Synapse release this region-free edition in a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack. The Director's Cut version of the film is presented 1.78:1 and comes with an AVC encode. They have gone back to the original negative, as far as I am aware, and the resulting print is in fairly decent shape. There's some flickering here and there, but this is mostly very stable. Grain texture is variable. Some shots are thicker and some betray the evidence having been smoothed-over with DNR. This is a soft image that is never going to look astonishing, but I really thought that we would have had more detail and clarity than this seems to offer.
Detail is a very mixed-bag. Street scenes – overheads, tracking shots, travelogues etc – are poor, although occasionally a shot will look surprisingly good and quite vivid. Mid-ground isn't too hot, and backgrounds can often be quite indistinct. I mean try making out the gangster's moll stripping off by the pool in the distance during one scene! Close-ups, however, reveal more information than I've seen before. Wounds, eyes, teeth, hair, and the little things like a trickle of blood, the trail of needle-holes in a junkie's arm, the solder melting on the tops of drilled bullets, can often scrub up quite well. So the disc does offer a very definitely worthwhile upgrade for fans.
Sadly, the opening explosions and fireballs in Vietnam, as crisp and well-rendered as they are, have a degree of flared-out banding that is immediately noticeable. And this is an affliction that becomes visible whenever we see thick background colours, such as the décor in the Ghetto Ghouls' clubhouse. Considering that we have a few scenes and shots that are suffused with a shadowy red glow, this is not a good thing. But I should say that the banding issue does seem to calm down as the film goes on. Colours are okay, but noting more. The primaries, as you would expect, have been picked-out and come over with some strength. But, once again, this is a soft-looking movie. Even the brighter, sharper elements of the palette – the flames, the sets, the blood etc – look sort of diffused and restricted in range.
Back on the pluses, black levels are strong. The shadows are deep and rarely compromised by grey. I would say that there is some slight degree of crushing going on, but I'm not at all averse to this, and I think that, on the whole, the blacks and the subsequent contrast levels they help to bolster are actually good, and provide the film with more than decent atmospherics and a pleasing sense of visual depth.
The optical fogging-out of the photograph in the background of the chicken-ranch is very apparent, folks. Do not go thinking that this is some sort of technical screw-up with the transfer. The MPAA objected to what they thought was the image of an erect penis. Somewhat bizarrely, they must not have noticed the same photograph seen in an earlier shot … because it remains un-fogged.
Overall, The Exterminator gets a solid 6 out of 10. There are definite improvements made, but there is only so much that can be done with the source material, and Synapse do force a few errors along the way too. But I still wouldn't hesitate in recommending the hi-def edition any day.
The audio mixes for The Exterminator don't provide all that much to talk about, I'm afraid.
Synapse provide us with the newly restored original stereo track via DTS-HD MA and also a DTS-HD MA mono mix.
I tended to stick with the restored stereo mix, though I doubt it would matter all that much which track you opted for. This isn't a dynamic mix by any stretch of the imagination. Dialogue, either way, is reasonably clear, with one or two source-related exceptions such as the cop-on-the-take who offers Dalton a colour TV, but it can't rise above sounding tinny and constrained at the same time. Gunfire and explosions lack any real vitality. They don't sound bad, as such, there's even one surprise rifle shot during the finale that really does sing-out with a terrific metallic crack, but I think that the ballistic side of things could have been awarded a little bit more clout on the whole. That said, we do get to hear the cool mechanisms and working parts of Eastland's M16 with a degree of satisfying clarity, and the slapping-in of the magazine sounds good.
There's no heft to the base, although we do get some impacts and crashes. There is some slight width across the stereo track, but I wasn't really convinced that there was much split-channel activity going on.
Although Joe Renzetti's score is slightly muddied by the mix, I doubt there was too much that could have been done to the original stems to have energised them. Chip Taylor's ballad “Theme For An American Hero”, which bookends the movie, actually comes across very well, however.
The Exterminator gets another 6 out of 10. Some effort has been made to breathe life into the old mix, but Synapse play it safe – which is probably wise.
It is a shame that the stars Robert Ginty, Christopher George and Steve James have all passed away because it would have been super-special to have either seen them all again in a retro making-of or to have heard them combine forces on a commentary track. But Synapse do manage to get hold of James Glickenhaus for a chat-track, and this makes for an entertaining treat.
He is joined by someone from a fan-site who actually gets along very well with him, and the session become a fine and relaxed, good-natured chronicle of the production. Glickenhaus talks about the infamous Vietnam sequence and about the use of the helicopter, the very same helicopter and pilot that would drop on Vic Morrow and a poor child actress during a tragic accident on Twilight Zone: The Movie. He is full of anecdotes and trivia about the film, such as the fogging of the photograph on the wall of the chicken-brothel, and he provides plenty of background to why he came up with the idea. From the pulp paperback thrillers of the era – The Destroyer and The Executioner – to the real-life incidents that were going on. But he claims that he avoided things like Death Wish on purpose to give his film a unique and fresh perspective on such emotive subject matter. We hear about how Steve James gained a much bigger role than the one he came in for and how his participation even stretched to fight choreography, and we learn more about both Christopher George and Rober Ginty. The locations and the permits for shooting in them are discussed, and there is plenty about how the MPAA reacted to the film. To counterbalance this, we also hear about how the audiences loved it, and how the film took great box office even when compared to The Empire Strikes Back, which was playing at the same time. Both agree about that First Blood should be thought of as the unofficial sequel, as I mentioned earlier. Glickenhaus delivers a thoroughly interesting and informative commentary about the film. Personally, I enjoyed this commentary a great deal.
We also get a DVD of the film and the theatrical trailer and some TV spots.
Want to see pimps, hoods, muggers, street-gangs and paedophiles getting blown away? Of course you do. Then look no further. Inspired by the trend started with Bronson's Death Wish and Scorsese's Taxi Driver, one of the genre's most controversial vigilantes returns to clean up the cesspit of New York in the grindhouse classic The Exterminator. Meek, mild-mannered Robert Ginty gets pushed too far and tools-up with blow-torches, poisoned bullets, a meat grinder and an M16 in a furious vendetta against the scum of a sick and weakened society.
Don't dip in if you expect high art or astute character observation and dramatic depth. This is raw, uncompromising exploitation at its purest, grubbiest and most exciting. The themes have been explored a hundred since, but James Glickenhaus hit a nerve in 1980 and created a savage cultural icon that became embraced and vilified in equal measure. The dawn of the full-blown revenge-flick was born at the exact same time as the home video boom, and The Exterminator was right at the forefront of the new crusade. Ginty became one of the most unlikely of screen heroes and his quietly uttered warning of “If you're lying, I'll be back” became a cult slogan long before Arnie shanghaied it.
Synapse release the full Director's Cut in a Blu-ray/DVD combo that is graced with a terrific commentary track from the movie's creator, James Glickenhaus. I wish that more supplemental material could have been secured but, as it stands, the chat track offers up a tremendous amount of information and opinion. The film's transfer is not the best, but it is certainly a worthy upgrade for fans, and it shouldn't upset too many newcomers either, once they understand the production's humble roots.
I can't get over the wonderful notion that Glickenhaus puts over about viewing First Blood as the film's unofficial sequel. I think that's a brilliant idea.
The Exterminator, then. An awesome vintage revenger. Thanks, Mum!!!!
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