The Exterminator (1980)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #545


Number of Views: Two
Release Date: September 10, 1980
Sub-Genre: Exploitation/Vigilante
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $2,000,000
Box Office: $35,000,000
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: James Glickenhaus
Producer: Mark Buntzman
Screenplay: James Glickenhaus
Special Effects: Thomas R. Burman, Stan Winston, Vincent Prentice
Cinematography: Robert M. Baldwin
Score: Joe Renzetti
Editing: Corky O’Hara
Studio: Interstar Pictures
Distributors: Amsell Entertainment, Avco Embassy Pictures, Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment
Stars: Robert Ginty, Samantha Eggar, Christopher George, Steve James, Tony DiBenedetto, Dick Boccelli, Patrick Farrelly, Michele Harrell, David Lipman, Cindy Wilks, Dennis Boutsikaris


Suggested Audio Candy

Roger Bowling “Heal It”


I’m sure we’ve all dreamed of taking out the trash at one time or another. I’m not speaking of our bi-weekly food waste but, instead, the human refuse that every community could do without. The dregs of society have a habit of making the streets unsafe at night and it is their actions that ensure so many rules are in place. If we could all just get along, then the world would be a far more friendly place but, alas, this is something of an unrealistic goal to set. With over seven billion people in the world and rising with every teenage pregnancy, it’s only natural that there will be a few bruised apples in the fruit basket. That’s just the way it is I’m afraid.


The police are there to keep things from spiraling out of control and, for the most part, they do their level best. However, worldwide recession hasn’t helped their cause in recent years and lack of funding and diminished personnel numbers have rendered most forces largely toothless. Meanwhile, crime doesn’t stop for lunch deviants and sickos still have to put clothes on their backs. With the economy in such a mess, it’s only natural that such entrepreneurs will look for different ways of coining it in and there are plenty of ways to turn a profit that don’t involve clocking in at a mundane nine to five for precious little remuneration.


If it seems bad now then it may come as a relief to know that the eighties were no different. Indeed, the turn of the decade provided a flourishing stomping ground for those with no intention of towing the line. James Glickenhaus timed it just right when entering the area with his 1980 vigilante flick The Exterminator as crime rates in New York were on the rise and hot topic for filmmakers looking to turn a swift profit. It did just that, to the tune of $35m, almost twenty times its original budget and performed well enough to spawn a sequel four years later. It also provided Robert Ginty with a vehicle with which to stake his claim as a leading man and the native New Yorker promptly gobbled up his fifteen minutes of fame.


Actually, he had already been fairly proficient throughout the seventies, albeit largely in TV series and smaller roles. When The Exterminator dropped in his lap, it’s fair to say that he had earned his shot and wasted no time in making the titular role his own. The fact that it was based in The Big Apple made him the perfect candidate as few knew the mean streets as well as he. For Glickenhaus, it presented a stepping stone and the success of his sophomore feature led to a short but successful career in straight-to-video action flicks before ultimately hanging up his gloves in 1995.


For the uninitiated amongst us, The Exterminator tells the tale of returning Vietnam veteran John Eastland (Ginty) and his struggles to fit back into society after his tour of duty comes to an end. Beginning with a well-staged firefight behind enemy lines, John’s best friend Michael Jefferson (Steve James) saves his buddy’s skin when his troop are captured by Viet Cong and about to be made an example of and the pair escape the war zone by the seat of their pants. As openings go, this one’s something of a doozy and proves that Glickenhaus has the tools at his disposal to stage a rousing action scene. Moreover, it showcases the solidarity between the two men and sets things up exceptionally well.


We then shift to New York, where John and Michael are making ends meet in a local warehouse and still inseparable. Integrating back into society after the atrocities they have witnessed is no easy feat and, despite keeping their heads down, it is evident that they’re both treading water. Unfortunately, an unruly posse of ghetto punks take it upon themselves to pilfer some beer and, when their attempts are foiled by the pair, decide to pay Michael and out-of-hours visit. One meat hook to the spinal cord later and John’s right-hand man is left hospitalized and paralyzed from the waist down. Needless to say, John’s not best pleased about the turn of events and vows to make things right the only way he knows how.

The Exterminator Blu-Ray 9

The thing is, he was never really cut out for warehouse work and far better suited to kicking ass and taking names. In some twisted way, this cruel attack gives him back his identity as he knows precisely what he has to do and procrastinates not in getting started. After making a solemn vow to his bedridden pal, he takes the law into his own hands and tracks down the Ghetto Ghouls for some swift and decisive vengeance with his M-16 assault rifle. While this provides him with a modicum of satisfaction, it also presents the opportunity for reinvention that John has been crying out for and, armed with various automatic weapons, flamethrower and street smarts, The Exterminator is born.


Of course, it isn’t long before the long arm of the law sits up and takes notice. With all manner of delinquents and reprobates being snuffed out unceremoniously, Detective James Dalton (Christopher George) makes it his sole mission to track down the instigator of this rough justice. His opposite number is hardly subtle with his method and seems more than happy for the forces to know of his name. In his mind, he is doing the city a favor and his victims have one thing in common, that being they all deserve their mortal penance. With the stiffs piling up and The Exterminator now setting his sights on bigger fish and corrupt officials, Dalton steps up his search accordingly.


Ginty gives a pretty good account of himself as our no-nonsense anti-hero and, what he lacks in charisma, he makes up for with a steely look of determination. Support is solid with both James and George giving creditable turns and Samantha Eggar most welcome as resourceful doctor and Dalton’s favored fuck buddy Megan although she is perhaps given too little to do. Glickenhaus keeps the pace brisk and supplies more than enough shots of adrenaline in the form of numerous explosive set-pieces, all of which are well choreographed and suitably rousing.


The Exterminator caused its fair share of controversy upon its release and the censors demanded cuts be made as they were concerned that it promoted the wrong kind of image. Over thirty years on, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about, as there is little exploitative about it and Glickenhaus actually shows a surprising amount of restraint. In truth, it was never the best example of its genre and has understandably aged over time but still holds up fairly well as a one-tracked reminder that crime doesn’t pay.


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Reasonably violent fare and The Exterminator’s methods range from shoot first,ask questions later to ask questions while dangling his quarry over a massive industrial meat grinder before making some mince. However, the crowning moment comes in the opening five minutes and involves one hapless P.O.W. having his neck sliced wide open by a spiteful Viet Cong officer. This is no mere flesh wound and, as his throat opens up and gravity takes effect, head separates from torso in sickening slow-motion. There’s a little T&A thrown into the mix for good measure although titillation clearly isn’t the primary aim here.


Read Maniac (1980) Appraisal

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Read The Driller Killer Appraisal

Read The Long Island Serial Killer Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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