Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: The Exterminator

Synopsis: A Vietnam veteran hunts down the gang that assaulted his best friend and becomes the target of the police, the CIA and the underworld in this bloody and brutal tale of murder and intrigue.

Review: Something that can be found in all the best grindhouse films, is their ability to tap into the most primal of human emotions. The rawness of the film style brings a gritty realism to the proceeding. That is certainly true in the case of the vengeance-fueled fantasy that is "The Exterminator!"

Former vet, John Eastland (played very effectively by Robert Ginty), finds life in New York City is even more savage than the jungles of Vietnam, after the near-fatal assault of his best friend causes him to wage his own personal war on the criminal element of the city. Of course, such actions will not go unnoticed.

Right from the start, writer/director James Glickenhaus lets you know just what you are in for with this film, as it begins with a horrific flashback to Eastland's time in 'Nam and sets the tone of the violent displays that will soon follow it. While the special effects are not what one would call "high quality," the sheer brutality of what is shown (and often what is not shown) adds a degree of realism that most big budget special effects extravaganzas never could hope to achieve. The beheading scene during the wartime flashback (done masterfully by special effect artist Stan Winston), for example, perfectly illustrates what I mean. It's a gripping moment, due to the harshness and savage way it is presented. Most of the violence is presented in this fashion and it gives the film an edge over many of the like-minded ones that were being produced at the time. They also did a very good job of portraying New York City in the late 70's. The feeling of urban decay, filth, and human misery is almost palpable. Quite simply, you might almost feel the need to bathe after watching this film.

As far as the story goes, it's pretty straight-forward. Just your typical revenge style fantasy stuff, which was like a cottage industry back then. There are some bits about the political climate of the time woven into things, as Eastland's actions are not taken well by political figures, who feel his war on crime makes them look inept and weak. But while the politics are in the background, they never really dominate the story. Instead, the focus is kept on Eastland's private war. Most of the performances range from adequate to banal, but then one doesn't watch this kind of cinema expecting Oscar-worthy acting. Robert Ginty was never really a great actor, with this film being his biggest claim to fame, but he truly brought out a great performance here. You can understand and relate to him and why he's doing what he is. I also liked the role of the cop out to stop him (played solidly by Christopher George). However, the romance he strikes up with a nurse (played by Samantha Eggar) doesn't really fit in with the rest of the tone of the film. As a result, it feels tacked on and unnecessary, only serving to take time away from getting more insights into Ginty's character. The ending of the film is, without question, not your typical Hollywood kind and the film only benefits from that.

While many might see "The Exterminator" as just a fairly typical entry into this sub-genre of film, I think some of the smaller bits within it shine through enough that it stands out from most fare of this nature. Within the realm of grindhouse flicks, this one is certainly one of the better ones out there. The rawness and grit of the setting and the downtroddened feeling in the performances, gives the film a legitimacy few others of it's kind ever have. Genre fans would do well to seek it out.

Rating: 2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

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