This Arrow Video Blu-ray is £16 on amazon.
Arrow certainly know which buttons to press with their new releases. This is one of those films that developed quite hefty word of mouth when I was a youngster, and which I'd never got around to seeing. This is, therefore, a welcome release in that it scratches a childhood itch. What's more impressive is the huge array of horror and cult Blu-rays being released. I guess cult is the new mainstream - that a film like this is available on Blu-ray while Indiana Jones and most of the Bond films are not says a lot about the kinds of people who buy Blu-ray players, I guess.
In Vietnam, John has his life saved by his buddy Michael. Both men end up as dockworkers in New York after the war. When Michael is paralysed after being mugged, John snaps. Taking to the streets armed with a machine gun, he becomes known as 'the exterminator', going after criminals. The police try to catch him, while the CIA have darker plans...
This is a dumb action movie. Partly inspired by the thuggish urban vigilantism of the Death Wish films, and partly by the first wave of pompous 'Vietnam vet' films like The Deerhunter, it's exploitation trash all the way. And, in classic exploitation fashion, it promises rather more than it actually delivers.
The film's biggest problem is probably its leading man. A film like this really needs a steely, granite-faced macho-man up front if it's going to work. A Bronson, or a Norris. Unfortunately, what it gets is Robert Ginty, who looks kind of puny, and plays most of his scenes in a somewhat whimsical manner. The badass lines come across as faintly embarrassed, and he seems to think he's acting in a comedy. Whether this was intentional is hard to say, but I suspect not.
Some of the supporting roles are rather better cast. The cop on the case, Dalton, is played by Christopher George. I know of George from his visibly bored appearances in a couple of entertaining Italian horror movies, and fully expected him to ruin this film as he tried to ruin those. But he's actually pretty good - likeable, even. He's oddly dressed - he wears a blue anorak and a big chunky white sweater, and is at one point seen lounging around in a hospital corridor in a vest, with his fly undone. His greatest moment comes when he is seen cooking a hotdog in his office using two forks he's connected to a table lamp. That is top quality random character building.
Apart from the Vietnam scene that begins the film, which is well directed, tightly edited and has one great gore effect, the film is rather shoddily made otherwise. There are some fantastic aerial shots of New York, and clearly it had a bit of money behind it. But the direction isn't terribly dynamic - the fight scenes are poorly choreographed, and no one looks remotely convinced by any of the violence. The editing is all over the place - it kind of looks like the film has been cut, because so many shots seem to end early, especially in the violent scenes. There also seem to be whole sequences of exposition missed out. It's apparently the uncut 'director's cut', so perhaps it was made to look this way, but when you start to notice bad editing, you know you're in trouble.
Although the fights aren't very convincing, it does have some gratifyingly nasty stuff in it. People are eaten by rats and put through meat grinders. None of this is shown in any detail - the budget would almost certainly not have stretched to anything that gruesome - but it's good that John doesn't just shoot people. The nastiest bit is a scene where a prostitute gets tortured, which takes place in a hideous brothel for men who like young boys, and unusually grim location for a film like this to visit. Weirdly, among all the pictures on the walls of well-hung naked guys, one is blurred out on this release - I wonder what it showed.
The pacing of the film is a bit off. The cop is involved with a boring doctor, and their interminable, completely irrelevant romance is used to pad the film. After John's latest atrocity, we'll usually be treated to a few minutes of the cop and the doc having dinner together or taking a romantic stroll or something. Films like this need to be relentless, and this has too many boring patches. It's also very episodic. John really ought to have one main enemy and work up to a final confrontation with that person over the course of the film. Instead he just picks on the next random stranger he meets who does something bad - having taken on a mafia boss and a paedophile ring, he next tussles with some lowly muggers.
I guess it's old-fashioned exploitation, and therefore doesn't quite need to follow the same rules as a normal film. There are enough fun details to make this worth seeing. There's great footage of 42nd Street's porno and grindhouse cinemas. The gang of thugs who have a clubhouse with their name painted on it are pretty hilarious. It's great that John gets one lead about some evil-doers while he's visiting a hooker, seemingly for sex, which rather undermines his claim to the moral high ground. The silly conspiracy theory angle, thrown in randomly to make the ending a bit darker, is a disappointing touch, though.
The film looks damned good considering its age and general cheapness. But that's not to say it looks brilliant. It's hard to tell whether the rather faded colours are part of the original film's design or whether they're due to the transfer. There's a fair bit of detail visible, but compared to the Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray, this is far from perfect. That said, it looks better than I'd have expected it to, and will most likely never look better. The sound is a bit variable. I had trouble making out what was being said in some of the romantic interlude scenes.
There's an intro to the film by the director (now a hedge fund manager), and a 'documentary' which is effectively a long interview with him about the film. There's also a commentary by the producer. These are both pretty good, with both men coming across as likable (it's a shame the director doesn't do the commentary as well).
Finally, cult director Frank Henenlotter talks about how great 42nd Street used to be before it got Disneyfied, which is OK but goes on too long. The extras are in HD, but weirdly they seem to jump a few frames every couple of seconds, making them choppy and awkward to watch. This does not happen on the main film, and might just be my copy, I guess. There's a rather uninteresting booklet and Arrow's usual multiple covers and cheap fold-out poster.
I enjoyed The Exterminator probably a bit more than it deserved, and would recommend this to people who enjoy an undemanding exploitation experience.
Scorching the streets clean... Flamethrowers ready as the alleyways of skid row are set ablaze with the brutal vengeance of one man... The Exterminator! John Eastland has been to Nam and he s seen things... Things you wouldn t believe. Surviving torture and witnessing the brutal deaths of his friends, John returns home to a tough neighbourhood in New York and his loving family. But when some local thugs take a crippling dislike to his best friend Mike, leaving him paralysed, something snaps in John. Did he fight the Vietcong for this? Taking the law into his own hands, Eastland sets out to clean the streets of every low life, good for nothing gang banger, mobster and ghetto ghoul across the city in director James Glickenhaus (McBain) brutally violent vigilante classic.