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Borderline homoerotic action-packed male bonding particularly when centered exclusively on a Caucasian/African American coupling epitomized Tinseltown's interpretation and endorsement of progressivism in the Eighties. The Exterminator not only jumpstarted an entire decade of vigilante justice-meets-cultural acceptance, it deftly morphed each component into one storyline of carnage, sexual deviation, torture, and friendship. Its controversial near-X rated status is personified in the movie poster that depicts a modern day David resplendent in a threateningly tinted motorcycle helmet and sleeveless leathered military fatigues and armed with a flamethrower that slashes a fiery swath across its ominously darkened backdrop.
Brothers-in-arms John Eastland (Robert Ginty) and Michael Jefferson (Steve James of the first three America Ninja films) are a pair of Army Rangers locked in a tense battle of will and strength against the merciless Viet Cong in what at first glance appears to be a dusty Arizona backyard bathed in the ominous red glow of incendiary munitions. High above the melee, dimly lit helicopters strategically weave through torrents of anti-aircraft artillery. Outmanned and outgunned, the noble American forces are captured and viciously interrogated by a sadistic VC commander. Michael emancipates himself from the restraints and rips into the enemy combatants like the jagged edge of an unforgiving glacier through the vulnerable hull of the Titanic. He gallantly liberates John from his shackles of human bondage and then selflessly affords him the honor of blasting a gargantuan hole straight through the chest of the barbaric communist aggressor. Greater love hath no man than this: That he lay down arms and proffer his fellow man occasion to slaughter his tormentor. Thus the poignant, tender buds of platonic intimacy and moralistic introspection began to bloom.
Fast-forward several years to the golden age of New York City – the stellar epoch when it was far from safe for unaccompanied women, children, and Midwestern tourists to stroll the neon lights of Broadway after sundown. Now back in "The World", John and Michael are employed as truck loaders for a food distributor who is compelled to remunerate requisite protection money to Gino Pontivini (Dick Boccelli), an altogether realistic theatrical version of a New Jersey John Gotti. On a routine work day, the dynamic duo are merrily off-loading boxes from a truck when swiftly upon them came three nefarious affiliates of the notorious Ghetto Ghouls gang who screech to a halt in their crimson crime mobile, thirsty for liquid intoxication. These recidivists in tattered denim aren't about to venture to the local liquor store and shell out $3.44 for a 6-pack of warm Budweiser. No, they want refreshments now, and they want them free. Held at knifepoint by one of the miscreants, John succumbs to a massive PTSD induced First Blood flashback of his infernal Vietnam nightmare and is rendered immobile, an everyman's Han frozen in carbonite. Déjà vu. John's one-time savior, Michael, swoops into action to again save the day in a tempest of box hurling, martial arts majesty.
Lamentably, his victory is short-lived. On the ‘morrow Michael affectionately kisses his doting wife and children adieu and intrepidly goes forth from the humble tenement, navigating his way through piles of concrete rubble and assorted refuse to fulfill his biological hunter gatherer instinct at the corner bodega. But the ferocious Ghetto Ghouls lay in wait and seize Michael at his most vulnerable – in broad daylight as he maneuvers his way through the torn remnants of a chain link fence. The maniacal horde rains down blow after blow upon his face and neck, and then savagely gouge his back with the handy dandy claws of a garden cultivator that they just happen to have on their persons despite the distinct absence of foliage anywhere in the neighborhood.
Insurmountable odds notwithstanding, Michael heroically evaded and annihilated his formidable commie adversaries back in Nam but returned to the Land of the Free to fall casualty by the unforgiving hands of his own countrymen. Critically and irreparably wounded, Michael lays a bedridden invalid in a sub-standard city hospital. His only mean of communication: eye blinking.
Ride or die best chum John rushes to his bedside. There he vows to avenge mute, immobile, medical apparatus-dependent Michael's grievous assault. Minutes later, John hastens to the local park where he stoically blurts out the tragic news of Michael's victimization to his unsuspecting wife as her children giddily frolic about the blighted, lead based painted playground equipment. John is no dawdler; no way is he prepared to wait a full 20 minutes longer in order to accommodate Michael's bereaved spouse occasion for an hysterical emotional meltdown in the privacy of her own abode. Revenge before etiquette. Clearly extensive military training endowed John with an unparalleled aptitude for prioritization.
Thrust into full-on ass-kicking mode, John brandishes his trusty flamethrower and Army issued M16 assault rifle and heads out into the mean streets ready to give the cretinous bastards the "what for" and "why".
He methodically hunts down and strong-arms the holy hell out of one of the Ghoul's less-menacing compadres from whom he ascertains the whereabouts of their now not-so-secret urban lair. Silently he scales the rickety, graffitied staircase of a deteriorated urban housing development. Stealthily he creeps down the grubby hallway and then unceremoniously busts into the Ghoul's funky drug den where a buxom bare-breasted twosome in bellbottoms groove out to "Disco Inferno". John's rage detonates into a frenzied hail of screaming gunfire. He wastes the first Ghoul forthwith and nonchalantly propels the half-naked hoes out of the apartment by their feathered hair. Subsequently, John subdues, binds, gags, and then assassinates the rest of the crew. One by one.
This is but the tip of the vigilante iceberg for John. His appetite wet with the fresh blood of his bro's assailants, he now finds himself on an all-out deadly crime-fighting crusade to restore law and order. He dons no red beret, nor slogan emblazoned t-shirt. He's not out to "equalize". There is no ritzy Jaguar, no dapper Italian wool topcoat and supple leather driving gloves. The only calling card John accords is a hemoglobin saturated trail of butchery in his righteous wake.
As his crime-elimination spree unfolds, John next targets Mafioso Gino Pontivini whom he kidnaps syringe-in-the-neck-Jigsaw style from the men's toilet of Old Homestead, the historic NYC steakhouse and reputed mobster meeting place. Author's note: I've dined at Old Homestead on many occasions and, while I cannot attest to the voracity of purported claims of underworld goings-on, I emphatically affirm that the cuisine is unquestionably delectable.
John spirits away Pontivini to a deserted, nondescript factory where he suspends the Sicilian wise guy above an industrial meat grinder and solicits the whereabouts of and keys to the Don's residence and personal safe. The privatized American healthcare system isn't cheap, and neither are Michael's hospital bills. It's imperative that John round up some serious coin to defray the exorbitant costs. Out at Il Duce Pontivini's sprawling Jersey domicile, John encounters a ferocious guard dog that he violently dispatches with an electric carving knife, mercifully off-screen. Now he's ultra pissed off at Pontivini's intent to hoodwink him into death-by-Doberman. John returns to the still-dangling kingpin, callously flicks the "on" switch, and momentarily pauses to observe his caterwauling prey slowly descend into the heinous grinder, the gruesome remnants of sanguineous Play-Doh tendrils ooze out of its metallic shaft.
A homicidal Forrest Gump, John seeks not opportunity; it gravitates to him. By chance he encounters an attractive young prostitute whose minimal attire masks her scarred breasts and torso, the result of a torturous pedophile pimp and his New Jersey Senator client who gleefully disfigured her with a soldering iron. John constrains the pedo flesh-peddler to a feculent fluid-macerated mattress, bathes him in kerosene, and bottle rocket barbeques the abhorrent bottom feeder. The greasy lecherous bureaucrat client with a penchant for boys is summarily eliminated with a smoldering slug discharged into the penis and out of the rectum. His lone, traumatized teen sex servant is loosed from captivity.
The mind-boggling savagery garners John the unwanted attention of the CIA who becomes embroiled in the drama out of fear that his actions are a politically motivated threat to the incumbent President's reelection campaign. Likewise, even the overburdened NYPD homicide division starts to take notice of John's recreational pursuits. When not chained to his desk DIY-grilling hotdogs from a rudimentary suspension apparatus consisting of two metal forks and a discarded electrical cord, detective and culinary innovator James Dalton (Christopher George) devotes innumerable hours pounding the pavement in search of The Exterminator. A hardboiled lawman who plays by his own rules, Dalton entraps a sex worker witness who he puts the screws to for information at his own makeshift Black Site. He also is a hopeless romantic who woos Michael's primary care physician and high-class dame Dr. Megan Stewart (Samantha Eggar) via moonlit promenades amidst rock-tagged Central Park, an al fresco rendezvous at a bourgeois jazz showcase, and a smidge of hanky panky in a vacant hospital bed mere steps from the near-vegetative, long-suffering Michael.
John manages to juggle a regular day job and late nights depopulating NYC's criminal element, yet still finds time to frequent the bedside of his infirmed BFF. As his pal's condition rapidly deteriorates, John casts aside his feelings, Michael's wife's spousal consent, and state and federal euthanasia laws. Resolute to do whatever it takes to end Michael's misery, he prompts Michael to blink twice if he wants the suffering to cease. Taking into account that the average human eye flutter is approximately 15 to 20 times per minute, Michael's initial rapid eye movements might have caused a lesser man to twice consider his next course of action. But John is not one to waste time on technicalities. He concludes that Michael affirmed his end-of-life decision and Kevorkian's him from the ventilator. Never one to do anything by halves, John cuts the cord to ensure that no tenderhearted, well meaning medical professional attempts to second-guess his friend's presumed final request and plug him back in. Though clearly adept in his capacity as Grim Reaper Extraordinaire, John, sadly, is not so proficient in the role of grief counselor. He scampers to the family's dwelling in the dead (no pun intended) of night to spring upon his emotionally fractured spouse the announcement of Michael's "passing". The youthful soldering-ironed streetwalker isn't the only one who winds up marred for life. Michael's kids probably still are engaged in intensive thrice weekly psychiatric sessions 39 years on.
As expeditiously as John's grisly whirlwind of renegade due process commenced, its impassioned concluding act is a fast and furious sucker punch of spellbinding grandiosity. Detective Dalton pegs John as the serial killing crusader and arranges a clandestine tete-a-tete with the avenging angel aboard a decommissioned cargo ship at a desolate navy yard. Unbeknownst to the two rogue law enforcers, the omniscient US government eschews privacy regulations and judicial warrants and surreptitiously intercepts their phone call via illicit wiretap. Under cover of darkness, John and Dalton square off and partake of a brief chinwag with regard to the confounding uptick in NYC's felon mortality rate. Nestled atop an indiscernible scaffold a solitary phantom Fed sniper trains his scope on the incognizant dyad. Suddenly, two resounding shots pierce the quietude, felling the unsuspecting Dalton and John. The former crumbles onto the rusted deck, desperately clutching his gaping sucking chest wound from which he ultimately succumbs. The latter, conspicuously stunned and gravely impaired, haphazardly careens headlong from the forsaken vessel into the fetid murky tributary and doubtless obscurity.
The lionhearted Lazarus resurrected, John majestically arises from the atramentous depths of aquatic perdition. His impenetrable flack vest glistens in the incandescent haze of dawn's early light. Will the indomitable paladin and allegiant bosom buddy resume his idealistic moral quest, or will he sedately melt into languid desuetude?
The Exterminator may want for the ostentatious aesthetic of Rambo 3 as Sly tempestuously obliterates Soviet Mi-24 Hind-D choppers with a T-62 tank or the cerebral discourse of Lethal Weapon's erudite defenders Riggs and Murtaugh. Nevertheless, its bounteous employment of stirring combat flashbacks, industrial meat processor, homemade comfort food convector, incineration, and disco fever possesses an indisputable cinematic magnetism.
A grotesquely violent vanguard to the enduring reciprocity exhibited within Midler and Hershey's Beaches, The Exterminator is an esoteric study of devotional intimacies and Socratic individual transcendental purification. John and Michael's inexorable link is a testament to the indomitable human spirit's immunity from the cruel hand of fate, war, and this mortal coil. It is a celluloid representation of honor, duty, and fidelity to one another – an ontological foray deeply ensconced within the intricacies of philosophical ethics and the internal evolutionary enlightenment of the soul. This visionary masterpiece is a modernized Aesop's Fables and a principled compass to navigate the yearning masses through the existential wilderness of axiomatic uncertainty.
sorry folks but this movie belongs in the toilet
Solid revenge exploitation. It's really rather gruesome. A lot more than I expected from the genre.
So whitexploitation IS a thing. It starts out as a quite a ridiculous and clumsy vigilante b-movie in the standard bad taste and frankly doesn't really improve until the final phase of the film. The ending is good but doesn't save the circus.
A fairly sloppy film that doesn't really hang together well, but packed with so many fun and entertaining moments that I'm really inclined to give it a pass for not really making a whole lot of sense. When the hero of the film kidnaps a mob boss and drops him into an industrial meat grinder, I don't have a serious concern if I'm not too sure why it happened. My one complaint is that Robert Ginty is a serious nothing as a screen presence. I wish Steve James had been the star and Ginty had spent the whole film in a hospital bed.
brutal,violent, nasty, unrelenting, nihilistic, but uncompromising. a little slow and lots of nonsense, but if you want cold, hard revenge, this is ok
This wasn't a bad movie a la "Death Wish" only there was almost no build-up to the good scenes and some scenes seemed suddenly cut which really hurt the film's progress and intensity. But revenge movies are always good and this is no exception.
Death Wish with a flamethrower.Campy B revenge flick with major attitude.
Low-rent, disjointed Death Wish rip-off.
Gritty film from my favorite year 1980! Great decapitation scene at the beginning, and another great scene involves putting a mobster in a meat grinder! If you like exploitation films/revenge films, then you can't go wrong with THE EXTERMINATOR!