“Exterminator 2” is a sheer visceral punch to the gut due to the unflinching violence that it depicts. It also represents all that was great about the grindhouse era of filmmaking, which, sadly, is unable to be duplicated today. The story that wants to be told is made clear in the fast-paced, action-filled editing that allows this sequel to surpass the original.
The original film was a sensational hit on the grindhouse circuit, and it remains a pretty potent experience. The story followed John Eastland, who returned to the crime-ridden streets of New York after serving in Vietnam. His best friend, who is played by the underrated Steve James, is senselessly murdered by a vicious gang of punks. This leads to Eastland deciding to clean up the streets with his trusty flamethrower, taking down the scummy and perverted denizens of New York.
The problem with the original picture was that the pace of the action was slowed down to look at the perspective of the lead police officer on the case (the late, great Christopher George) and the romance that blooms afterward. The reason this doesn’t work is because the audience is so invested in Eastland that we really don’t care about who’s on the case.
An interesting side note is that “The Exterminator” was such a huge hit in 1980 that it spawned a copycat film that tried to scam Deuce audience members out of their money. A film entitled “The Executioner, Part II” was made with Christopher Mitchum in 1984, and the funny thing is that this was a sequel to a film that was never made. The actual plan was that when walking down the street, one would see the title and assume the marquee made a mistake, and that this was a followup to the classic.
Luckily, the Cannon Group released “Exterminator 2” not long after, and audiences got an authentic sequel. Also, the sequel managed to focus solely on Eastland (Robert Ginty) and the punks he tries to wipe out.
The picture never heads in the direction that you would expect, and that is something you learn early on, when a man is crucified in the subway by the local gang. The leader of the gang is named X, and he is played with strong intensity by Mario Van Peebles. The gang is so ruthless and violent that you completely understand and sympathize with Eastland. You may even find yourself glad when the masked vigilante with the flamethrower emerges from the shadows of the crime-ridden alleys.
The film hinges strongly on the performance of Ginty, who, sadly, succumbed to cancer on September 21, 2009. He was one of the few actors that reprised the role of a vigilante for a sequel, which was rare in the ’80s if you weren’t Charles Bronson. This exploitation film is probably the best of example of his work, and we see a wide range of emotions throughout the picture. Watching the scene when his new girlfriend is attacked, you can’t help but feel his heartache.
Another interesting side note is that Ginty received the nickname “The Paper-Chase Guy” when “Warrior of the Lost World” was screened on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” which was one of the best episodes of the series.
With that said, Ginty’s performance is helped by the supporting work of the underrated Frankie Faison as Be Gee. The character desperately attempts to keep Eastland in reality despite the grim world he lives in.
The picture has the same quality most of the action-packed movies from the Cannon Group had in the early ’80s, but people didn’t flock to these pictures for Oscar-worthy cinematography.
“Exterminator 2” is a picture that makes good on many expectations you may have about it, making it one of the best cult movies around.