"In War, You Have To Kill To Stay Alive...On The Streets Of New York, It's Often The Same..."Opening with some pretty spectacular pre-credit Vietnam footage (filmed at Indian Dunes, Calif.), as we’re introduced to fellow soldiers (and friends) John Eastland (Ginty) and Michael Jefferson (Steve James). After they’ve both been taken prisoner Jefferson saves Ginty’s character (which incorporates a pretty terrific Stan Winston beheading) and we then flash forward to contemporary NYC where the two are employed by a food wholesaler.
Robert Ginty (BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP) kicks some major butt of low-life bottom feeders all over a grimy pre- Giuliani NYC in this 1980 urban revenge opus directed by James Glickenhaus. One of the better post DEATH WISH vigilante based films, it’s helped along immensely by excellent performances by the leads (especially Ginty) and makes wonderful use of NYC locations.
During a run-in with some lowlife beer stealin' street gang members Michael again saves John’s life and the thugs later attack Michael is reprisal leaving him paralyzed and on life support. This causes Ginty to break out the ol’ army foot locker and head out for some reprisal, which includes blowing some away with his M-16 and tying others up in basement and leaving them for the rats to munch on.
This gets the attention of a police detective (Christopher George) who begins investigating the killings, while Eastland (Ginty) begins writing to the local news and labeling himself The Exterminator. He also begins taking on the local mobster (Dick Boccelli) via kidnapping & a large meat grinder and then moves on to a scuzz bucket child porn merchant (who numbers among his clients "a state senator from New Jersey" in the form of character actor David Lipman from LAW & ORDER). As Christopher George's detective character delves further into the case, the CIA becomes involved and a rather awkwardly inserted love story is introduced into the proceedings between George and a doctor played by Samantha Eggar
Along the way Eastland meets up with an abused prostitute (Cindy Wilks) and seems to begin to develop a relationship with her, but some reason this plot point is abandoned - with the George/Eggar one played up. It is interesting to see how Eastland is not presented as a super hero action type figure, but as a regular guy (albeit a resourceful one) who as previously noted has to have his ass pulled out of the fire a couple of times early on.
The film is filled with some pretty startling violence including a pretty rough bed burning, soldering iron torture, the above mentioned mind grinder & rats, plus Ginty blowing people away with his dum dum bullet equipped .44 magnum. The editing is sometimes pretty jarring with no transitional scenes, which creates some rather "WTF" story jumps and people have speculated that maybe the whole movie is suppose to be a dream with a flash forward and/or backward thing (although on the Synapse disc commentary Glickenhause dismisses this). As mentioned there is some great location work, including Ginty wondering about a pre-Disney Times Square and a beautiful nighttime helicopter ride over Manhattan as the opening credits role.
Director Glickenhaus had a rather oddball career directing the "almost there" classic THE SOLIDER (1982), the so inept it's funny MACBAIN from 1991 (which features Christopher Walken as a mercenary and most likely inspired the character from THE SIMPSONS) and the interesting SHAKEDOWN from 1988. Ginty appeared in the non-Glickenhaus disappointing follow-up Exterminator 2 from 1984 (which does however deliver on the flame thrower that the original's one sheet promised).
I really like this movie and along with Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45, its my favorite urban vigilante film. Robert Ginty (who passed away in 2009) gives a wonderful stoic performance and its shame he never really got his big break. He's probably most known for his TV work such as THE PAPER CHASE & BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP and in his movie work seemed to specialize in low budget actioners (always giving a solid performance). Later he started directing and producing TV and experimental theatre. Dick Boccelli, who plays the gangster here, was the original drummer in Bill Haley & The Comets.