The Exterminator (1980)

The Exterminator (1980)

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Nice smoke effects. Shame about the helmet.
Nice smoke effects. Shame about the helmet.

Twitter Plot Summary: A man seeks revenge on the gang who attacked his best friend, who fought with him in Vietnam.

Given that The Exterminator opens with an impressively violent sequence set in Vietnam, it’s surprising how little on-screen violence there proves to be in the rest of the film. Oh, you see quite a bit, sure, but other than a brief beheading sequence in this Vietnam section it’s rather tame by comparison to the video nasties of the era, let alone by modern standards. You’ll no doubt be completely thrown when the opening credits begin and a rather gentle theme song kicks in, contrasting starkly with the violence we’ve just witnessed. It’s almost as vast a tonal shift as the opening credits of Commando, although in that case the tonal shift occurred within the theme itself.

However if you give it some thought, the lighthearted theme track should act as an indication that the characters in ‘Nam have moved on from their life of violence and have settled in the big city with the hope of leading a normal life. This will of course only be a temporary thing, because after his best friend is assaulted by a gang of hoodlums, John Eastland (Robert Ginty) sets out on a revenge killing spree that sees him chasing down scum left right and centre.

He also realised far too late that the script possibly wasn't going to win him any awards.
He also realised far too late that the script possibly wasn’t going to win him any awards.

Now, on paper this might sound like a really entertaining film, and it is. In parts. For every brief moment of entertainment there are a dozen more that make little sense. The finale is an anti-climax, a slow burn that doesn’t feel like it’s bringing the story to a satisfactory conclusion. There are other narrative issues littered throughout as well – no explanation is given for how Ginty manages to track down the first gang member, instead we cross-fade to him having already found the guy and has him chained him up, ready to be tortured. This continues throughout the film and leaves the impression that either a lot of scenes in the script weren’t shot for budget reasons, were cut for release for being too violent, or were filmed but inexplicably left out of the edit. Whichever proves to be the case, it does not help the final product and ruins what could have otherwise been a hugely enjoyable revenge romp. That’s despite the very 80s hairstyles worn by everyone in the cast.

At the very least, The Exterminator has its gore effects going for it. Whether it’s people being lopped apart by crazed Vietcong soldiers or being strapped to a bed and then set on fire, there’s a lot of smartly presented violence taking place which will satisfy a good many people and goes a long way towards helping you ignore the leaps of logic throughout.

There’s probably some social commentary in play given that Ginty’s friend is a black man set upon by a gang of vicious white thugs, but as expected it’s not given enough time to be explored properly, and that proves to be the biggest flaw in The Exterminator, yet another case where a few tweaks could have made for a far better film.

Score: 2.5/5

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