you can tell they were going for a Grindhouse look and feel, yet it doesn't quite get there. And with all the reviews I've read recently on this on how some people were turned off by the violence, it didn't nearly reach the level I was expecting it to and in the end, was left somewhat disappointed.
James Glickenhaus (the second U.S. director to butcher Jackie Chan's initial attempt at U.S. stardom via his second U.S. vehicle The Protector. You can't count 1981's The Cannonball Run because his part was way too small and he was part of an ensemble) writes and directs this tale of a Vietnam vet who wages a one man war against the scum of society after his Vietnam buddy and friend Jefferson (Steve James) is brutally beaten and ultimately dies in retaliation for breaking up a robbery by some local thugs. After Jefferson saved his life, once in Vietnam and then during the robbery attempt, Eastland (Robert Ginty) goes over the edge and exacts revenge on first the thugs who beat up his friend and then on the scum of the city.
First thing you should know right off that bat is that Robert Ginty doesn't look as badass as the guy on the poster. I don't know who that is, but it ain't Ginty. First of all, he ain't that buff. And Ginty (The Exterminator) also does "not" wear a motorcycle helmet, wear a sleeveless vest, have grenades attached to sleeveless vest and brandish a flame thrower throughout the coarse of the film in his repeated vigilante escapades. Yes, there is one scene where he does use a flamethrower, and yes there is a sequence where he steals some random dudes (an actual good Samaritan no less) motorcycle and subsequently, his helmet, but they are different scenes and all these elements never come together. So that poster, though totally badass, is a pretty big misrepresentation of the character in general.
One of the main things I noticed right away once John Eastland (Robert Ginty) has decided to become a vigilante is that the film oddly gets cut up into vignettes of ultimate victims at the hands of Eastland/The Exterminator. The film is moving along when suddenly were thrown into an extended sequence of some bad guy doing something horrible and the film takes a huge detour into some other story that seemingly has nothing to do with the plot, other than the fact that this is a bad guy doing something bad and they are going to show him doing something bad so that The Exterminator can and will have an excuse to eventually kill him. And that's what stands out the most (more so than the actual violence) to me. How over and over again the film takes massive detours into other little stories that seem to have nothing to do with anything until you realize they need to show these guys doing bad things so the filmmakers have a reason for The Exterminator to suddenly appear out of nowhere to exact punishment. Example: A prostitute is shown being picked up by a John on a sidewalk in the city. The hooker and the John go to rent a room where the prostitute is subjected to sexual torture and mutilation by the John and his cohort who's waiting for them. Then we move onto some other sequences until later in the movie Eastland (Ginty) ends up picking up the same girl for a good time and when she undresses in the hotel room, see's that she's been burned and mutilated. Once he finds out who did it he promises that she won't ever have to worry about that again and he goes and kills the guys. And that's how the film plays out over and over again. Small subplots of characters who don't seem to have anything to do with the story until you realize they're some bad guy who needs to be punished.
Not to say that's a bad way of telling a story or making a movie, but it all feels so disjointed and odd most of the time and ultimately took away from my overall experience. The only real single thread that links them or any of the subplots is the character of John Eastland/The Exterminator. I think it would be much different and would have had made a much better film with a better flow if there was maybe a single bad guy or kingpin who controls the city and it's crime and that's who The Exterminator ends up having to take down at the end.
The Exterminator has it's moments though, like one of the single most awesome openings I've ever seen on in a film. The very first shot is of a huge explosion where a guy is literally flying through the air after an explosion and you're immediately thrown into a Vietnam War sequence with John Eastland, his good buddy and fellow soldier Michael Jefferson (the great Steve James) and some other soldiers where they're captured and tortured for information before Jefferson seizes an opportunity and he and Eastland kill every one of there captors in an awesome gun battle. It's during this first sequence where we're also subjected to a pretty gruesome and excellently executed beheading, but that's probably the first and only real standout scene for me where most of the violence feels more toned down and doesn't really reach the level of that one scene.
Robert Ginty is great as the mainly subdued Eastland, who only shows any real emotion when he's out killing. Ginty has always reminded me of a young Tom Skerrit for some reason. I swear, you close your eyes and the two sound exactly alike. But the real standout here is the severely underused Steve James. The guy is just awesome and his part is way too small here. You start to think how awesome it would be for these two former Vietnam Vets to go out and clean up the city and within the first 30 minutes of the film he's gone and you can't help but think how much better of a film it would have been had James been more of a partner in these acts or just had a much bigger part in general.
Overall a pretty decent low budget early 80's vigilante effort, but sadly not the gruesome and overly violent film I was expecting based on everything I've heard and read. Does that make me kinda sick? Perhaps, but not completely unfounded.