The Exterminator (1980)

Director: James Glickenhaus

More returned Vietnam vet action, albeit of a markedly different stripe to Rolling Thunder; this film has apparently no aspirations at all to the more thoughtful aspects of that film… indeed, by comparison, it almost makes that other “returned Vietnam vet” classic of 1980, Cannibal Apocalypse, look like a work of high moral seriousness. Ebert summed it up back in the day as “a small, unclean exercise in shame”, which characterisation is difficult to disagree with. There’s always a fine line in films like this between merely depicting nihilism and actually being empty, and The Exterminator lands in the void more often than not… beginning with an infamous Vietnam flashback, we then move to the modern day, where John Eastland (Robert Ginty) has actually adjusted well enough to postwar life that he holds down a job with the man who saved his life in Vietnam; then the latter is brutally attacked and paralysed by a local gang, and Eastland goes into revenge mode. And, having obtained revenge, he then expands his range of vigilantism, apparently just because he can. Basically, it’s the exploitation film I always suspected Taxi Driver was pretending not to be, but that honesty is about all The Exterminator has going for it… story is thin, plot direction is thin, characterisation is thinnest of all (the various crooks are Expendable Meat of a sometimes overly literal kind)… I suppose some folks might get fooled into thinking there’s something profound about its depiction of the authorities as incompetent (if not insane) in dealing with the scum of the earth, but I’m not buying it; it’s obviously very right-wing, as this sort of thing probably must be, but it hardly constitutes a serious political statement. And, as I’ve said before, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a film having no particular higher ambition than being a B-film… it’s just that the B-films of this kind that I do like usually have something going for them that this one doesn’t. Incidentally, I was interested to learn director Glickenhaus left filmmaking in the 90s to take over his dad’s investment firm. Don’t suppose anyone who saw this back then ever expected that move…

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