John Eastman (Robert Ginty) is a Vietnam Vet (aren’t all the best revenge movie / vigilante hero’s?) and when his best friend, Michael Jefferson (Steve James,) who saved his life out in The 'Nam is attacked and left paralysed by a gang of vicious street punks, Eastman decides to even the score.
The film starts off with its heroes fighting the Vietcong in the Vietnam war. After a vicious gun battle, Eastman, Jefferson and another comrade are captured and taken for interrogation. During the interrogation the 3rd comrade has his head hacked off in a surprisingly gory film moment, Eastman is next up for the chop, luckily Jefferson gets the drop on his guards and takes them down, machine gun blazing.
Back in New York, Eastman and Jefferson are honest Joe’s making a living from blue-collar factory jobs. An encounter with some thieves at the factory sets off a chain of events which lead to the birth of The Exterminator. Having put a stop to a robbery at work Jefferson is jumped by members of the same gang (The Ghetto Ghouls). Vastly outnumbered he is beaten badly and is left paralyzed. Eastman decides there is only one thing to do. This is the guy that kept his head on his shoulders back in the 'nam lying crippled in bed. So he picks up his M16 and goes in search of the perpetrators. Finding the punks in a flat, they seem to find it a little difficult to figure out what his problem is, saying Jefferson was "Only a nigger" to which Eastman replies "that nigger was my best friend". After dispatching the gang members Eastman still plagued by the memory of the beheading he witnessed back in Vietnam, decides to continue in his role as the vigilante The Exterminator. Taking out all kinds of other criminal trash, including a Mob Boss and Pimp who specializes in supplying young boys to rich male clients.
The Exterminator, which has the great tagline “The man they pushed too far”, is a great example of the Vigilante / revenge movie genre which was particularly popular in the late 70’s and early 80’s, dishing out classic action, gunplay and car chases. Jake Eastman just looks like a normal guy, which makes the film so much better than having a muscle-bound freak in the lead role. Robert Ginty gives a very understated performance in the lead role; he doesn’t exude any kind of charisma, crack cheesy one liners or even particularly fly into any kind of rage. He is, as he states at one point, “taking care of business,” and he deals with his foes just like a garbage man taking out the trash. Christopher George is top notch as the hard-bitten cop on the trail of The Exterminator and all the cast fit the feel of the film nicely. The rubbish strewn, impoverished streets of New York's 80’s underbelly are a fantastic backdrop for the action; these are the streets no-one cares about, these are the streets that could really breed “The Exterminator”.
If you like, The Warriors, Death Wish, Dirty Harry, The Gauntlet, and films of that type you should find The Exterminator a very enjoyable experience. This may not be mainstream action stuff, but its classic cult movie revenge fun.