Writer/director James Glickenhaus’ (“The Protector,” “Shakedown”) film is a Vietnam Vet-tinged take on Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish.” But you wouldn’t know it from the somewhat grainy opening credits, which play over a country ballad that suggests you’re going to watch Clint Eastwood hang out with an orangutan and punch some rednecks and maybe even bed Sondra Locke. Hell, the title’s font is the same, happy-go-lucky one as many a mindless comedy, including “Shallow Hal.”
Make no mistake: This is not a happy-go-lucky movie. The included TV spot should clue you in, with the narrator warning: “This is a motion picture of uncompromising honesty and realistic violence, containing scenes of decapitation and bone-grinding that are too overpowering to be shown on television.”
“The Exterminator” begins when packing plant worker Michael (Steve James, “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka”) foils a beer theft by — and saves his buddy John (Robert Ginty, “Coming Home”) from — a gang o’ goons who call themselves the Ghetto Ghouls, per their denim jacket logo and car detailing. Later, said Ghouls track Michael to his stomping grounds and beat him within an inch of his life, leaving him possibly permanently paralyzed.
To take revenge for their act of revenge, John busts in on the “clubhouse” of the tough guys (who aren’t as tough as they think, since they listen to “Disco Inferno” and the leader wears a beret) and guns one down.
John enjoys it so much he decides to clean up the rest of New York City, using the self-coined moniker of “The Exterminator,” with which he signs letters to the media. He starts his trail of slaughter with a “meat mobster” crime boss (who’s all pissed about the comics section of today: “All dey got is cosmic ducks and starships!”) whom John feeds to the grinder; it may turn you vegetarian.
With ‘Nam flashbacks appearing at each sequence of vengeance, John’s next targets include a chicken-hawk pimp and his sick place’s patrons, the remaining Ghetto Ghouls, and anyone who gets in his way, like the law. On his tail is NYPD detective Dalton (Christopher George, “Pieces”), who starts a time-padding affair with a hospital doc (Samantha Eggar, “The Phantom”). The CIA gets involved, too, thinking The Exterminator’s reign of terror may be the work of a foreign government. Ha-ha!
For being the leading man, Ginty has a weak personality — not to mention Gary Sandy’s haircut from “WKRP” — but this is the kind of flick where the proceedings are so grindhouse-grimy, deficiencies in acting can be forgiven as long as it delivers in the baser elements of blood, boobs and bullets. And, boy, does it ever — in splattered spades, especially in Synapse’s unrated cut.
If you miss the heyday of the vigilante subgenre, this disc (a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, for some reason, taking a cue from Disney) is a must-own. Having Glickenhaus’ director’s cut is a bonus unto itself, and the retired filmmaker also is on hand for an informative, if not exactly lively, commentary; it’s a shame neither Ginty nor James is no longer with us to participate. The trailer is here, as are the aforementioned TV ads (“He’s not a ‘Taxi Driver,'” says that narrator).
All that’s missing? 1984’s “Exterminator 2.” Maybe someday. —Rod Lott