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
Music by Joe Renzetti
Cinematography Robert M. Baldwin
Edited by Corky O'Hara
Distributed by Avco Embassy Pictures
Media Blasters
Synapse Films
Release dates
  • September 10, 1980 (1980-09-10)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,000,000

The Exterminator is a 1980 vigilante film that was written and directed by James Glickenhaus and starring Robert Ginty as Vietnam veteran vigilante John Eastland, also known as "The Exterminator", who takes out the street punks and those involved in organized crime when the law fails to do justice.


The film begins in Vietnam, opening with a dramatic shot of a huge explosion propelling a U.S. soldier through the air. The soldier is revealed to be the film's protagonist, John Eastland (Robert Ginty) who is quickly assisted by fellow soldier and best friend Michael Jefferson (Steve James). Both men, along with several other U.S. soldiers are quickly captured by the Viet Cong. The film cuts to an open-air VC camp where we next see the soldiers tied to wooden stakes in the ground. The VC commander demands information on when a U.S. strike is going to occur. Eastland refuses to answer and the commander slowly decapitates one of his fellow soldiers. Jefferson manages to get free and quickly slaughters the Vietnamese soldiers.

The film then shifts to New York, where Eastland and Jefferson work in a food warehouse. One day, a group of thugs called the Ghetto Ghouls attack Eastland while he is working after Eastland catches them trying to steal beer. Jefferson comes to his aid. They defeat the thugs, but the gang return to cripple Jefferson by gouging his spine with a meathook, leaving him paralyzed. Eastland, taking the law into his own hands, interrogates one of the members with a flame thrower to get information of the gang's hideout. Eastland tells the thug that if they're lying, then he will be back. Eastland then attacks the gang's 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 does not end there. The warehouse where he works has been cowed into paying protection money to organized crime. Unrelenting, even though Congress has stated it will hold hearings to investigate the price of meat in New York, the mob has squeezed money out of the paychecks of workers such as Jefferson. Eastland manages to kidnap one of the mobsters, placing him, chained up above an industrial meat grinder. Eastland needs the safe number from the mobster to steal his money. After the mobster is lowered dangerously close to the jaws of the meat grinder, the mobster gives up the safe number, as well as giving Eastland his set of keys. Eastland asks if there's anything else he should know; the mobster tells him no. Eastland repeats his earlier line that if they are lying, then he will be back. Eastland barely survives an attack by the mobsters Doberman, (who he dispatches with an electric carving knife). Upon returning, Eastland lowers the mobster into the grinder for lying. Eastland gives the money to the Jeffersons.

A police officer named Dalton begins investigating these attacks, as Eastland announces to the press his nom de guerre as the Exterminator. He kills the ring leader of a child prostitution ring, as well as a state senator from New Jersey whom he provides boys for him to abuse. Ironically, Eastland himself steals a motorcycle and helmet from another man, though only to pursue a group of Ghetto Ghoul muggers who had just attacked and robbed an elderly woman.

Meanwhile, the CIA has heard of the Exterminator and reaches odd conclusions. Based on the current administration's promise to cut down crime rates, they believe that 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 crime problem. They monitor Dalton's investigation of the Exterminator. Dalton, working from a bootprint found at the mobster's home, discovers the Exterminator wears a hunting boot 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 veteran (since when he killed the Ghetto Ghouls he was seen with an M-16), Dalton has narrowed the suspects accordingly.

In the dénouement, Eastland visits Jefferson in the hospital. Jefferson has asked to see him. Never being able to walk again, Jefferson wishes that Eastland would kill him. Eastland does, but coincidentally, Dalton is visiting the hospital at the time. When he learns about Jefferson's death, Dalton concludes (apparently having investigated Jefferson earlier as a possible suspect for the Exterminator and having learned about the attack on him) that one of Jefferson's friends was the Exterminator, and learns that Eastland was one of them.

Dalton stakes out Eastland's apartment. Eastland, seeing the police arriving at his home from afar, calls his apartment and arranges for a private meeting with Dalton, where he hopes to explain his reasons for his actions. However, the CIA, bugging his phone, hear his call with Dalton, and ambush them at the rendezvous. Eastland escapes alive, but dead in most foreign territories.



James Glickenhaus was a maker of industrial, educational and promotional films in his native New York City. He had previously made one other feature film The Astrologer, in 1977. His experiences taking the film for showings in the Southern part of the United States led him to interview cinema owners and observe their audiences which led him to make a more commercial film.[1] Glickenhaus also took The Astrologer to Cannes where he felt that the lengthy dialogue of the film worked against it. He vowed to make his next film with as little dialogue as possible as his observance of the audiences made him feel that they didn't enjoy reading subtitles or hearing dubbing of dialogue where the original nuances would not translate.

Glickenhaus's original lead for the role was to have been Joseph Bottoms as he felt that instead of a well known and high priced action star an everyman would appeal to audiences. At the last moment Bottoms success in The Black Hole led his agent to demand more money. Glickenhaus refused him and found Robert Ginty who had had been seen in The Paper Chase and Coming Home. Then a stuntman, Steve James had originally tested for the role of a bartender but Glickenhaus was so impressed with his reading he enlarged the role of the lead character's friend.[2]

The Vietnam sequence was filmed after most of the film was completed. It was filmed in Indian Dunes, California where Twilight Zone: The Movie was made; using the special effects by Stan Winston. The sequence was done in five days using 15% of the budget.[3]

The MPAA demanded and received 47 seconds of cuts to the violence which remained in the version shown in Japan.

Glickenhaus wished to make other types of films so was not involved with the sequel. In his opinion, the film First Blood would have been his ideal sequel.

Jazz saxist Stan Getz briefly appears performing at an outdoor concert.


The Exterminator received negative reviews, earning a 22% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Home video releases[edit]

Embassy Home Entertainment released it to video in 1983. Anchor Bay Entertainment released the original director's cut on DVD and VHS in 1997. Tango Entertainment also released a DVD of the film in 2005. On September 11, 2011, Synapse Films and Media Blasters released The Exterminator on a DVD/Blu-ray Disc combo pack.[4] Extra features include the film's theatrical trailer, some TV spots, and a commentary with writer/director James Glickenhaus.[5]


A sequel, Exterminator 2, was released in 1984.


  1. ^ Gallagher, John Andrew Interview of James Glickenhaus in Film Directors on Directing, Volume 1989, Part 2 Greenwood Publishing Group
  2. ^ Gallagher p.62
  3. ^ INTERVIEW – JAMES GLICKENHAUS talks The Exterminator. "INTERVIEW – JAMES GLICKENHAUS talks The Exterminator | Dr. Gore's". Retrieved 2010-09-21. 
  4. ^ "The Exterminator (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2011-10-03. 
  5. ^ "THE EXTERMINATOR BLU-RAY REVIEW". Twitch Film. Retrieved 2011-10-02. 

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