When you look back at the cinema of the late ’70s/early ’80s, there are many irrefutable truths that emerge – like, for example, Al Pacino had a real problem with cocaine. Also, wife-swapping was more popular than any spectator sport.
But the most important truth to be gleaned was also the most exploited by the films of the day: If you lived in New York City, there was a 99.93% chance that you would be robbed, raped, and/or murdered. The percentage rose 25% for every minute you spent outside your home.
Yes, vigilante justice films were all the rage – and what was begun in slightly “upscale” fashion with the first Death Wish (which, it could be argued, was a meditation on how societal violence changes the individual) – quickly metamorphosed into a brace of crowd-pleasing, blood-splattered exercises in excess. Films like Meir Zarchi’s Don’t Mess With My Sister, Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45, and Bill Lustig’s Vigilante upped the ante for these types of films (forcing the once staid-by-comparison Death Wish franchise to become more batshit just to keep pace) – but the one that really pushed people’s buttons was James Glickenahaus’ The Exterminator – set for release on BLU RAY on September 13th from the inimitable Don May Jr’s Synapse Films.
The Exterminator is a sinister little film concocted from heaps of genre cliche: an everyman war vet’s (Black Sheep Squadron‘s Robert Ginty – how I’ve longed to type that) war buddy (the immortal Steve “Do you how long I’ve been fighting ninjas” James) is crippled after a hideous beating by a gang of street trash (the GHETTO GHOULS!), triggering some One Man Army-style retribution – but it’s in the execution (haa) that the film distiguishes itself from the rest of the pack.
Rather than allow audiences a glimmer of humanity to attach themselves to, Glickenhaus shields his protagonist behind a mask – so that the film feels less like the tale of a tortured survivor’s quest for personal justice, and more like a faceless ’80s boogeyman body count slasher flick. Dispassionate. Mechanical – and all the more evil for it. Perhaps this is why the MPAAs reaction to the film was so, well…reactionary? Perhaps this is why critics mercilessly attacked the film?
One critic said of the The Exterminator: “this is a sick example of the almost unbelievable descent into gruesome savagery in American movies.”
And the thing of it is…it’s not really that violent. It’s a testament to the prowess of Glickenhaus – and his canny treatment of the material – that the film feel more more vicious than it really is. More than many of the similarly-themed urban decay movies, New York City is truly a character in this film – and that character is a diseased, murderous whore. The Exterminator has nothing good to say about individuals or the human condition – it is simply – like its titular character – a brutally efficient killing machine.
Synapse promises that their release of the Director’s Cut of The Exterminator will look better than ever before thanks to a digital remaster from original vault elements, and a 2K digital transfer. James Glickenhaus’ supplies a commentary track, and the film’s trailers and television spots will be presented in HD.
Visit Synapse Films.