The Exterminator

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The Exterminator
Exterminator ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Glickenhaus
Produced by Mark Buntzman
Written by James Glickenhaus
Starring Robert Ginty
Samantha Eggar
Christopher George
Steve James
Music by Joe Renzetti
Cinematography Robert M. Baldwin
Edited by Corky O'Hara
Interstar Pictures
Distributed by Amsell Entertainment
Avco Embassy Pictures
Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment
Release dates
  • September 10, 1980 (1980-09-10)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2 million[1]
Box office $35 million[2][3]

The Exterminator is a 1980 American vigilante action film written and directed by James Glickenhaus. It stars Robert Ginty as the Vietnam War veteran John Eastland, also known as "The Exterminator". When a group of thugs paralyze his friend, Eastland becomes a vigilante; embarking on a mission to cleanse New York of organized crime.[1] The film also stars Samantha Eggar, Christopher George, and Steve James.


During a firefight in Vietnam, U.S. soldiers John Eastland and his best friend, Michael Jefferson, are captured by the Viet Cong. They are tied to wooden stakes with several other men, and tortured for information. When Eastland refuses to answer, the VC commander decapitates the soldier beside him. Eastland escapes moments later, and after untying Jefferson, he slaughters the VC soldiers who held them captive.

The film then shifts to New York, where Eastland and Jefferson work in a warehouse. One day, Eastland catches a group of thugs, called the Ghetto Ghouls, trying to steal beer. He is attacked, but Jefferson comes to his aid. They defeat the thugs, but the gang return to cripple Jefferson; by gouging his spine with a meathook. Feeling let down by the police, Eastland decides to take the law into his own hands, and interrogates one of the gang members with a flame thrower. He then attacks the gangs base of operations, shooting one gang member and leaving two others tied up in the basement, which is full of hungry rats.

Eastland's vigilante justice doesn't end there. The warehouse where he works has been forced into paying protection money. Gino Pontivini, the mob boss behind the scheme, has even taxed the workers paychecks. Eastland kidnaps Pontivini, and chains him above an industrial meat grinder. In order to steal Pontivini's money, Eastland needs the combination to his safe. Pontivini gives him the combination; and his house keys, after being lowered dangerously close to the jaws of the meat grinder. Eastland barely survives an attack by Pontivini's Doberman, so upon returning, he lowers Pontivini into the grinder for lying about the dog. Jefferson and his family are given Pontivini's money; to help pay their bills.

Detective James Dalton begins investigating the attacks, while the press dub Eastland the "Exterminator". Meanwhile, Eastland kills the ring leader of a child prostitution ring, as well as a state senator from New Jersey who sexually abuses children. He also kills a group of muggers, after witnessing them rob an elderly woman.

Meanwhile, the CIA has heard of the Exterminator and reaches an odd conclusion. Based on the current administration's promise to cut down crime rates, they believe the Exterminator is either an opposition party's stunt, or a foreign power's ruse to humiliate the current administration; by exposing their inability to handle the city's crime problem. They monitor Dalton's investigation of the Exterminator. And Dalton, working from a bootprint found at Pontivini's home, discovers the Exterminator wears hunting boots manufactured by a mail order firm in Maine. Asking them for a list of clients in New York, and following the hunch that the Exterminator may be a Vietnam War veteran; since he killed the Ghetto Ghouls with an M-16 assault rifle, Dalton has narrowed his suspects accordingly.

Eastland visits Jefferson in the hospital, and because he will never be able to walk again, Jefferson asks Eastland to kill him. Eastland does, but coincidentally, Dalton is visiting the hospital at the same time. When he learns about Jefferson's death, Dalton surmises that one of Jefferson's friends was the Exterminator, and learns that one of his suspects, Eastland, was Jefferson's closest friend.

Eastland is aware that Dalton is staking out his apartment, so he arranges a private meeting with him, where he hopes to explain why he became a vigilante. However, the CIA are aware of the rendezvous after bugging Eastland's phone. They ambush him at his meeting with Dalton, and although he is presumed dead, Eastland survives.


Samuel L. Jackson appears in an uncredited role as a movie extra.[4][5]


Critical reception[edit]

Rotten Tomatoes reports a rating of 22 percent, indicating mostly negative reviews.[6]

"James Glickenhaus commits the major sin of shooting an action film with little action. [Instead, his] contrived script opts for grotesque violence in a series of glum, distasteful scenes."

Variety magazine, December 31, 1979.[7]

At an advance screening; six months before the film's release, Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, criticized The Exterminator for being a "sick example of the almost unbelievable descent" that American movies had taken "into gruesome savagery". He called the film a "direct rip-off" of Death Wish;[8] ironically, after researching the Death Wish franchise, author Paul Talbot concluded that Death Wish "inspired" a number of "sadistic vigilante-themed movies"; The Exterminator being one of them.[9] The New York Times, on the other hand, praised the acting, but felt the film was let down by the "screenplay and direction" of "beginner" James Glickenhaus; and by "lighting, camera work and sound that would rate an 'F' at film school".[10]

Contemporary critics have been more appreciative. Eoin Friel, of the Action Elite, awarded three and a half stars out of five. Even though he found the opening scene quite "shocking", the acting a bit "ropey", and the effects "dated", he admitted the film "grabs you from the start".[11] Den of Geek's Phil Beresford gave a mixed review. He stated that while Ginty is "not the greatest or most charismatic" of actors, "his essential ordinariness really works within the confines" of the film.[12]


Due to its graphic violence, The Exterminator has been a controversial subject since its release. Dr Sharon Packer and Jody Pennington spoke of this controversy; and the film's "extreme justice" in their book, A History of Evil in Popular Culture. They claimed the violence was a contributing factor to the film's "success", as the "audienced loved it".[3]


A sequel, the Exterminator 2, was released in 1984. Ginty and producer Mark Buntzman returned, with Buntzman serving as the film's director; as well as producer. The sequel was less successful. It grossed $3.7 million at the domestic box office,[13] while its predecessor grossed $5 million in the same region.[14]


  1. ^ a b Scullion, Chris (2013). That Was A Bit Mental: Volume 1, "The Exterminator", pages 87-88. Retrieved 11-12-2015.
  2. ^ Chase, Chris. "At the Movies", New York Times, published 01-06-1984. Retrieved 11-11-2015.
  3. ^ a b Packer, Sharon & Pennington, Jody (2014). A History of Evil In Popular Culture, chapter 9, pages 104-105. Retrieved 11-13-2015.
  4. ^ Cross, Kathleen. "Samuel L. Jackson Highest Paid Actor Ever; You’re Not Going to Believe How Much He’s Earned",, published 10-27-2011. Retrieved 11-11-2015.
  5. ^ Jackson, Samuel L.. "Filmography of Samuel L. Jackson", (official website). Retrieved 11-11-2015.
  6. ^ "'The Exterminator' (1980) - Critical Reception", Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 11-13-2015.
  7. ^ Variety Staff. "Review: 'The Exterminator'", Variety, published 12-31-1979. Retrieved 11-13-2015.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger. "'The Exterminator' Film Review",, published 03-07-1980. Retrieved 11-13-2015.
  9. ^ Talbot, Paul (2006). Bronson's Loose!: The Making of the Death Wish Films, chapter 2, page 31. Retrieved 11-13-2015.
  10. ^ Buckley, Tom. "'The Exterminator' (1980) Film Review", New York Times, published 09-11-1980. Retrieved 11-13-2015.
  11. ^ Friel, Eoin. "'The Exterminator' (1980) Review",, published 07-25-2012. Retrieved 11-15-2015.
  12. ^ Beresford, Phil. "'The Exterminator' (1980) Review", Den of Geek, published 11-10-2011. Retrieved 11-15-2015.
  13. ^ "'Exterminator 2' (1984) - Box Office Information", The Numbers. Retrieved 11-11-2015.
  14. ^ "'The Exterminator' (1980) - Box Office Information", The Numbers. Retrieved 11-12-2015.


External links[edit]