John Eastland had a tough time in Vietnam. Dodging explosions and gunfire, captured by the enemy and forced to watch as they killed his friends. A peaceful life in New York should have been his reward, but instead he finds the city is a war zone, infected with the same thugs and depravity as the one he just left.
John and his friend from ‘nam, Jefferson work at a meat packing plant that also distributes beer (presumably to some of the city’s butcher-bars). One day, they ran afoul of some street thugs called the Ghetto Ghouls. Jefferson saves John’s life in the struggle, but is later hunted down by the gang and suffers injuries which paralyzed from the neck down for life. John, remembering his experiences in war, decides that a little vengeance is in order.
There’s no real build up to the movie. We see Jefferson attacked and then cut suddenly to John telling Jefferson’s wife about it. We don’t see John find out, or his reaction. Right after he tells her, the movie cuts to a scene in which John has one of the Ghouls tied up, and is torturing him with a flame thrower. John’s motives are clear enough, his friend is hurt and he lashes out; but he’s very calm and steady throughout the movie, almost sociopathic, so even though you logically support him, you can’t really sympathize. He comes across a little like Dexter; like he’s doing right, but for all the wrong reasons.
The violence is fairly graphic, and mostly disturbing, especially everything that happens at the ‘chicken’ house, which is a secret establishment that rents young boys out to old men. John is a little sadistic at times. He uses to colorful means to dispatch with the various bad guys he faces. This added to his otherwise zen demeanor makes him a very creepy character.
As the movie progresses, John widens his scope of vengeance from those that hurt his friends, to anyone bad. Meanwhile, the police try to track him down (even though they aren’t that upset about the deaths of his victims), as does a CIA agent working under orders from the White House, who think ‘The Exterminator’ is a ploy by the opposition party or a foreign country to discredit them. The CIA plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s mostly relegated to the background.
Making John Eastland a dull, average man distinguishes The Exterminator from other revenge films, though it also prevents the movie from having a strong core. The tag line to the movie is, ‘the man they pushed too far!’ but John never really seems ‘pushed,’ he doesn’t seem affected at all. As awful as his victims are, John seems almost as monstrous.
The Exterminator is a good revenge film with nice kills and suitably evil targets. The lack of an emotional arc for John keeps him from being a memorable character; but the story his lackadaisically meanders through is interesting enough on its own.
The Blu Ray from Synapse Films includes the original trailer, and an audio commentary from the director. The video and audio are fantastic; as good as you could every hope a film like this to look.