Saturday, 16 January 2010

Exterminator 2 (1984)

"To responsible drinking!"

When Cannon films decided to make a sequel to the gritty 1980 vigilante film The Exterminator, I'm pretty sure they had only glanced at the box cover. It features a guy (the Exterminator, I guess) in a motorcycle helmet brandishing a flamethrower. It's a cool image, but it's a little misleading. He only uses a flamethrower in one scene (he doesn't even torch anyone) and the only time he wears the helmet is when he's riding a motorcycle that he steals much later in the film. They must have really liked the cover though, because this film is structured entirely around the idea of a masked vigilante roasting criminals with a flamethrower.

The Exterminator may have opened with an explosion, but the opening shot of the sequel is pretty good as well. Crazed Vietnam vet turned vigilante John Eastman (Robert Ginty), dubbed the Exterminator by the media, walks into frame wearing a welding mask and army uniform, and shoots a flamethrower at the camera. FWOOSH! The first criminal scumbags to taste his napalm are four young punks who rob a "mom and pop" convenience store, brutally murdering the elderly owners (they even call eachother "mama" and "papa"). When they run giggling into the street they come face to face with the Exterminator, who incinerates them. This is pretty creepy because it seems like he could have intervened a bit earlier but didn't. One of the surviving gang members even says that "it's like he was waiting for us."

These punks are from a The Warriors style street gang lead by 'X' (Mario Van Peebles). X likes to make rambling, incoherent speeches about "owning the streets" while wearing weird, post-apocalytpic outfits and a Grace Jones flat-top (which changes from scene to scene) and his racially-diverse gang live in an abandoned subway station with a huge stash of machine guns. They commit all sorts of terrible crimes, such as stabbing random women to death and laughing about the look on their faces, or kidnapping them off the street to use as guinea pigs for their drug supply. This is one of those movies that tries to extrapolate gang culture and street crime into something nightmarish, but it just comes off as cheesy and cartoonish.

X's gang start their "war on the city" by robbing an armoured van and blowing up a police helicopter, laughing at the pilot as he burns alive in the cockpit. They carry the armoured truck driver to their underground hideout (a scene which inexplicably takes several minutes) where X, wearing suspenders with no shirt, spray paints a big "X" on the driver's chest and ties him to the railway tracks like Snidely Whiplash. If he had a moustache he'd probably twirl it, but since he is clean shaven he dramatically puts his arms in a big "X" until a passing train pancakes the guy. After all this has happened, the Exterminator shows up near the subway entrance and torches one of X's treetop lookouts, but he doesn't actually go into the subway tunnels to look for them. Maybe he was just passing by.

A lot of the second act is devoted to John Eastman's daily life, which sucks because it's poorly written and boring. In the first film he went completely Taxi Driver nuts, but here his double life as the Exterminator seems to have little impact on his day-to-day life. He befriends a garbage truck driver named Be Gee (Frankie Faison) and gets a day job as a garbage man, and gets into a relationship with a pseudo-stripper named Caroline (Deborah Geffner). She has dreams of Broadway but works in a crappy, Flashdance-style bar. I don't know why anyone would go there to watch a fully-clothed woman dance around to terrible synthesiser music, but according to a sign behind the bar they have "FREE BEER", so I guess that explains why it's so busy.

This is a Golan Globus movie, so naturally there's a lot of breakdancing, but in this film breakin' is something scary and evil, practised only by vicious street punks. Many of X's crew spontaneously pop-and-lock while committing crimes, and one of his henchman even conducts a drug deal under the guise of a roller-skating dance performance. I guess all these breakdancing street punks have made the Exterminator prejudiced against b-boys, because when they come across a harmless dance crew during a walk the park he looks disgusted and tries to call her away from them. Hey Eastman, b-boys are people too.

From the moment we see Caroline it's clear that she's going to suffer and/or die at the hands of X and his goons, and sure enough they chase her down and beat her during their walk in the park. Caroline is crippled in the attack, destroying her dancing career and sending her into a deep depression. I'm not really sure why they put this attack in the film, other than to check a box on the vigilante movie checklist. It's not like John needed any extra motivation to take out these scumbags, he's been gunning for them since the very beginning. Not that it matters anyway since she is later killed by X as a further act of revenge.

It seems that X's plans to dominate the city hinge on a drug deal with some cartoon mobsters, so Be Gee turns his garbage truck into an armoured combat vehicle so they can storm the big drug deal and steal his dope. Be Gee is killed in the process, so in preparation for the final showdown John further pimps out his garbage truck with more armour and some remote controlled machine guns. When X's gang storm the warehouse it's a pretty decent battle. So far the film has been surprisingly light on flamethrower action, so I appreciated the bit where X's gang stand around like morons as the Exterminator dumps a barrel of flammable liquid on them and sets them alight. It would have been cool if he'd used his signature flamethrower on X, but instead they play a game of cat-and-mouse along the warehouse catwalks until the Exterminator tricks him with a bag of explosives.

Exterminator 2 is directed by the producer of the first film, John Buntzman, and while the first film had a queasily realism about it, the sequel takes the plunge directly into camp. Less sleazy, more cheesy. Everyone's performance seems awkward and improvised, even Ginty, and Mario Van Peebles's scenery chewing makes it clear he's the only one aware of how stupid it all is. It should also be noted that this film features the worst soundtrack ever made. It's nothing but repetitive synthesiser music the whole way (except for an awful love song during a similarly awful sex scene). Nothing sucks the tension out of a scene like someone plinking away on a Casio. I think some people might get a few laughs out of this one, but it's nowhere near as good as the original.

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