Thursday, September 1, 2011
Back in the Summer of '81, I caught director James Glickenhaus' vigilante revenge actioner, THE EXTERMINATOR (1980) on a drive-in double bill with John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and I hadn't seen it again until popping the new Blu-ray edition from Synapse Films into my player a few nights ago. I remembered liking the movie as a High School sophomore, and I was curious how it held up.
During the Vietnam War, American soldier Michael Jefferson (the late, great Steve James, AMERICAN NINJA) saves his buddy John Eastland (Robert Ginty, PROGRAMMED TO KILL, HAWAIIAN HEAT) is from execution by V.C. troops. A few years later, the two men are working side-by-side in a food distribution warehouse in New York City, when Jefferson is attacked by a vicious street gang and left a paraplegic. Feeling a debt to his war buddy, Eastland sets out to get revenge on the gang responsible, and then carries on, "exterminating" every criminal he can track down. Tagged "The Exterminator" by the press, the vigilante is hunted by a dogged police detective (Christopher George, GRIZZLY, THE RAT PATROL), as he cuts a bloody swath through the city's drug dealers, sexual predators and gangsters.
Glickenhaus - who also directed the 42nd Street favorites THE SOLDIER (still M.I.A. on DVD), SHAKEDOWN, and Jackie Chan's THE PROTECTOR - paints a vividly grimy picture of late-Seventies Manhattan, and while modern audiences may find it a little sluggish between action set-pieces, THE EXTERMINATOR is a legitimate grindhouse gem, with some genuinely disturbing acts of violence and effectively staged action sequences.
Top-billed Christopher George manages to create an appealingly offbeat character despite his part being seriously underwritten, while the character portrayed by second-billed Samantha Eggar (THE BROOD) is utterly superfluous to the plot, and only exists to give George's character someone to flirt with. The charismatic Steve James is criminally underused, and ends up spending most of the film wrapped in bandages and unable to move or speak. As for the PAPER CHASE's Ginty, well, he's puffy-faced, clumsy and inexpressive, and I never quite understood how he became a B-action star... but his role in THE EXTERMINATOR led to quite a string of similar roles in both domestic and foreign exploitation fare.
Previously released on DVD by Anchor Bay, the exploitation experts at Synapse bring THE EXTERMINATOR to Blu-ray and DVD with an unrated, gorier "director's cut" that sports a remarkably clean and visually stable 1.78:1 widescreen HD transfer. Print damage and wear are virtually non-existent and colors and contrast are excellent. Detail is great - almost too realistic, considering the sordid, sleazy settings showcased in the film. Audio on the Blu-ray disc is offered in both DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo and mono options, while the standard DVD presents the same mixes in Dolby Digital. Bonus features include an informative and entertaining commentary by Glickenhaus, the original theatrical trailer, and a selection of TV spots.
THE EXTERMINATOR is not really a "good" movie, by almost any definition. But it is entertaining, offering a handful of visceral moments and shocking scenes, as well as a palpable atmosphere of late-70's urban sleaze that makes it both memorable and enjoyable as a gritty, unapologetic exploitation classic. For aficionados of the vigilante genre, it's definitely worth checking out. As for those who already consider themselves fans of the movie, Synapse's presentation is exceptional, and definitely worth the HD upgrade.
BUY: Exterminator (Blu-ray and DVD Combo)