The Exterminator Review

Mike Sutton looks at Arrow’s recent Blu Ray release of this once notorious action movie.

Upon its first UK cinema release in 1981, The Exterminator was considered to be unbearably harrowing and unspeakably brutal. Needless to say, times change and what seemed unbearable in 1981 seems rather less so nowadays. However, the intense tone of James Glickenhaus’ film ensures that it remains peculiarly disturbing, staying in your mind long after the closing credits.

It’s basically a vigilante revenge movie but with a few unusual aspects. For a start, it actually begins in Vietnam, rather than simply relying on flashbacks, and this opening contains one of the most memorable of all special effects scenes; a decapitation engineered by Stan Winston. Our hero John Eastland (Robert Ginty) and his friend Michael (Steve James) escape imprisonment by the Vietcong and we next see them back in the USA working in a warehouse. Times are hard but the two still live by a code of ethics which leads them to challenge some punks who try to rip off some beer. They win on this occasion but the punks – part of “The Ghetto Ghouls” gang – later return and their revenge puts Michael into a wheelchair. Unable to cope with the injustice, something clicks in John’s head and he goes off on a violent rampage against not only the Ghetto Ghouls but also on the rapacious local mobsters.

This is all pretty standard stuff and it’s sometimes rough around the edges but it’s generally carried off with a truckload of panache by James Glickenhaus whose particularly gritty style suits the sleazy material. Robert Ginty is memorably iconic as the Eastland the vigilante and he’s matched well with the always entertaining Christopher George as a tough cop. What will leave you open-mouthed however is the sheer unrelenting brutality of the violence which isn’t always graphic but comes across with genuine force. There are multiple shootings of course but the deaths that everyone remembers are the infamous mincing machine sequence and the bit with the rats.

Arrow’s Blu Ray of The Exterminator is generally very impressive. The image is framed at 1.78:1 and looks good with a suitable level of grain and no evidence of the dreaded DNR which has ruined so many of Arrow’s 2011 releases. Compared to my ultra-cheap DVD from ten years ago, this is a revelation in terms of detail and colour, both of which are well up to par. The mono soundtrack is absolutely fine throughout with a good balance between dialogue and ambient effects. This is the full uncut version of the film.

A good selection of extra features is provided. We get a short introduction from James Glickenhaus accompanied by a longer interview in which he goes into the conception and production of the film. Glickenhaus is an eloquent and engaging character who has a lot to say and this made me eager for a special edition of his masterpiece Blue Jean Cop. The interesting audio commentary is provided not by Glickenhaus but by producer Mark Buntzman, accompanied by the reliable Calum Waddell. Finally, Frank Henenlotter turns up for a surprisingly elegiac and reflective piece on how 42nd Street has changed over the last thirty years.

This reviewer was only furnished with a check disc but is reliably informed that the packaging is up to Arrow’s usual standards with a new essay on the film, a poster and a reversible cover.

Mike Sutton

Updated: Dec 30, 2011

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