Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Film Review: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980, James Glickenhaus)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Robert Ginty (COMING HOME, HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN), Samantha Eggar (WELCOME TO BLOOD CITY, THE BROOD), Christopher George (PIECES, ENTER THE NINJA), Steve James (VIGILANTE, THE DELTA FORCE, I'M GONNA GET YOU SUCKA), Irwin Keyes (DEATH WISH 4, David Lynch's ON THE AIR, FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE WARRIORS, the voice of 'Bruno the Bigfoot' in SAM AND MAX HIT THE ROAD), David Lipman (FRANKENHOOKER, WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S II), and Stan Getz as himself. Special makeup effects by Stan Winston.
Tag-line: "A one man army. A new kind of soldier in a new kind of war."
Best one-liner: "If you're lying, I'll be back."

So I saw Cannon Films' EXTERMINATOR 2 before I saw the first one, and I gotta say, while I enjoyed 2 quite a bit on a certain level, 1 is the far better film. THE EXTERMINATOR is sort of like a ROLLING THUNDER/TAXI DRIVER mashup as directed by an adolescent boy in 1980. EXTERMINATOR 2 is a DEATH WISH II/BREAKIN' mashup directed by an eight-year-old in 1984. That's probably the most diplomatic way to put it. Additionally, after seeing Robert Ginty's (R.I.P.) mumbly, unfocused performance as the Exterminator in Part 2, I was prepared to write him off as some bland no-talent, but after seeing him in Part 1, he's actually, at times, a pretty solid actor. I think this marks the first time EVER that the influence of Golan/Globus has dulled someone down (instead of making them more flamboyant).

Anyway, let me tell you about the fil– FOOOOOOOOOOSH!!

This movie starts right out with an explosion, and this a full five years before RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II. And it's not just an explosion– it's a human body spiraling through the air in agony as it blows away from an explosion. Damn! This movie is gonna be brutal! It's a 'Nam flashback, and, naturally, we segue to a torture scene– pre-FIRST BLOOD and post-ROLLING THUNDER. Robert Ginty and legendary martial arts actor Steve James have been captured by the Viet Cong, and of their comrades is gruesomely beheaded via a Stan Winston special effect.

Ginty holds fast.

They're about to do Ginty when James breaks loose and, together with Ginty, take out all the VC.

Amidst the carnage, some random dudes are running around on fire– this series has standards to maintain.

We then cut to NYC, 1980.

A bigger war zone than Vietnam? Possibly, according to this movie. James and Ginty now work for some kind of grocery warehouse, packing meats and produce into trucks.

There are some shady gangster-types who hang around, which gives it a kind of 'THIEVES' HIGHWAY/ evil fruit trucker biz' feel. A street gang called the "Ghetto Gouls" busts in and fights James and Ginty. Whenever gangs attack in this movie, you get a lot of 'victim POV,' where the gang member looks directly into and taunts the camera.

This is a good thing. James and Ginty mop the floor with the Ghetto Ghouls (they get their blood-pumping from 'Nam flashbacks), and we think that's the last we've seen of them. Well, we think that's the last we've seen of them if we've never seen a vigilante movie before. Anyway, the Ghouls come back and beat Steve James within an inch of his life (and with a gardening claw, no less), paralyzing him. Within one minute of finding out his friend has been paralyzed, Ginty is already torturing a random Ghoul with a flamethrower for information-

and within ten minutes, the original perps have been ejected from a house party (where they're playing 'Burn, Baby, Burn' by the Trammps) and have had their faces EATEN BY RATS. The Exterminator is born, and the movie's in high gear. It's not really done out of revenge, per sé- The Exterminator just seems to be on 'Nam-induced autopilot.

Then we got the totally schweet Christopher George in the role of 'cop investigating the Exterminator, but begrudgingly being won over by his take-charge attitude' role, which had been seen many times before (Robert Ryan in THE WILD BUNCH, Vincent Gardenia in DEATH WISH, etc.) and would be seen many times again (Yaphet Kotto in THE PARK IS MINE!, Ed Lauter in DEATH WISH III, etc., etc.).

They try and build this whole annoying subplot in, though, where George is dating a doctor played by Samantha Eggar (who is really quite talented- she played the wife and mother in Cronenberg's THE BROOD).

"What was 'Nam like?"
"–It was bad. Not as bad as New York City. But it was bad."

She's given absolutely nothing to do in this role, though, and when they're on dates (and they go on a million dates), you yearn for the scenes of the Exterminator carefully loading his weaponry or the bad guys mugging old ladies and high-fiving.

A common scenario.

The film's street cred comes from its possession of a certain attentiveness to quotidian detail:
the shabby denizens of Times Square (including a whacky, face-fondling trans woman who touches the Exterminator in passing),

a stuttering junkie hooker that can hardly form a coherent thought, the mob henchmen who scrutinize a bathroom stall before their boss uses it, the awesome interior design of the Exterminator's apartment,

and the drawn out exchange (in the midst of a TAXI DRIVER hooker-saving subplot) between the Exterminator and a ramshackle hotel lackey involving the cost of sheets for a paid sexual encounter ($5 for clean sheets, and a $5 deposit on the sheets)...


Maybe Enzo G. Castellari worked on this thing as an uncredited asscrack coordinator. Stranger things have happened.

Anyway, probably my two favorite 'vigilante-in-action' scenes are these:

#1. The Exterminator captures a mobster in a restaurant's bathroom (he hides in the trash can with a hypodermic needle).

He chains him up and interrogates him about his home security above a gigantic meat grinder.

"If you're lying, I'll be back," Ginty says (pre-Arnie, I might add). Turns out the mobster was full of shit and only wanted his vicious guard dog to take out Mr. Ginty. The Exterminator survives said attack, which only means one thing:


And I really admire the filmmakers' willingness to go there.

#2. The Exterminator learns of a dungeon where young boys and hookers are tortured with a soldering iron and other such implements by a New Jersey State Senator (played by David Lipman, FRANKENHOOKER's first electrocuted John). This New Jersey State Senator must never show up to work- it doesn't matter if it's midnight on a Saturday night or 12 noon on a weekday, you better believe he's gonna be at his Times Square dungeon, torturing some slave child. Makes you wonder what exactly goes on in the New Jersey State Senate. Not much legislating, I guess. Anyway, the Exterminator decides to prep for this encounter by hollowing out his bullets and pouring mercury into them.

Why he does this exactly is left up to the viewer to imagine. I mean, if he's already shooting people dead with the bullets, is it really important to him that they get mercury poisoning, post-mortem? The intent is different, but it's kind of in the same ballpark as sanitizing the skin with alcohol prior to a lethal injection. Seems a bit pointless. Anyway, the Exterminator busts in and shoots him dead, right in the kidney.

And then, um, I guess he gets mercury poisoned afterward. Take that!

There's also a faction of evil politicians and CIA men who want the Exterminator dead- with no trial or subsequent public embarassment of the government, whose inability to clean up the streets is being highlighted by this angry, mercury poisoning man. Christopher George is pissed off by their holier-than-thou, big shot attitude (which is similar to Robert Davi's FBI douche in DIE HARD) and tells them what's what:

"What do you think?"

It's moments like this that I'm truly glad Christopher George pursued a career in acting. Anyway, I won't spoil how it all goes down, but you have to love that a character commits a heart-wrenching act of euthanasia and then delivers a "You're fly's open!" one-liner within, literally, thirty seconds of each other.

Your fly is open, Christopher George. Zing!

Well, EXTERMINATOR, you've impressed me. I'm not sure why the flamethrower was so essential to the marketing (he threatens one man with it but never once pulls the trigger) and the plot of the sequel (he exclusively uses the flamethrower in part 2). I guess a dude cleaning up the streets of New York with a flamethrower certainly has pull (or at least Golan and Globus thought so). Well, a dude cleaning up the streets of New York with mercury poisoning bullets and a giant meat-grinder has a lot of pull, too, in my opinion.

Obviously not quite in the same league as Paul Schrader's additions to the genre, or even something like Bill Lustig's VIGILANTE, but THE EXTERMINATOR is still a damned solid, furious, n' sleazy revenge flick. Pass the burgers.

-Sean Gill

1 comment:

Jason said...

Hahaha, you got me with the FOOOOOOSH, man.