Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- The Exterminator (1980)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- The Exterminator (1980)

Ahh, the giddy days of home video. In the early days of this new and very exciting medium, there were loads of videos that featured the gaudiest and lurid cover artwork.

One film that had such artwork that I will always remember was The Exterminator. The box depicted a muscled man wearing what looked like a black motorcycle helmet whilst firing a machine gun. It suggested something grittier than your average action flick.

ExterminatorAlphaVHS

When I finally saw the film I wasn’t disappointed.

Robert Ginty plays John Eastland who we see in the film’s opening scene as a soldier being captured by the Viet Cong. He escapes after being saved by his best friend Michael Jefferson (but not before he sees another friend being beheaded, a scene that would prove problematic for the BBFC. Stan Winston was the SFX whizz who designed the dummy for this scene, film fans).

The action then transfers to a jungle of another kind, New York. Eastland and Jefferson are working together in a warehouse. After seeing gang members stealing a shipment of beer, they are confronted by both men with Jefferson kicking their asses. However, the gang members track him down and leave him crippled (another graphic scene that would be excised in different countries).

ExterminatorJefferson

This propels Eastland into action as he becomes a one-man vigilante who tracks down the gang members and then the mob who have been making his employer pay protection money and even skimming the top off all of the employee’s wages.

The Exterminator is gritty, extreme, VERY gory and brilliant fun. Director James Glickenhaus knew exactly the audience he was aiming this film at. This was aimed squarely at the audiences who would go to see films in 42nd Street grindhouses (part of the film even takes place in some of the sleazier establishments of The Deuce), drive-ins and as part of midnight movie double-bills (The Exterminator played with The Postman Always Rings Twice (!) in the UK).

ExterminatorDoubleBillPoster

But it was also made for the new medium of home video on which the genre of horror or exploitation wasn’t seen as a bad thing but instead as a major selling point. With so many shocking and lurid video artwork being on the shelves of the video shops I spent hours in, the artwork for The Exterminator still screamed out to me.

People have criticised Robert Ginty in the lead role as being devoid of the necessary charisma or leading role chops for such a film. I disagree. Ginty plays an everyman, someone who is sick of being pushed around when there appears to be no real justice by conventional routes of law and order. Of course, there are strong links between this film and Michael Winner’s masterpiece Death Wish but there are also links to Taxi Driver, Maniac and The New York Ripper because of the themes, locales and time frame.

ExterminatorLobbyCard
The Taxi Driver-esque similarities start here

Look out for the uncut version of The Exterminator as there are plenty of versions, especially in the UK, that are cut. I bought the DVD distributed by Synergy who had submitted the film to the BBFC a second time to try and get some of the previous cuts waived. They then proceeded to release the film uncut anyway and completely ignore the 22 secs of cuts the board had recommended. Hooray for Synergy!

One review of the film says that Glickenhaus knows nothing about framing, lighting or direction in general. Poppycock! When I saw the film in widescreen for the first time I noticed these very aspects and marvelled at them. The film is lit, directed and coloured like a very gory comic book. It’s beautiful to behold and reminds me of The Warriors.

TheExterminatorColour
The comic book colour and framing of the film

You know you’re in for a good time when the death scenes within the film involve an industrial mincing machine, a flamethrower and an electric knife.

ExterminatorMincingMachine
The mincing machine scene

The Exterminator will always hold a special place in my black little heart.

Review- The Fan (1981)

Review- The Fan (1981)

I’ve wanted to see 1981’s The Fan for the longest time and finally, it was shown on TV here in the UK (the channel Talking Pictures is amazing and never disappoints!)

Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall) is an actress who is heading a Broadway musical. She is also the target of super-fan and super-stalker Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) who professes his undying love for her in numerous letters that are intercepted and responded to by Ross’ assistant who grows increasingly worried about the mental state of this particular fan. She even raises it was Ross who admonishes her for treating a fan badly. But then things go from bad to worse.

RossTheFan
I’m pretty sure I’d have the same expression as the woman on the left if I got to meet Lauren Bacall

Was the wait to see this film worth it? YES! There’s so much to love about The Fan.

Firstly, I found myself aghast at the cast. Not only do we get Bacall, Biehn and James Garner but also Hector Elizondo, Griffin Dunne and Dwight Schultz (from The A-Team!) We even get a non-speaking cameo from Charles Scorsese (father of Martin) in a theatre audience scene.

The Fan doesn’t skimp when it comes to the gritty and deranged nature of stalking which wasn’t a crime or behaviour that had been discussed widely at that point yet. Although, the film was released a few months after Mark Chapman shot dead John Lennon outside The Dakota Building (where Bacall used to live spookily enough) and so stalking was set to enter the zeitgeist and prompt more conversations. Biehn is excellent as Douglas Breen with the scenes in which we see him at a typewriter professing his love for Ross in his typed letters reminding me of the telephone scenes from Prom Night- dimly lit, claustrophobic and scary as hell.

In fact, Biehn is fantastic at turning from loving to psychotically menacing at a dime. He’s perfectly cast.

TheFanLobbyCard

The film is also very gory that mirrors a lot of films that were bigger budget efforts but didn’t skimp on the blood perhaps to tap into the demographic who were going to see slasher movies. In fact, there’s an amazing scene in the New York subway in which you definitely get a Dressed To Kill vibe that apparently this film’s producer Robert Stigwood had just seen.

There’s also a nod to Cruising with one scene involving the killer getting picked up in a gay bar and leaving for a tryst which takes place on a rooftop. Sex and death go hand in hand with this scene. What would Genet say?!

TheFanCruising
Cruising in a gay bar. Is that Truman Capote next to Douglas?!

I love the look of the film with it having a certain haze as if there’s Vaseline on the camera lens.

Another thing I loved about The Fan was that it’s a great New York movie. This actually feels like a cleaner and more genteel vision of New York from that time. Maybe the filmmakers thought there was enough sleaze in the events taking part in the film without depicting the sleazier locales of the city as well.

And then there’s the camp. Not only do we get divine creature Bacall gracing the role of Sally Ross but with the action revolving around her heading a Broadway musical, we get deliciously gay rehearsals and even get to see the finished product on opening night resplendent with a song that was subsequently nominated for a Razzie (a sure stamp of approval) that was written by Tim Rice. Hell, we even get Do The Dog by The Specials over one earlier scene in a record store. Talk about contrasts.

TheFanNeverSayNever
The unbridled camp of the stage show Never Say Never. Silver lame, dry ice and raspberry neon. A design for living.

The Fan bombed at the box office on its initial release and was derided by Bacall who hated how gory and violent it was. James Garner even said it was the worst film he ever made. Some reviews were fair but others were really bad (yes there’s that Gene Siskel again).

I love The Fan and feel that maybe audiences didn’t fully engage as at that time stalking as a crime hadn’t entered public consciousness yet. Remember, another film that dealt with stalking was The King of Comedy which was released the following year and also underperformed. Some films are way ahead of their time and judged very well by history with both films finding their audiences and being appreciated more now.

One person online said that this would make a great double-bill with The Eyes of Laura Mars. That’s very true. Both films are as camp as a row of pink tents but with gritty and genuinely disturbing scenes that reflect the slasher film sensibilities of the time.

Look out for the remarkable edition of The Fan on Blu ray on Scream Factory.

4 and a half stars out of 5