Synapse // 1980 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 1st, 2011
The man they pushed too far!
Before he became a MST3K punch-line, Robert Ginty (Warrior of the Lost World) was dropping guys into meat grinders.
Fresh off a fairly traumatic experience in Vietnam, John Eastland (Ginty) returns to New York City and attempts to plug back into society. He's leading an okay life working at a meat packing plant and generally minding his own business. But when his best friend is assaulted by a group of criminal punks, Eastland decides to call upon his simmering lethality and embark on some gruesome vigilantism. As The Exterminator, he's captured the public's attention, but the cops aren't super-comfortable with his controversial methods, i.e., murdering.
Forget the Robert Ginty you think you know. The lumbering, mumbling goofball from Warrior of the Lost World. This Robert Ginty is, well, lumbering and mumbling still, but he's far from goofy. In fact, he's the exact opposite of goofy, which is, of course, homicidal.
The film (the unrated director's cut) opens in jarring fashion, with a flashback to a Vietcong prison. John Eastland is tied up and witnesses one of his best friends get decapitated. And we witness it too. In slow motion. It's quite an effect, all done practically, and gory as all get-out. It was apparently a true source of nausea for many viewers of the film's debut and, 1980 release date or not, I can see why: despite the obvious prop usage, this is one of the more disturbing head chops I've ever seen on film.
Gorehounds should take note: the bloodshed dips noticeably from this crescendo. The Exterminator is a violent film, often shockingly so, but the methods of Eastland's exterminations are more implied than explicit. For example, as Eastland expands his crusade, rooting out organized crime, one gangster finds himself dangling over an industrial meat grinder. One thing leads to another and SPOILER! Eastland drops the guy in. Cut to the grinder output where fresh hamburger is squeezed out to the lunatic screams of the victim. Disturbing, yes, but not in your face.
Which I think makes for a more hard-hitting movie. Writer/director James Glickenhaus goes the right way with the violence, opting to pull away from the gratuity and letting the viewer's imagination take over (helped out with a generous amount of off-screen wailing). Eastland goes on to distribute bodacious retribution to a some premium scumbags including a child pornographer (doused with lighter fluid and set on fire), a pedophile (shot in the balls), and a mugger (close-range shotgun blast). Fine, that last guy may not have been as bad as the others, but f -- -- him.
Embedded in the violence is some commentary about the rigors of Vietnam soldier reintegration, post-war trauma, and government's inability to protect its citizenry. Fine. Some of the points have become outdated with the Vietnam War so far removed and the main setting being Time Square, then a cesspool of porn and crime. The meat of the film is still Robert Ginty smiting fools and that hasn't aged at all.
Impressive package from Synapse, which includes the Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film. The high-def conversion is particularly impressive for such an old print; the 1.78:1, 1080p (AVC-encoded) is well-detailed and sports solid clarity. The original stereo mix, restored, is a nice supplement though it's hard to make out what Ginty is saying most of the time. I'll attribute that to the fact the dude just hates enunciation with the fire of a thousand suns. Extras: James Glickenhaus's commentary track, a handful of promo spots, and a DVD copy.
Violent and off-putting, The Exterminator is not your average typical vigilante movie, which is a good thing. Good Blu-ray from Synapse.
Not Guilty. Punk.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD Copy