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September 3, 2011

Movie Review: The Exterminator (1980, Blu-ray)

I had a weird fascination with James Glickenhaus' The Exterminator when I was a youngster. I'd put together these scenarios with G.I Joes and Star Wars figures and re-enact scenes from the movie. It was almost like a really shitty episode of Robot Chicken. The Exterminator was vigilante bliss for me. Sure, it didn't have the budget or star-power of Dirty Harry or Death Wish but it capitalized on an area key to which the vigilante film subgenre is measured - embodying a merciless attitude that's tough to matched. Synapse Films' DVD/Blu-ray combo pack of The Exterminator proves to be one mean sumbitch!

Buy The Exterminator (Blu-ray and DVD Combo)

John Eastland (Robert Ginty - Programmed to Kill, Exterminator II) is a hard-working Vietnam vet who works at a meat packing warehouse with his best pal, Michael ( Steve James - American Ninja). Eastland isn't the most imposing figure; he's an everyman and it shows early in the film when he's rescued twice by his muscular Kung-Fu fightin' buddy. Kung Fu doesn't always work against groups of thugs like the Ghetto Ghouls. A walk in the park and confrontation with the Ghouls puts Michael in a hospital bed, fighting for his life. What's a friend to do?

Things don't turn out well for the Ghetto Ghouls or any other scumbag roaming the sleazy New York underbelly once Eastland gets a hold of them. The Exterminator is very violent and at times downright nasty. Amazingly, the implied scenes of violence that show the least grue (in particular the "Chickenhawk" scenes) tend to be the most effective at getting under your skin. One of the gory action sequences excised from the theatrical and various video versions is an incredibly realistic decapitation effect created by FX guru Stan Winston. Even 30 plus years later it runs circles around some of the gore we see in current films. This scene was initially in the Vietnam prologue and to see it in all its glory (on Blu-ray no less) is damn cool.

Synapse Films has also provided some extra features for the fans in the form of a theatrical trailer, television spots and a very entertaining audio commentary by writer/director James Glickenhaus. Moderated by genre writer Chris Poggiali, this particular commentary not only goes deep into the production of the film, it also goes into some interesting events that took place on other films at the time. The helicopter used in the Vietnam prologue was the same helicopter that crashed landed on top of Vic Morrow during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie.

The issue of the MPAA’s censorship on The Exterminator is also brought up on the commentary. During Eastman’s visit to the Chickenhawks lair, there’s some digital fogging used on what the MPAA thought was a photo too explicit for viewers. Just to show the stupidity of the censors in a scene following there’s a shot of Christopher George having a conversation in front of a wall covered cock photos. This commentary really warrants a listen and might be one that you'd re-visit just for the amount of interesting anecdotes.

This new remastered version of The Exterminator is pretty much a revelation as compared to previous incarnations. I didn’t see any digital noise reduction or issues with print damage and color. It’s very audibly pleasing too. That you’ll notice very early during the “explosive” opening.

The Exterminator really looks better than ever here thanks to Synapse’s hard work. This release is an essential purchase for any person who admires the wonderful excess of 80’s exploitation.
                              (Screencaps courtesy of

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