‘The Exterminator is a sick example of the almost unbelievable descent into gruesome savagery in American movies,’ declared film critic Roger Ebert in his negative review of the cult 1980 exploitation picture The Exterminator. Taking elements from Death Wish, Rolling Thunder and Mad Max, James Glickenhaus’ stylish-yet-brutal revenge thriller told of a Vietnam vet who exacts his revenge on the criminals of the city when his friend is savagely attacked.
Starring genre veterans Robert Ginty and Christopher George, the movie opened with a memorable decapitation courtesy of rising special effects artist Stan Winston, adding to its notoriety. ‘An action film with little action,’ criticised Variety. ‘Contrived script instead opts for grotesque violence in a series of glum, distasteful scenes.’
James Glickenhaus looks back on the making of his most notorious film.
What kind of background did you have prior to becoming a filmmaker and how did you first launch your directing career?
I was a sculptor who loved movies. Those were magical days when you could raise money for good ideas.
Where did the initial idea for The Exterminator originate?
From living in New York City when violent crime was out of control.
How were you able to gain permission to shoot on location in New York or did you have to work around permits?
Through the New York City Film office. Fully permitted.
The movie is notable for its impressive b-movie cast, which included the late Robert Ginty and Christopher George, as well as Samantha Eggar. How did these become involved and were you already familiar with their work prior to casting?
I knew and liked their work. I thought Bob had an every man look.
With your protagonist being a Vietnam vet, were you attempting to make any kind of statement on the horrors of war and the effects that combat – particularly in Vietnam – had on the soldiers and their difficult return to society?
Yes, exactly that.
In what ways were you personally touched by the Vietnam War? Were you close to anyone that had fought there and had you seen the negative effect that it had caused them?
I had friends who were killed over there and I saw how difficult it was to return and how to some extent they were shunned.
Having been born and raised in New York, was the sleazy and violent city that you portrayed in your movie the same one that you had grown up in or did you exaggerate it?
Let’s say it was faction.
Vigilante movies had become popular during the 1970s; which films in particular were an influence while you were writing and shooting The Exterminator?
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The film opened with an explosive action sequence set in Vietnam. In reality, where were these scenes shot and were they particularly expensive or difficult to produce?
Indian Dunes, California. We shot them in five days and they were about fifteen per cent of the budget.
How involved was Stan Winston in the making of the special effects and what kind of budget did you allocate for them?
Stan did the effects in the opening scenes. He was wonderful to work with. He wasn’t inexpensive but he was worth it.
Were you ever tempted to make the death scenes more explicit and was there any footage that was cut?
No, the film as released was pretty close to my director’s cut. The beheading was pretty powerful and set the stage for The Exterminator‘s subsequent actions.
Was there any kind of distribution deal in place when you had completed post-production and how well was it received by audiences and critics?
Nothing was in place until we finished the film. Audiences loved it. It went to number onw. Critics were a bit shocked.
Was the movie the subject of any controversy due to its violence or vigilante theme, as horror and exploitation films were often treated unfairly by both the media and censors?
To some extent yes, but the film played all over the world.
The Exterminator is sometimes unfairly classified as a slasher, possibly due to it being released at the height of the boom. How do you feel about these comparisons and how was the film marketed when it was first released?
It really wasn’t a slasher film. I was involved in the marketing and liked it.
Why did you choose not to participate in the sequel and how do you feel about the direction that Mark Buntzman took?
I was interested in moving on to something different and did.
At what point did you become aware of the cult following that The Exterminator had gained and how do you personally feel about the movie?
I’m very proud of The Exterminator and I think it holds up very well thirty years later. It was pretty wild seeing it with an audience in Times Square.
The man they pushed too far is coming for you--in high-def! The exploitation revenge classic THE EXTERMINATOR burns onto Blu-ray in a newly re-mastered uncut version!
Christopher George, Robert Ginty and Samantha Eggar star in The Exterminator, James Glickenhaus' explosive story of Vietnam vet John Eastland (Ginty), a man who launches a bloody vendetta against the New York underworld when his best friend is brutally beaten by a vicious street gang. Eastland becomes a vigilante hero to the public, but to police The Exterminator is a psychopath capable of dangerously undermining an entire government administration. Synapse Films is proud to present The Exterminator in its more violent and gory director's cut, lovingly restored in high-definition from original vault materials.