To celebrate the great Avco Embassy Films of old, here’s a retrospective (i.e. “Stalkback”) of one of my favorites from the film production company’s catalog: The Exterminator.
Cult films, also commonly referred to as cult classics, are films that have acquired a cult following. Cult films are known for their dedicated, passionate fanbase, an elaborate subculture that engage in repeated viewings, quoting dialogue, and audience participation.
Inclusive definitions allow for major studio productions, especially box office bombs, while exclusive definitions focus more on obscure, transgressive films shunned by the mainstream. Other cult films have since become well-respected or reassessed as classics. After failing in the cinema, some cult films have become regular fixtures on cable television or profitable sellers on home video.
Now you know.
Tagline: “The Man they pushed too far!”
Films such as Death Wish, Taxi Driver, Rolling Thunder, and Fighting Back were among the first vigilante based films to emerge from the cynicism caused by both the Watergate Scandal as well as rising crime rates in densely populated cities. However, there was another film of that genre that is perhaps my favorite amongst them. It stood out among the others to the extent of pushing the envelope without coming off as schlock and in turn, it surpassed the aforementioned with the noted exception of Death Wish.
Released in the Fall of 1980, The Exterminator was your above average vigilante B flick starring Robert Ginty as Protagonist antihero John Eastman, a Vietnam veteran who survived the infamous war only to fight a new one: The cesspool of an urban underworld!
After his best friend and fellow veteran Mike becomes paralyzed by a vicious gang called the “Ghetto Ghouls”, Eastman utilizes his combat experience and gear from the war to avenge his friend and take on the criminal underworld.
Director James Glickenhaus pulled no punches when detailing the brutal underworld of New York City and how Eastman dishes out “punishment”. And speaking of the world, there are scenes of graphic content especially from the (recommended) Director’s Cut, in which Eastman dishes out justice that will even make Frank Castle say “Oh, my Damn!”
Gang bangers as rat chow? Check!
Lowering a mob boss into a meat grinder? Check!
Killing a perverted New Jersey Senator with hollow point bullets to the crotch but not before making Bananas Foster out of a child pornographer? Fucking A!!
The films story adds a bit of intrigue when Eastman’s exploits catches the attention of both NYC Police Sergeant Dalton (Christopher George) and the CIA, who believe that the vigilante is part of a political stunt to make the elected officials look pathetic since they are not capable of deterring the crime spree.
Overall the film is an enjoyable tour de force and the set pieces are varied from the jungles of Nam, the Concrete Jungle within the boogie down Bronx and the calm serenity of a concert in Central Park. The latter was mostly remembered for the nighttime concert courtesy of Jazz legend Stan Getz. For an exploitative revenge flick, The Exterminator was a very ambitious effort. Not too shabby for a grade B flick. A classic thriller and one of the very first headliners from Avco’s catalog of films.
What I found interesting is how Glikenhause managed to not only research NYC crime statistics but also provided surrealism to this film; the aforementioned Central Park concert, the local ABC News coverage by real life news anchor Roger Grimsby and especially Times Square. Yes, it was that fucking seedy during the 80’s and now thanks to the Giuliani administration, it’s much safer albeit a tourist attraction.
Final Justice Note: although not as memorable as the quote from The Terminator, it was Ginty’s character that had the first (“If you’re lying,) I’ll be back.” one liner as well as having possibly the first title with “ator” (e.g.; eliminator, annihilator and of course, Terminator).
Sadly, September of this year will mark the 6th anniversary of Ginty’s passing. What’s also unfortunate is that his career did not take off following the success of Exterminator. I partially blame his participation in the horrid sequel: Exterminator 2.
That being said, he’ll always be remembered fondly for his breakout role and one of the best vigilante films that graced the silver screen. Thanks for reading and “I’ll be back”.