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  Exterminator, The If You're Lying He'll Be Back
Year: 1980
Director: James Glickenhaus
Stars: Christopher George, Samantha Eggar, Robert Ginty, Steve James, Tony DiBenedetto, Dick Boccelli, Patrick Farrelly, Michele Harrell, David Lipman, Cindy Wilks, Dennis Boutsikaris, Roger Grimsby, Judy Licht, Stan Getz, George Cheung, Irwin Keyes
Genre: Action, Thriller, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: During the Vietnam War, American soldier John Eastland (Robert Ginty) had a brush with death on numerous occasions, but none more so than when he was captured by the Viet Cong alongside his best friend Michael Jefferson (Steve James). Things were looking bleak for them both, and for their companion even more dire when he had his head cut off by the interrogator as the battle raged around them, but as Eastland stalled for time in the face of a machete-wielding soldier, Jefferson managed to get free and garotte one of their captors, leaving the two of them free to escape. Yet years later, back in New York City, they may have met their match...

For a film with such a violent reputation, The Exterminator doesn't half have a weak FM radio-friendly ballad over its opening credits, all to the accompaniment of a selection of serene helicopter shots of New York at night. Once that's over with, we can see where our heroes have ended up, and they now work at a warehouse earning an honest buck - but they are about to encounter those who secure their money by underhand means, not only the gangsters who take a cut of the warehouse's bosses' profits, but a group of thugs who Eastland and Jefferson have a skirmish with. They see them off, but the thugs are not satisfied with being humiliated.

Every vigilante movie needs one act of atrocity to send its hero into vengeful action, but The Exterminator has a few. The first is when Jefferson is attacked by the thugs and left paralysed, leading to soul searching scenes where his best friend offers him monologues on the subject of what he's going to do about this crime that has infected the streets. It's notable that Eastland is never shown in a romantic situation, because the true love of his life is Jefferson, the buddy who saved his life in Nam (Eastland suffers flashbacks, naturally): not exactly the love that dare not speak its name, but a manly understanding that they would have done anything for each other.

Such as bringing the bad guys to a very special kind of justice, vigilante style. The most famous of these is when Eastland (not Eastwood) chains up a mob boss over an industrial-sized meat grinder, and demands that he tell him how to get into his home, which he does but neglects to mention that he has a guard dog trained to kill there. Unfortunately for the dog, it meets a grisly demise thanks to an electric carving knife (offscreen - no animals were harmed, etc) and Eastland makes good on his promise "If you're lying, I'll be back", whereupon the mob boss is lowered into the grinder and turned into mincemeat.

Oddly Ginty doesn't come across as a Charles Bronson, one man force of brutality type, and even comes across as mild-mannered and unassuming, unexpectedly calm for the most part when he's meting out his punishments. He cannot get away with that for long, and soon a cop is on his trail, Detective Dalton (Christopher George), who of course begins to respect Eastland for doing what the law forbids him to. The Exterminator was a big hit in its day for a low budget movie, and goes to some lengths to depict its villains as the sort of people society could well do without so that we're invited to cheer on the avenger as he wipes out the sickos and murderers. And yet, in spite of its authentically scuzzy tone, it really needed a lot more snap to its assembly to truly get the adrenaline pumping, as too often a lethargy sets in that suggests nobody much enjoyed making this. Even if you are thirsty to see the criminals brutally done in, this is a little too doleful overall. Music by Joe Renzetti.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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