The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Monday, November 21, 2011
The Exterminator (1980)
It was in the comments section of the Death Wish V review that our friend Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic threw down the gauntlet, saying I was too squeamish, and that's why I didn't care for that one. I figured it was time to put up or shut up. And what better flick than The Exterminator, which is one of those ones that a guy like me with a site like mine should've covered by now. It's kind of a glaring omission in our review library. So I'm killing two birds with one stone, testing my squeamishness mettle, and knocking out a review that the DTVC has needed for years. Also, our friend Simon at Explosive Action covered this one too.
The Exterminator stars Robert Ginty (Moore Beef Stew) as a Vietnam vet working as a meat packer on the docks of New York with his old Vietnam vet buddy Steve James. James saved his life while they were over there, and when James has his neck broken by a gang of thugs, Ginty feels he owes it to him to get revenge. But it triggers something in him, something dark he thought he'd left behind in 'Nam, and now he can't stop, knocking off criminals in New York in some pretty grisly ways. Now the cops, and even the CIA want him dead. Will Ginty make it out alive?
This is like an extreme Grindhouse version of Death Wish. In a sense, this is what Death Wish V was trying to be. Kenner mentioned the scene that would get me is the one where the prostitute is disfigured with a soldering iron, and he was right on some levels. If the bacon grease scene in Samurai Cop sufficiently turned me off, that scene would have to turn me off too, and it did; I'm wondering though if something like this actually happened in New York around that time. Where would Glickenhaus come up with something so depraved otherwise? And if that's the case, maybe I can forgive it. The thing is, there were some other weird things that they didn't show but hinted about that were a bit much too, like the guy whose face is eaten off by rats, but he's still alive. On the other hand, there are some really funny kills, like the mob boss that's run through the meat grinder. Yes, that's macabre too, but in such an over the top way it can't be anything but funny. I loved Ginty too, and Christopher George as the detective pursuing him was equally excellent; plus there's some really great action, so it has a lot to latch onto for real B-movie action fans, which is probably why it's such a cult classic.
When I think of a scene that's similar to the prostitute scene here, but worked, the Wings Hauser movie Vice Squad comes to mind. In that one, Hauser as the evil pimp kills Nina Blackwood in a very brutal way, and it's hard to watch too, but it's not like this was. Had they done something more like Vice Squad, kept that element of the injured prostitute, and kept Ginty's reason to kill the perpetrators, I think I would've been better with it. I get where this movie was going though-- how can you not when in the first fifteen minutes you see a guy peeling down a layer of skin on his neck after James cuts it open by choking him with some wire-- but there's a line between gratuitous and gory, and then just plain mean-spirited, and I think with the prostitute being disfigured with a soldering iron, Glickenhaus went across that line.
Ginty Moore Beef Stew was awesome. He has this weird nonchalance, that almost borders on despondency, then he throws in some wry humor, and then he gets pissed, and when he gets pissed, it's chilling, which I think is the final piece to this puzzle to make him the perfect hero of this twisted movie. Unlike Paul Kersey in Death Wish, The Exterminator is slightly off, still coping with trauma from Vietnam; plus he was a highly trained soldier, not the way Kersey was a medic. It's a different dynamic from Death Wish, and Ginty does a perfect job carrying that off.
DTVC favorite Steve James has a small role in this as Ginty's friend, though he's also credited as the fight coordinator, so he had a bigger role behind the scenes. As a huge Steve James fan, it was disappointing to not see him in this more, especially since he's so great at the beginning. I don't know what kind of part he'd have had if it had been bigger, because the whole idea behind The Exterminator is he's a one-man army, I just love Steve James, and feel like the more Steve James the better. If that's wrong, I don't want to be right.
I had to finish here with Christopher George cooking a hot dog by running electricity through two forks stuck on either end of it. Anyone who grew up with Mr. Wizard's World must remember that experiment. I wonder if this movie was where they got the idea for that one. I looked it up on imdb, and the show only ran one season. Wow, it seems like it was on forever-- that's probably why I remember the hot dog cooking one so well, because it was always being repeated!
The Exterminator is actually available on Blu-Ray, which is a testament to the film's large cult following. I gotta say, though it did cross the line a couple times, the fact that it was so brutal and so unapologetic, it kind of worked for me. At the very least, I can say it always kept me on edge. On the other hand, I prefer my action to be more fun, and disfiguring prostitutes with soldering irons doesn't quite work the way a Bridge of Dragons or Showdown in Little Tokyo does in that sense. Know your audience before you consider screening this with friends for a movie night, or know yourself before considering spending money for it. Kenner's right, it's not for the squeamish-- though I think I acquitted myself better than I expected.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080707/