The Exterminator Blu-ray Review

Written by Steve "Alien Redrum" Pattee

Blu-ray released by Synapse Films


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Written and directed by James Glickenhaus
1980, 102 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray / DVD combo released on September 13th, 2011

Christopher George as Detective James Dalton
Samantha Egger as Dr. Megan Stewart
Robert Ginty as John Eastland
Steve James as Michael Jefferson


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Generally, the mark of a good film a few decades old is how well it holds up. I'm not talking about how well it holds up since you last saw it, either. I'm talking about how much you enjoy it if the first time you see it is decades after it was first made. It's one thing to say “it holds up pretty good” if there's a special place in your heart for a film, but it's quite another statement to say the same about a movie you first watch over a quarter century after its theatrical premiere. Especially a film such as The Exterminator, which is balls deep in the environment of its era.

From the mid '70s to about the mid '80s, New York must have been one hell of a dreadful city to live in, judging by the vigilante and vengeance movies that spawned during that period. Films like Death Wish, Taxi Driver, Vigilante are just a few of the titles to come out in that era (and I'm not even including the plethora of films in the Blaxploitation genre). Hell, things were so bleak that even movies like 1990: The Bronx Warriors showed nothing but future despair for the Big Apple. (To be fair, the West Coast was obviously problematic, too, if Savage Streets and Angel were any indication of life in the City of Angels.) Fortunately for all involved, there was always at least one person attempting to remove the scum from the streets. In the case of The Exterminator, former Vietnam vet John Eastland (Robert Ginty – Coming Home) is our savior and protector.


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After his friend Mike (Steve James – American Ninja, all around badass) is delivered to the intensive care unit courtesy of a gang of thugs, John becomes a reluctant hero and seeks out those who attacked his best pal. He has a pretty good idea who did it considering Mike had saved his ass from the hooligans hours before, so he makes it his mission to make the bastards pay. John manages to capture one of the gang who, being the worst friend ever, spills the beans on where the others live. John barely does more than threaten this cat and he gives him all the info needed to take care of business. Pussy.

So armed with his trusty military issued machine gun (which he totally was not allowed to have because my sister was in the Army and she said they weren't allowed to keep their guns after they discharged), John finds the baddies – including one Irwin Keys! – and delivers some hot lead justice. Now, under normal circumstances, that should be enough. However, since this all happens within the first 20 minutes of this 102 minute movie, our reluctant hero gets the vigilante bug and strolls around town righting wrongs; from the top of the food chain with some mob boss on down to the seedier parts of New York in his dealings with a john who has a taste for raping young male prostitutes and brutally scarring the female ones. Hot on John's trail is Detective James Dalton (Christopher George, who hunts killers in New York when he's not hunting killer bears in Grizzly). Eventually the two meet up in a (literal) explosive ending.

While The Exterminator is a typical story in of both the era and the exploitation genre, it rises above the mediocrity of most with really solid acting. Admittedly, I was at first disappointed with the quickness Steve James was dispatched from importance to the film early on, as I expected him to be the title character. However, as the film progressed, I saw the right decision was made with Robert Ginty in the lead. Don't get me wrong, James was a certifiable hardass in his day and he could have easily manhandled the trash Ginty's character went up against. Yet I would have never been able to buy James as a reluctant hero. He's too cool to have time for weakness. Ginty, however, sold the role. On the surface John's just another vigilante, but there is something to Ginty's performance that makes you believe that his character isn't quite into the role that's been thrust upon him. And, at the same time, you can tell he gets satisfaction from it. John is more of a complex character that you see at first glance, and Ginty is the reason for it. Christopher George, as always, is a blast to watch. He plays Dalton incredibly laid back, but just underneath that easy-going surface is an authority and drive not to be reckoned with. Both George and Ginty take their characters to a level not often found in your typical revenge exploitation flick.


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The Exterminator moves at a more-or-less comfortable pace, but is a bit drawn out in its 102 minutes. Sprinkled throughout the film are parts that either act as unnecessary filler or drawn out montages. Of the latter, there is an overly long sequence of John preparing his weapons for battle. Dalton has a similar scene of his own, but it doesn't seem quite as long. If some of these parts were cut down, it could lose 10 to 15 minutes of its running time and be a much tighter film. On the flipside, the effects in the movie are quite good – most notably the great makeup effects in the beginning Vietnam scenes courtesy of the legendary Stan Winston.

I had never scene The Exterminator before this review. I of course had drooled over the box cover as a kid when I was begging my mother to rent it, but it was one of those films that just slipped through the cracks not to be watched until 31 years after its original release. And you know what? It holds up pretty fucking well.


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Video and Audio:


Synapse presents this Blu-ray in an 1080p high definition 1.78:1 transfer. While the colors don't necessarily pop – in fact they are muted at times – it's an overall very pleasing picture. There is a level of grain left in giving a semblance of what it must have been like to watch it in a theater back in the day. The Exterminator is one of those films that would have greatly suffered if cleaned up to look razor sharp, and Synapse did a damn good job with the presentation here.

For audio, both a DTS-HD MA original 2.0 Stereo track and DTS-HD MA English 2.0 Mono track are offered. Between the two, I prefer the latter, as the dialogue is fuller and it is just a bit better balanced than the former.


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Special Features:


  • Audio Commentary with Director James Glickenhaus
  • Theatrical Trailer and Television Spots

While the disc is surprisingly light on features, considering this is a Synapse release, the commentary with Glickenhaus is just awesome. The man not only remembers a lot about the filming of The Exterminator, but he is not shy when it comes to some of his opinions on subjects such as the actors and what's wrong with films today. Brutally honest, this commentary is a must listen if you enjoyed the film at all and it more than makes up for the lack of a other features I might have wished for.


It should also be mentioned that this release is a Blu-ray / DVD Combo, so those without Blu-ray players can still enjoy this fine release.


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Steve Pattee
US Editor, Admin
He's the puppet master. You don't see him, but he pulls the strings that gets things done. He's the silent partner. He's black ops. If you notice his presence, it's the last thing you'll notice — because now you're dead. He's the shadow you thought you saw in that dark alleyway. You can have a conversation with him, and when you turn around to offer him a cup of coffee, he's already gone.
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