In the vein of Death Wish comes this brutal tale of a Vietnam veteran deciding enough is enough when it comes to the seedy underground of New York City and becomes a one-man army.
After being rescued while serving as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, John Eastland has been living in New York City with the man who rescued him, best friend Michael Jefferson. Michael and John work the night shift stocking up for a local grocery market. When John stops a local gang from stealing cases of beer, his life is threatened again only to have Michael rescue him. However, the gang, feeling embarrassed and vowing revenge, ambush Michael and send him to the hospital. John, knowing who is responsible, decides to go after the gang and avenge his friend.
However, just when John exacts his revenge on the gang, he feels it is not enough. He decides to up the ante and go after any degenerate that has done more harm than good to the people of the city. He is soon dubbed “The Exterminator”. The locals see Eastland as a hero but the political bigwigs, notably the mayor who is up for re-election, is not happy with a vigilante running around his city. He sends in Detective James Dalton to stop Eastland, but does Dalton have it in him to stop someone who is actually doing more good to the city than harm?
It must be duly noted that a lot of action films shot or set in New York City in the late 1970’s have a gritty feel to them, regardless of the budget. This film from director James Glickenhaus shows that gritty and seedy side of the city combined with our central character, who is a cross between Robert DeNiro’s Taxi Driver and Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey in Death Wish. This is the story of a Vietnam War vet still somewhat suffering from PTSD due to the events of the film’s opening sequence, who finally has had enough of the violence and seedy underground that plagues the city and feels like no one can do the job, so he goes out there and does it himself.
The late Robert Ginty is perfect as John Eastland because he doesn’t look like a tough macho action hero-type. He looks like an everyman who’s just had enough, especially when his best friend is viciously assaulted by a local gang. One can think of Eastland’s vision of New York City’s underworld as his vision of Vietnam and how he would have dealt with the enemy. The opening sequence, in which Eastland and others are prisoners of war, give him a sense of insecurity and as a result, he holds a lot of pent up anger but still feels he can’t do anything himself. He is at first motivated by revenge when Michael is mortally wounded by the gang. However, once he exacts his revenge, he realizes that the gang is just the beginning and begins his one-man war on the underworld of New York City.
Veteran Christopher George does quite well at playing the detective in charge of stopping Eastland, or as he knows him, The Exterminator, from his vigilantism. However, Dalton has his own issues. Despite a romance with a local nurse, Eastland isn’t the only issue he faces. Dalton feels like the government is somewhat corrupt as it is clear the mayor is more worried about his re-election than caring for the people. Yes, Dalton is a detective and must do as cops are meant to do, protect and serve. However, while he doesn’t approve of Eastland’s methods, he somewhat respects Eastland for doing the impossible. However, as Eastland continues his so-called “heroism”, Dalton soon decides he must follow the moral code of the policeman and do what he can to bring Eastland to justice, even if it makes him somewhat uncomfortable.
The Exterminator can be described as Death Wish amped up about ten notches with its brutal style of violence. Robert Ginty is great in the titular role as someone who’s just had enough and does something about the situation at hand, despite not following the laws of the city. Definitely a great 80’s cult action classic.
WFG RATING: A-
An Interstar Pictures production. Director: James Glickenhaus. Producer: Mark Buntzman. Writer: James Glickenhaus. Cinematography: Bob Baldwin. Editing: Corky O’Hara.
Cast: Christopher George, Samantha Eggar, Robert Ginty, Steve James, Tony DiBenedetto, Dick Boccelli, Patrick Farrelly, David Lipman.