The Exterminator (1980)
During a firefight in Vietnam, U.S. soldiers John Eastland and his best friend, Michael Jefferson, are captured by the Viet Cong. They are tied to wooden stakes with several other men, and tortured for information. When Eastland refuses to answer, the VC commander decapitates the soldier beside him with a machete. Jefferson escapes moments later, kills the remaining VC soldiers, and unties Eastland. Eastland then kills the VC commander.
The film then shifts to New York, where Eastland and Jefferson work in a warehouse. One day, Eastland catches a group of thugs, called the Ghetto Ghouls, trying to steal beer. He is attacked, but Jefferson comes to his aid. They defeat them, but the gang return to cripple Jefferson, gouging his spine with a meat hook. Eastland, after this incident, captures and interrogates one of the gang members with a flamethrower. He then attacks the gang’s base of operations with his rifle, shooting one gang member and leaving two others tied up in a basement (also shooting one of them afterwards), which is full of hungry rats.
Eastland’s vigilante justice doesn’t end there. The warehouse where he works has been forced into paying protection money. Gino Pontivini, the mob boss behind the scheme, has even taxed the workers’ paychecks. Eastland kidnaps Pontivini, and chains him above an industrial meat grinder. Eastland then demands information to get to Pontivini’s safe, which Pontivini reluctantly gives. Eastland barely survives an attack by Pontivini’s Dobermann, so upon returning, he lowers Pontivini into the grinder for lying about the dog. Jefferson and his family are given Pontivini’s money to help pay their bills.
Detective James Dalton begins investigating the attacks, while the press dub Eastland the “Exterminator”. Meanwhile, Eastland kills the ring leader of a child prostitution ring, as well as a state senator from New Jersey who sexually abuses children. He also kills three more members of the Ghetto Ghouls (one of which being the gang member he interrogated earlier), after witnessing them rob an elderly woman.
Meanwhile, the CIA has heard of the Exterminator and reaches an odd conclusion. Based on the current administration’s promise to cut down crime rates, they believe 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 city’s crime problem. They monitor Dalton’s investigation of the Exterminator. Dalton, working from a bootprint found at Pontivini’s home, discovers the Exterminator wears hunting boots 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 Vietnam War veteran; since he killed the Ghetto Ghouls with an M16 rifle, Dalton has narrowed his suspects accordingly.
Eastland visits Jefferson in the hospital, and because he will never be able to walk again, Jefferson asks Eastland to kill him. Eastland does, but coincidentally, Dalton is visiting the hospital at the same time. When he learns about Jefferson’s death, Dalton surmises that one of Jefferson’s friends was the Exterminator, and learns that one of his suspects, Eastland, was Jefferson’s closest friend.
Eastland is aware that Dalton is staking out his apartment, so he arranges a private meeting with him, where he hopes to explain why he became a vigilante. However, the CIA are aware of the rendezvous after bugging Eastland’s phone. They ambush him at his meeting with Dalton, which results in Dalton being killed while helping Eastland escape.
Mark Buntzman, producer of the first Exterminator and producer/ director/writer of the sequel, was born in 1949. As a boy, he grew up in New York where he met James Glickenhaus. We were neighborhood friends,” Buntzman recalls. “We grew up a black from each other.” Glickenhaus, director/writer of The Exterminator, was born in New York City in 1950. “Neither of us went to film school,” Buntzman says. “I took one ‘Intro to Filmmaking course at MIT and Jim had started a little educational film about Einstein at a school, but he hadn’t finished it. So in the “Intro’ course at MIT, we took advantage of the facilities and we finished that little ten-minute film.”
In 1977 the duo created The Astrologer (1975) an arty science fiction feature made for $65,000. Buntzman explains, “The Astrologer was financed by Jim. I raised a little bit more money and got us a discount on Panavision equipment and [got] all of the grip and electric equipment for free.” The two young filmmakers were able to successfully self-distribute their first feature by hand-delivering prints to theaters and drive-ins in the American South. Buntzman continues, “That was, in a sense, our college education. We did everything including collecting money from theaters. In that context we pretty well learned what foreign buyers were looking for. So The Exterminator was really born out of that.”
Buntzman remembers: “Jim and I were at the beach. He had read an article in the New York Times. There was outrage about a professor at Columbia University being mugged and paralyzed. We talked about the fact that in a couple days, the world’s gonna forget about it but that guy’s always gonna be paralyzed. That sort of became the inspiration for The Exterminator. Jim sat down and wrote a number of scenes that weren’t connected, they were individual vignettes of violence. Then we talked and thought about ways to connect that into a beginning, a middle, and an end. That turned into the screenplay he wrote for The Exterminator. But the inspiration was really what the marketplace was looking for. It was the feedback from the foreign distributors that we were focused on. We kind of knew what they wanted. We told them about ideas that we were thinking about for The Exterminator.” The titular hero in Glickenhaus’ vigilante themed script was Johnny Eastland, a disturbed Vietnam vet who snaps after his best friend is senselessly killed by a NYC gang.
The film’s initial $850,000 budget was provided by Glickenhaus’ family. Buntzman says, “The genesis work was probably six months, nine months. Our idea was to take the thing that had the most chance of succeeding even if we didn’t do a good job. We didn’t have experience, we didn’t have industry association. So we tried to take the safest, most exploitive thing we could and then we tried to make the best film that we could out of it. When we started, the hope was that we wouldn’t completely mess up-that we’d have a beginning, middle, and an end. We felt pretty brazen and full of chutzpah.”
As preproduction began in mid-1979, the unknown producer and director sought a recognizable name for the title role. “We had some credibility issues with certain agents,” Runtzman says. Joseph Bottoms, who had just completed Disney’s The Black Hole, was signed for a high fee and a hefty chunk of the profits. But a month before shooting was to begin, Bottoms’ agent called Glickenhaus to demand an additional ten grand. The furious director looked for another lead actor and found Robert Ginty.
The Brooklyn-born Ginty was a 31-year-old former rock drummer and Yale drama student. The 6-foot-2 actor had been on Broadway, in movies like Coming Home, and on TV as a regular on Baa Baa Black Sheep and The Paper Chase, Ginty recalled, “My agent called and said that a picture called The Exterminator was in production and that, for some reason, the lead was going to be replaced within 24 hours. I read the script, loved it, and flew to New York that night.” Ginty had real-life experience with the subject matter. When he was a teenager, he and his best friend were attacked by a gang. The friend was shot dead.
Joseph Bottoms was out, but two “names” were added to the cast. Christopher George played the burnt-out cop who tracks down the vigilante. The rugged actor was known for the TV series The Rat Patrol plus drive-in hits like Dixie Dynamite and Grizzly. British Oscar nominee Samantha Eggar played the superfluous role of a doctor who dates the cop.
The part of Jefferson, Eastland’s ill-fated Nam buddy, went to Steve James, a 27-year-old African-American actor, martial artist, and stuntman, who had done bits and stunts in New York-shot features like The Wiz and The Warriors (as a “Baseball Fury”).
In September of 1979, The Exterminator started eight weeks of principal photography. One of the best things about The Exterminator is how it captures the sleazy, late-70s New York City ambience. Some of the denizens that Ginty passes onscreen were real street dwellers. Buntzman says, “It was about 40 days (shooting) in New York. We actually shot in locations in Times Square. The thing remember best was sticking the camera in a cardboard box with some holes in it and our cinematographer walked down the street holding it and walked through the crowd. A couple things like that, we stole. A lot of the stuff was written to be shot at the Bronx Terminal Market, which was an area that my family controlled.
The now-defunct produce distribution center covered 32 acres near Yankee Stadium. The stuff on the loading docks, when they go inside and a guy is paying off the mafia, and out back where Ginty’s character is attacked. And the car chase where the motorcycle jumps and the car goes over the elevated road. Stuntmen usually jump a light bike. We actually used a full, heavyweight bike to do the jump. Buntzman appears in this scene as a burping, booze-guzzling thug.
Buntzman remembers Christopher George as a modest man. “I had a conversation with him,” the producer says. “And one of the feelings he expressed to me is: he never had some sense like he was ever going to get hired again and that some kid in New York would just decide to offer him a job. He didn’t know why that would happen.”
“When we had largely edited the film.” Buntzman says, “we saw we had a beginning, a middle, and an end and it was actually working. And people that had come by the editing room were anxious for us to finish it and offer it for sale. Then we had the idea that we could shoot a Vietnam sequence and raise the whole image of the film.” In the original script, the movie’s dialogue explained that the Exterminator and his friend had a traumatic war experience in their past, but the combat scenes weren’t going to be shown.
The opening war images-with explosions and a helicopter-were shot in a wooded area of Indian Dunes, California. Buntzman says, “I did four weeks of prep for four days of shooting, which was a wonderful thing. I had time to get all the special effects designed. Jim had to be away for some of the prep so I had to do the local casting. He was able to get there just in time to shoot.
Apocalypse Now had come out and had grandeur and spectacular stuff, so we went the other way. Instead of the grandeur, we concentrated on a small canvas and decided to do more with the helicopter than anybody had done. We used) some really top-notch special effects people. It came out spectacular. We had all this equipment and helicopters, planes crashing in the river, exotic animals and a crew of 150 people. I remember looking around and thinking, ‘This was a dream in our heads just two years ago, just some idea that we were writing down on a piece of paper,’ and it had become that real.” The Califomia shoot included the film’s opening image of an explosion blowing a U.S. soldier off a high mountain. Buntzman says, “We talked about starting (the film) with action. What could be more action than if the first frame is an explosion out of darkness? So we shot that and we had five cameras going.”
Buntzman recalls, “We had some issues with special effects that were maddening. We’d have situations where we’d need a gunshot and there’d be no bullets. Some of it was very primitive. There’s a scene where the Steve James character is being mugged and a garden claw is jammed into his back and twisted That special effect amounted to me going to the grocery store and getting a big brisket of beef, putting it under his shirt, taking a tool from my mom’s garden taping it to my wrist, and jamming his back. (Laughs] We had a number of things that happened that were super anxiety provoking. There’s a scene with an attack dog. On the day we get there to shoot and the dog shows up-it’s a puppy. It’s the sweetest little puppy and he can’t attack anything. So we shoot the scene where the Exterminator is going through the house and the dog attacks him and he’s rolling on the floor with the dog biting him and he stabs the dog. The truth is that that dog didn’t do anything and Bob was actually holding the dog onto him and shoving his arm in the dog’s face and the dog’s turning his face away. We thought ‘This is a disaster! How could these people show up with that for an attack dog? It was terrible and we were upset. I asked [the editor] to stop what she was doing and cut that scene because we were scheduling another day to re-shoot it and wanted to see what we had. She cut this scene and put some sound effects of dog squealing to it and it came out wonderful and it was a real big surprise. When we had the MPAA rating the film, one of the things that was just too violent for them was the dog scene and we had to cut it down. I had to laugh because what they were actually looking at is a puppy dog turning his face away from an arm.”
“What I did was an insert, actually, after the film had been completed. It was a decapitation scene.” The job was one that Tom Burman had accepted, but found he was too busy to do himself; so rather than tell the producers he couldn’t do it, he offered it to Winston. “1 think Tom mentioned that we would possibly work together on it anyway.” says Winston. “Tom did all the other effects for that scene-a couple of bullet hits and a cut throat-and the decapitation effect I did.”
The original concept was to have the victim of the beheading scream as he was decapitated. “I discussed it with Tom, and we both felt that it would be more exciting if the decapitation wasn’t done cleanly that is, to have the head severed, but still attached to the body, dangling. We’ve seen so many decapitations, we wanted to avoid people saying ‘oh boy, here comes another one, Ho Hum…. The effect was indeed quite animated, but for all intents and purposes, was just a little too gory to be shown in its entirety in the final cut of the film. “It was fun to do anyway, and a good exercise, because it was very difficult. I designed it so they could shoot it over and over again. The head was literally hinged so it cold come back up and the seam wouldn’t show when the machete went through the neck.” At least a dozen takes were shot from different angles, and the hinge idea turned out to be a good one.
The body of the victim” was fiberglass, hinged at all the joints so that it could “convulse.” Everything was controlled by cables and air pressure tubes that went through the body and up through the neck into the face. “It was literally pulling strings to operate the eyes rolling back into the head, and the eyelid and jaw movement for the scream.”
The initial mold off the actor’s body was a plaster bandage, and from that, a fiber glass cast was made. A series of different molds for the body sheet was used, and a series of different urethanes. The sub structure was fiberglass, and all of the mechanics were contained within. The facial substructure was also fiberglass.
The main difficulty was having the mechanics of the eyes and mouth continue working with the head in various positions–dangling, or upright. There was a series of springs within the cable formation that allowed everything to bend and still operate properly.
Perfecting the head effect took about two months. “I had Vince Prentiss, James Cummins and Carl Cobery in the lab with me. Tom helped with the final painting, and on the set there were seven of us in this little hut operating the body-keeping the blood pumping, air gurgling through the trachea, and the breathing going.
The beheading effect itself was on screen for a mere second or two at the most. “What you finally saw.” describes Winston,”was the knife go through the neck and heard the scream as it went through, and then they cut to another scene, which I thought was quite intelligent on their part. As I said, it was a fun effect to figure out. but not something you would want to sit and watch.
The brutal scene where Eastland and comrades are tortured by the Viet Cong included The Exterminator’s most notorious image: a grisly beheading supervised by the late effects legend Stan Winston. It took Winston and three assistants two months to create the effect, which cost the filmmakers $25,000. The “head” was filled with a complicated series of springs and cables and covered with flesh-colored latex and a wig. Winston said, “The head was literally hinged so it could come up and the seam wouldn’t show when the machete went through the neck. On the set there were seven of us in this little hut operating the body-keeping the blood pumping, air gurgling through the trachea, and the breathing going. It was literally pulling strings to operate the eyes rolling back into the head, and the eyelid and jaw movement for the scream.” The effect was shot over twelve times with multiple cameras running at different speeds.
Buntzman and Glickenhaus wanted The Exterminator finished in time to be sold at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1980. Buntzman recalls. “It was the first film mixed in Dolby in New York City. We emptied my office and filled it with editing equipment and we were cutting all the tracks. Meanwhile, the [Dolbyl studio wasn’t finished and was being built and it was like, ‘Oh, my God, they gotta get done! It pretty much finished perfectly as far as timing. We decided that we would promote the film, go to Cannes), rent a theater, do the PR, and do the advertising on our nickel.” The prologue and additional tweaking had raised the budget from $850,000 to just under $2 million. The Vietnam sequence cost $400,000-about 20 percent of the final budget.
Buntzman: “We got the largest screening room in Cannes and we brought a lot of kids into the theater to make sure that it was packed and standing-room-only. I remember running with the print and hand-punching the reel-change marks in the theater as people were coming in just barely getting it ready ” A thousand people came to the screening, but the theater only had 600 seats. Many top distributors had to stand or sit on the floor. During the beheading, a man started to vomit. Buntzman says, “About six minutes into the film, someone passed out and was carried out in an ambulance. The people loved the screening and right after a Japanese distributor offered more than our asking price for the film.” The Japanese rights went to the company Joy Pack for $500,000. ‘Within a couple days, we were-on paper at least, in contracts-in profit on the film. It was certainly surprising to be the number-one film over there. At the same time, it was a situation where we had to make decisions about stuff we really knew nothing about, so it was scary as well. There were questions about censorship. I was afraid if we sold Southeast Asia the film and it didn’t pass their censors, they’d just bootleg it and we’d lose it. I’d heard all kinds of stuff like that. It was exciting, but it was unnerving. And then of course, we still had to come back to the States and sell it domestically.”
North American rights were picked up by Avco Embassy Pictures. The small distributor had recent success with low-budget, violent genre movies like Phantasm, The Fog and Prom Night. But the hard violence in The Exterminator almost prevented it from getting seen in the U.S. Forty-seven seconds of grisly images, including most of the beheading and a shot of the burnt “chicken hawk” pimp, had to be cut from the film to secure an R rating. The Exterminator was set loose in New York on September 10, 1980.
Buntzman: “I think we did $1 million the first week in New York City. We felt pretty great.” Grindhouse patrons were delighted with this skuzzy, twisted movie that went farther than most exploitation epics of the era. After playing in only 125 cinemas, The Exterminator was number one on Variety’s chart of the 50 top-grossing movies for September and ultimately grossed $4 million in U.S. ticket sales. The total worldwide gross-after foreign, TV, and home video sales—was $35 million.
Ginty said, “The Exterminator is being accepted because everyone knows that everyone in New York is terrified. Even the most liberal have become frustrated. We now have a Wild West situation in the cities. I was brought up in New York, and I know what I’m talking about. There’s not a person in the city who isn’t aware of the violence on the streets. All he can do is hope that he won’t become a victim. When I go back to New York and see how frightened everyone is, I think the vigilante philosophy is justified.”
Interview with Director James Glickenhaus
So, how did you get into the movie business?
James Glickenhaus: I always loved movies. And it was a magical time for movies at the end of the sixties and early seventies, when independents were making films, people in New York, like Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese. Movies at the time didn’t have to have a happy ending, if you know what I mean. I liked that a lot. I went to a lot of movies, studied them. And when I got out of college – I was an art student – I did an entrepreneurial thing with a cruise ship which made some money and I took that money and made THE ASTROLOGER.
That’s a pretty bizarre movie.
James Glickenhaus: It is a strange picture. It was a learning experience. The parts that seemed to work the best were the action parts. So that was what I tried to do with my second film, THE EXTERMINATOR: much more continuous action, less dialogue.
THE EXTERMINATOR is a powerful movie. Not in the least because it has some extreme violence which at the time was considered really shocking.
James Glickenhaus: It was a time in which violence was on everybody’s mind, because of the war in Vietnam. And television and film had sanitized violence for a long time. Someone points a gun, it goes bang and on the other side of the street some guy goes ‘Aaaaah’ and falls down. But violence is really pretty unpleasant and I thought I had an obligation to portray it that way. And that was the issue with THE EXTERMINATOR: he was an average person, not some sort of Dirty Harry, and he was pushed into something and responds as a vigilante. But he has mixed feelings about it. The purpose of the film wasn’t to glorify violence or vigilantism, but to ask questions. What happens in society when it loses the ability to bring people to justice and people take justice into their own hands?
But that’s not how the critics saw your movie. Most condemned it on moral grounds.
James Glickenhaus: In terms of any criticism I’m always reminded of what the art critic of the New York Times wrote the first time Renoir showed. He wrote: ‘His ability to paint is as poor as his sense of color’. Renoir is still in museums and that critic – well, I’m sure he must be dead now – I don’t think people care about him. I didn’t care what critics said. I was more interested in going to a theater and see what the audience’s reaction was. And the audience loved THE EXTERMINATOR. It did incredibly well for an independent film. It went to the top of the charts. It is still one the highest grossing films of all time in 1980 dollars. It only cost two dollars to get into a theater then. It was a huge financial success and people liked it, otherwise it wouldn’t have been.
The decapitation scene at the beginning is still shocking. I think it’s because it has a nightmarish quality: slightly slow motioned images of the Vietcong soldier whose machete goes through that neck with an ease that is really creepy. It’s like a knife through butter.
James Glickenhaus: That was definitely my intention. I had seen APOCALYPSE NOW and it was the first time I saw war depicted as a hallucinogenic vision. I think that’s what I was trying to do. Not that I could compete with APOCALYPSE NOW, but I did want to convey the feeling that this was completely insane, out of control and not resulting in anything. And that was the lesson from Vietnam. For whatever idiotic reason America never learned that lesson and repeated the mistake in places like Iraq. It’s just mind boggling to me that after Vietnam we would keep fighting wars we cannot win. That special effect was done by Stan Winston and the dummy was so realistic that I believe I used it in all the shots. I don’t think the actor I used was even in the film. Or if he is, it’s only for a second or two.
I really love the song Theme for an American Hero by Chip Taylor at the end of the movie. Did he write and record that song especially for THE EXTERMINATOR?
James Glickenhaus: Yes, he did write it for the movie. And I got Roger Bowling to write the opening song, called Heal it. Bowling wrote some famous songs, like Lucille and Coward of the County. And of course Chip wrote songs like Wild Thing and Angel of the Morning. Yeah, I went to the recording studio with those guys to record the songs. I enjoyed it quite a bit. And for THE SOLDIER I worked with George Strait who wrote Fool-Hearted Memory for the movie. I wound up publishing it.
Did you know that Chip Taylor re-recorded the song a few years ago, on an album called Songs of Freedom?
James Glickenhaus: I didn’t know that he did. Ha!
Give me a story from the set of The Exterminator?
James Glickenhaus: We were looking for a place to shoot the Chicken House scene with The New Jersey State Senator and The NYC Police shut down a Times Square Whore House and suggested we use it to film in. It made for a very realistic scene and saved us art direction cost.
You filmed in a real whore house on 42nd Street for THE EXTERMINATOR?
James Glickenhaus: Yes I did. We were right there when the police closed it down and they asked if we wanted to shoot there. And of course I did. And for SHAKEDOWN we shot in real places too. What they tend to do nowadays, is film the exteriors on locations and build sets for the interiors. It’s also for the benefit of the actors. I mean, we didn’t shoot at the cleanest places and they had to hang out there between takes. It was a bit edgy for them. The actors I worked with didn’t mind at all, but I don’t believe the stars of today would put up with it. If you look at a guy like Robert De Niro and what he did and went through for the parts he played I don’t think actors nowadays are willing to do that. I’m not saying there aren’t any great actors now, but they aren’t willing to go to the same level as people like De Niro or Klaus Kinski or Marlon Brando. I mean their level of insanity gave us some great art.
You opted not to make the sequel. Why?
James Glickenhaus: Basically, I thought THE EXTERMINATOR told the story of the Exterminator. I didn’t see where you could go from there, other than make a sequel in which he goes around killing more bad guys. Interestingly enough, FIRST BLOOD felt like a sequel to THE EXTERMINATOR – and I’m not claiming they ripped me off or anything like that – I’m just saying philosophically it’s sort of a sequel. You could see John Rambo as an extension of John Eastland who, after he climbs out of the water, goes up state to find some peace and quiet and once again he gets embroiled in a situation. But at the time I didn’t see any way to continue his story, so I wanted to do something else. And because of the success of THE EXTERMINATOR I had a chance to work with the same studio, Avco Embassy, and they wanted me to do a more mainstream film, which was THE SOLDIER. By and large I like the film. It did well, it was a commercial success. What I probably, maybe should have done, at the time, right after THE EXTERMINATOR, was to move to LA, get a big time agent and just do big Hollywood films.
Why didn’t you?
James Glickenhaus: I guess I should have. I was contacted a lot by studios. But I think I was afraid of the control of the studios. I had the ability to make films independently. I enjoyed doing it that way. Another part of it was I loved New York. I loved living in New York. I had a lot of friends there. And I knew if I really wanted to be a Hollywood director I would have had to move to LA and spend a lot of time socializing to make contacts. You know, for want of a better word, networking. And I wasn’t interested in doing that. I’m not saying that’s bad. I just really didn’t want to do it. But I probably should have done it. I probably would have been a more successful director if I had. I was offered the big Steven Seagal movies back then. He really wanted to work with me. I turned them down. But I don’t look back. I had a great time.
You speak of New York with a lot of affection. Do you miss the dirty old New York from before the big clean up?
James Glickenhaus: I really do. Times Square had a certain magic. Now that it’s Disneyland it’s a completely different thing. Look, there were some pretty sad things that happened in Times Square. And there were people who had some pretty bad experiences. There was drugs and prostitution and AIDS. Bad stuff. Having said that, if you look at a film like TAXI DRIVER, there is a visual truth in that film that’s very exciting. That isn’t there anymore in New York. If you look at SPIDER-MAN or THE DARK KNIGHT it’s a very cartoonish view of what the city really looks like. Things change, the city changes, but I don’t think anyone will ever shoot a scene like I did in SHAKEDOWN, where we shut down 42nd Street between Broadway and 8th, for three nights in a row! We shot from midnight ‘till four in the morning and staged real stunts there. That just doesn’t happen anymore. And I miss it. I do miss it.
How close did you come to the squalor? Was there, for instance, interference from street people when you filmed there?
James Glickenhaus: Well, there always was. But that was part of the excitement. I was shooting in the city. It was a bit edgy, although when we shot at 42nd Street for SHAKEDOWN we had 200 policemen outside [laughs]. That was an almost military type operation. I loved going to those theaters at 42nd Street and see a double feature, seeing it with a crowd. There were very poor people there who almost lived in those theaters. Back then it was Roger Corman over there, now it’s The Lion King. To me it was a lot more interesting back then.
Exterminator 2 (1984)
Following from the previous film, it shows Eastland walking freely on the streets of New York, without any hint that his dual identity was compromised. He meets up with another old army buddy, Be Gee (Faison), who owns a garbage truck. As seen at the beginning of the film, Eastland wears a welders’ mask and wields a flame thrower, while listening to a police scanner for possible crimes to stop. Slaying the brother of a gang leader named X (Van Peebles), the Exterminator gains the gang’s enmity. Coincidentally, his army buddy happens to see the gang during a robbery of an armoured car, and scares them away with his truck. However, they get the truck’s plate numbers, and vow revenge. Following the truck one night when the buddy loans it to Eastland, they follow Eastland to his home, and, not having seen who the driver of the truck was the night it scared them away, they presume Eastland was the man behind the wheel that night. They attack Eastland’s girlfriend in the park, crippling her. Later, they break into her apartment and kill her.
Then Eastland and his buddy interrupt a drug deal between X’s gang and the mob, stealing the narcotics in the process, though the army buddy dies. Having earlier captured one of the gang members, Eastland allows him to escape to draw X into a confrontation, with the drugs as bait, in a closed up industrial site. Curiously, X seems to be aware of the Exterminator’s real name in this final battle. Eastland triumphs, but was shot when last seen, and is seen walking away.
The Exterminator became one of the most beloved entries in the vigilante genre. But James Glickenhaus and Mark Buntzman didn’t immediately start on an Exterminator 2. Buntzman explains, “I don’t think either of us realized that the sequel had value at that time. I think Jim needed to see what he could do on his own. So we really didn’t have much contact after that. We very much went our separate ways. I ended up with the sequel rights.” After The Exterminator, Glickenhaus wrote and directed other action thrillers like The Soldier, Shakedown and Slaughter of the Innocents. He now works on Wall Street as a financial advisor.
Buntzman: “I was at dinner with some foreign buyers. One of the buyers was a video distributor from England and he told me that The Exterminator was actually the largest grossing video in England-ever. He said at that moment it was bigger than Star Wars. And he said, ‘I will give you a million dollars for worldwide video rights for Exterminator 2.’ I said, ‘Well, what kind of film are you talking about? Is that a million-dollar film? is that a $500,000 film? Is it a $4 million film?’ He said, ‘It’s a film that has a beginning, a middle, and an end and has the name Exterminator 2 on it. The rest is up to you.’ Then I started thinking about what to do. I started talking to friends and there was a whole group of people that were saying, “Make a half-million dollar film or a million-dollar film. Get all your money from [the English deal]. You’ve got all the rest of the rights and you’ll make a fortune.’ I felt like that would be-my very first time out by myself-ripping the industry off and ripping the public off even more. So I thought, ‘What’s the best thing I can do? The idea I had was to make it a helicopter film. This was before Blue Thunder.”
Buntzman planned to raise more money for the sequel by preselling distribution rights at the American Film Market, which was taking place in California in November of 1982. He recalls, “It was six weeks before AFM, which was at the Holiday Inn on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood. I applied for a billboard on Wilshire Boulevard and on the morning that the film market opened, it opened to a 30-foot tall billboard that faced the [hotel). The artwork had Exterminator and his girlfriend and the futuristic helicopter-the likes of which no one had ever seen and the logo
E2: Exterminator 2. That created a huge stir. Some people thought it was horrible and should be torn down. Other people thought it was a great gimmick.”
William Sachs, a filmmaker who worked with Buntzman on the promotion, recalls, “We did some cool stuff. There was an empty lot across the street and we landed a helicopter there a real military helicopter-and everybody freaked out.”
Buntzman: “I had a foreign sales agent and he started making sales. We quickly did about $2 million in sales and we were projecting that the foreign marketplace alone was going to net me about $5 million. It was the most successful sales campaign that anybody had ever done in the foreign marketplace. The marketplace didn’t seem to care that I hadn’t been credited as a writer and director of a film before. It was an enormously exciting, bewildering, and successful moment. So my idea was to make the most expensive film I could, spend all of the money I got from foreign sales making the best film I could and then I would still own domestic rights free and clear.
“But that quickly ground to a stop because I got blackmailed by a couple guys. I was getting told by foreign distributors that they were looking at a piece of paper these guys had that said they had the rights. I didn’t know what they were talking about. So I went to file a lawsuit against them. I didn’t have any documents that could assure buyers that I really did have the rights. I didn’t have an insurance company saying I did. So the buyers stopped putting down their deposits and that whole thing just ground to a stop. It took me several months to find these characters to serve them. And it took me an entire year to finally get them to admit that they didn’t have any rights. They tried to make themselves partners with me and I wouldn’t have anything to do with them. Once they acknowledged that they didn’t have any rights, then I got the insurance and that was just two days before I happened to have this chance meeting with Cannon.”
The Cannon Group was an independent company run by the Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. The pair had produced a number of unsuccessful “prestigious” pictures but their steady stream of formula action pictures (with reliable stars like Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris) kept their factory running and satiated VHS and cable addicts. Cannon had recently signed a lucrative deal with major studio MGM to handle the North American theatrical and video releases of their features.
Buntzman: “I was meeting with Cannon. I had a guy William Sachs working for me who was a director. We were trying to get a film done for him.”
Sachs had worked on dozens of features since the late 1960s and was best known as the writer-director of The Incredible Melting Man and Galaxina. He recalls, “I had a project called Cowgirl that we were putting together. It was a revenge picture about a female country star whose husband got killed. We had Tanya Tucker (attached) at one time.”
Buntzman: “So I met with Menahem about possibly doing this other film and Menahem asked me what the best project I had was. I said, Well, it’s The Exterminator. But it’s not for you.’ He said, ‘Of course, it’s for me. We’re gonna be able to guarantee you a gross participation from MGM. Your first movie as a director will be distributed by MGM, and we’ll give you part of the foreign sales and you’ll have complete creative control and we’ll give you this much money. Of course you want to do it with us. It might have been a deal with the devil but it was also an offer I couldn’t refuse. I always thought you had to be really careful with those guys. But I thought I was gonna be getting a gross piece from MGM and also from foreign sales, plus the fees. plus creative control. I didn’t know what else I could ask for. It turned out there was plenty.”
The Cowgirl movie was dead, but Sachs was given work on the Exterminator sequel. Buntzman explains, “When I was shooting Exterminator 2. I either had to let (Sachs) go or keep him working for me. He had a wife and a new baby, so I paid him to come along. He was just assisting. At that time, he insisted he didn’t want credit and I said I was going to make him a co-producer.”
Exterminator 2 went into preproduction as soon as Cannon made the deal and shooting was to begin in early 1984. Buntzman: “That gave me 90 days to write a screenplay. And it had to be a completely new idea because during that period Blue Thunder had come out and the novelty of a futuristic helicopter had been fully exploited better than I ever could have. So I took a completely different turn and I, kind of tongue-in-cheek, made a film where instead of a helicopter, it was a garbage truck. And I tried to make a movie that had a language of music and dance buried in it with less-than spectacular success because the studio wasn’t really fond of that idea. [Laughs) What happened with Cannon was a train wreck from day one. had foreign sales, they wanted those sales, and as soon as I made a deal with them they really didn’t care about the film anymore. From that moment on, I was in the way of their just making the cheapest thing they could do and collecting what they could from the contracts. So we were at loggerheads from day one.”
Buntzman’s final screenplay had John Eastland and his black sidekick “Be Gee” working as New York City garbage men. When Eastland learns of a vicious drug-dealing gang led by the flamboyant X, the Exterminator and Be Gee tum their garbage truck into an armored and armed vigilante machine.
Buntzman: “My contract provided for a minimum of eight weeks of prep and for the first six weeks I sat in my hotel room waiting for them to start. Until they got some changes to the agreement, they wouldn’t start the film. We ended up trying to do a special effects movie with one-and-a-half weeks prep. To do an eight or ten-week shoot with one-and-a-half weeks prep was chaos and compromised everything.”
The first Exterminator had turned Robert Ginty into a bankable international action star and he followed it with violent overseas movies like Warrior of the Lost World (1984) and White Fire (1984). He came back to New York to reprise his first action lead in Exterminator 2.
Sachs recalls, “I kind of knew there was gonna be trouble when Mark Buntzman and I went to New York and met with Bob Ginty for lunch. Bob came in with pages of notes of how he wanted to play the character and what he wanted to do. They were intelligent, good notes. And Mark wouldn’t listen to him.”
There was no love interest for John Eastland in the first film, but for the sequel Buntzman created Caroline, a Flashdance-style performer who becomes involved with the vigilante. The role was played by Deborah Geffner, a stunning actress dancer-singer known for the Broadway musical A Chorus Line and the film A That Jazz.
Geffner recalls, “I hadn’t seen or heard of the first Exterminator before my involvement with the sequel. I was asked to do the film by Edward Love with whom I had acted in A Chorus Line on Broadway. He was the choreographer for Exterminator 2. I was his only choice. He asked me to rehearse with him, and he choreographed a dance. I didn’t like the extreme violence in the script, but Love told me that he and Mark Buntzman were trying to turn out a small cult classic like Liquid Sky. That was his vision of the film anyway, which turned out to be entirely different from Robert Ginty’s vision and Golan and Globus’ vision. He asked Mark to come to the studio and watch me, after which Mark was completely taken with me. I read for him right there, and he offered me the part right away. Ed put me in touch with a very avant-garde new costume designer whom he wanted to use to give Caroline and the X gang a distinctive look. He came to my apartment and created a dance costume on me by draping about five yards of black fabric on me and then ripping it and redraping while it was on me. I found the Norma Kamali high-heeled sneakers danced in. I kept them and washed the fake blood off. Both my daughters wore them to their proms.”
The stocky, acclaimed New York stage actor Frankie Faison was cast as trash collector Be Gee. A charismatic, well-built actor-model named Mario Van Peebles got one of his first big roles as the gang leader “X” Sachs explains, “His name is X because Mark couldn’t decide what name to give him, so he kept putting an ‘X’ in the script and eventually that was his name!
Geffner recalls, “Mario Van Peebles is a wonderful actor and was a total professional at all times. He created a lot of his own character including his costumes. His character was supposed to be a dirty, ragged version of a street gang leader. He took that in a whole other, very interesting direction. He was very congenial off the set, but when we were on set together, I have a memory of him staying in character which included being somewhat distant and aloof.”
Hulking actor Irwin Keyes-who had played a villain in the first entry-was back as a chain-swinging member of the X gang. Sachs says. “He’s got acromegaly. I knew him from when I lived in New York. A friend of mine once made me a spice rack and [Keyes] came with him to deliver it.”
Playing the roller-skating thug “Eyes” was Scott Randolf Sachs explains “Mark and I found the skater while walking down the streets. He was a guy that skated on the street and you’d put money in his hat.”
David Buntzman, father of Mark, played a cane-tapping, drug-supplying Mafioso. The elder Buntzman controlled the locations where much of the first Exterminator was shot, and more of his property was used for the sequel. Mark Buntzman explains, “My family had purchased what had been the Washburn Wire Factory in Manhattan on the upper East Side. It was three blocks along the East River. I used that as my studio. The big interior fight scene where the garbage truck shoots the gang and rolls over some cars-that’s all interiors in one of our buildings. The bar (set) was built in one of the empty buildings.”
Geffner recalls, “Most of the ‘indoor’ scenes were filmed in an abandoned warehouse. It was February, the dead of winter. We were shooting in New York at night, and this vast, dusty warehouse had no heating whatsoever. For some reason one of the walls in the huge space where I was dancing was completely gone. So we were basically outside. I would huddle in front of a space heater in my down jacket and down pants until it was time to peel them off and dance. I always tried to wait until the last second. Robert Ginty was about to get married at the time, and he was in the middle of filming this violent movie, pretending to kill people and have an affair. I was just recently married myself, and we had some interesting conversations about his desire to have this beautiful, pure marriage, how that affected what he was doing in the role, and how the role was affecting him. The Exterminator franchise was his. The film was resting on his shoulders and I’m sure he felt a lot of responsibility for the way it would turn out.”
One of the odder moments in Exterminator 2 is when the vigilante and his girlfriend stop to watch some street dancers in Central Park. Buntzman says, ‘When I did this film, the only breakdance stuff that had happened anywhere was in Flashdance. The breakdancers in my film were just guys off the street. I got these guys and I shot a bunch of breakdance stuff and I took that to Cannon. I met with Menahem and Yoram and I said, ‘We really should do a breakdance movie.’ They told me they weren’t interested. Then one day, an editor told me that Cannon had him cut out the Exterminator 2 breakdance footage and cut it together like a trailer and they used that to pre-sell Breakin.”
BEHIND THE SCENES/RESHOOTS
Several elaborate action scenes in Buntzman’s script ended up being only partially shot or completely discarded by Cannon, including a scene where Eastland and Caroline are attacked in the moving garbage truck by the X gang: a sequence where an exploding helicopter blows out the windows of the bar and injures several patrons; and, a junkyard vignette where a thug is scooped up by a crane and dropped into an incinerator Buntzman: “Stuff like that just got shifted to the end of the shoot. I didn’t get to shoot the script that I started out at.”
Sachs recalls, “Buntzman’s big problem in the whole thing was indecision. That was the biggest problem all the way through. They’d give him a choice of wardrobe and he couldn’t pick. He’d say, “I’ll tell you later.’ and he would never pick. I think the culminating problem happened in the scene in the subway downstairs. He couldn’t decide where to put the camera and everybody had a meeting and everyone was telling him where to put the camera. It went on for, like, an hour. The DP had an idea, the script supervisor had an idea, the wardrobe person. And he just stood there. It was horrible to watch. It was sickening. Time got wasted. He was kind of overwhelmed. It took too long since he couldn’t make his mind up and didn’t know what he was doing.”
Buntzman: “At a certain point Cannon just wrapped. They wanted to stop. They weren’t happy. They said, ‘Okay, we’re stopping. They arbitrarily just pulled the plug and said to me, ‘You’re gonna have to find a way to write a beginning, a middle, and an end that connects all the missing pieces in a few days of shooting.”
Sachs remembers the last scene shot in New York: “It’s the scene where Ginty puts the kid in the back of the garbage truck. Ginty wouldn’t come out of his motor home. He was mad because Buntzman was making him look bad. He was giving him bad directions, I guess. He didn’t know how to talk to the actors. [Gintyl didn’t want to ruin his career by looking stupid. I got Ginty out of the motor home. I said, ‘You can direct that scene.’ So he came out and directed the scene. Mark was gone that day. He was fired because the budget was supposed to be $1.5 million and it had gotten to be over $3 million and he had about 40 minutes of the movie shot. That’s why Cannon fired him.” Cannon closed the Exterminator 2 shop in New York and moved it to Los Angeles.
Buntzman: “Cannon wanted a screening of the footage in a week and-a-half or two. We ended up being pressured to screen it for them in two weeks. After watching the screening they said, ‘Oh, okay, good.’ Then they said they wanted to screen it again a week later. I tried an [editing] experiment on something to see if it was gonna work or not. It actually made the film a little worse, but that was just an experiment. Protesting. I screened it again and after the screening, Menahem came out furious and said, “The film’s worse! I thought you were a director? It’s my mistake! Making a big scene. I later realized that this was all a performance that was really getting around the fact that they didn’t have the rights to distribute the film anymore and I had tremendous leverage with them that they didn’t want me to ever find out about. They had lost their deal with MGM, Without their deal with MGM, they couldn’t distribute the film. That was my deal that it was going to go through MGM. So they had to somehow pressure me into allowing them to distribute the film themselves. That’s pretty much what all this was about. I didn’t find this out till much later.”
MGM had become increasingly disappointed with Cannon’s movies and the distribution deal ended acrimoniously in June 1984. Golan and Globus were forced to create their own distribution unit to handle their product. Buntzman: ‘With this argument going on, we needed to shoot additional scenes and Bill (Sachs) was working for me. (Cannon) said, ‘Well, it’ll be okay if you work with Bill on this.
Sachs was known in the industry as a “film doctor.” He explains, “I’ve fixed 25 movies. They knew about it at Cannon. They were gonna get someone else to take over Exterminator 2 and Buntzman asked me if I would do it. I didn’t really want to because he was kind of a friend and I knew I couldn’t work with him (on set) because he was gonna want to discuss it with me and never decide. When I look over, I had to rewrite it. There was only 40 minutes of the movie done so I had to shoot the rest of it. I did the whole movie over, basically. It was so intricate making everything work. It was like an engineering plan because there was no movie. It was just a bunch of scenes that didn’t make sense and didn’t connect. Less than half was shot. Sometimes Buntzman didn’t finish shooting a scene. I wrote in the script: ‘insert here: put this here: get a shot of this here.’ It was like a puzzle and a challenge that I had to solve. I didn’t get paid much. It was just a weekly salary.”
Sachs continues, “I didn’t have any of the actors and I had to shoot 40 or 60 percent of the movie. Ginty was working on some other movie–they hadn’t even started shooting-and they were holding up Cannon for like $50,000 to let him do this. Cannon was freaking out. Then Deborah Geffner’s agent wanted a fortune. I didn’t have Frankie Faison, but his character was dead already. So I took Mario-who had a smallish part, he didn’t have many scenes—and I kind of made him the lead. He’s terrific and I thought he’d be a star. I was trying to figure out how to make the movie without the lead actors. There’s one scene where (Ginty) is pimping-out the garbage truck and he’s holding a torch then takes off the welding mask. He only wore the welding mask when he was doing that scene. So that gave me the idea to have the Exterminator with the welding mask running around with a flame thrower. That whole thing wasn’t in the movie originally. I used stunt guys with masks on and [that] one shot where (Ginty) takes the mask off and you see his face.”
The Exterminator’s girlfriend lived throughout Buntzman’s script but she didn’t survive the final film. A high angle shot of the naked Caroline laying face down on her bed with an “X* painted on her back was filmed to indicate that she had been killed by the gang. Sachs explains, “I had to kill Deborah Geffner. I didn’t have her. I put a body double on the bed. It was this young girl that came with her mother and the mother had to supervise it. So that’s how I killed her off.”
Sachs: “We had a really complicated scene on the first day of shooting in L.A. It was a shoot on a Monday. I went to the set with a small crew the Friday before. Not only did we work out every shot, but we put chalk marks on the floor where the camera would go. Over the weekend I came down with the flu and 104-degree fever. 1 showed up in a wheelchair because I couldn’t even stand up. We got done ahead of schedule because everybody knew all the shots.
“I did the whole beginning where you don’t see Exterminator’s face and he’s got the police scanner. I did the grocery store, the burn in the alley way. I did everything in the clubhouse: the scene with all the TV sets, the stuff on the elevator with the one-armed pushups, the big speech with the fire. I did everything with the flamethrower, like when the brother was killed in the tree. I did that in a parking lot in L.A. We had to bring a garbage truck from New York because the garbage trucks in New York are made of steel and the ones in L.A. are fiberglass. So a garbage truck had to drive across country. We had to dirty the streets and paint the curbs and put in hydrants and try to make it look like New York. Mark would come by the set and they’d chase him away because I couldn’t work if he was trying to tell everybody what to do. At one point I was doing a scene and I happened to look off to the side and I saw the script supervisor chasing him away. But I felt sorry for him because I liked the guy. He was a decent guy. I just had to do what was necessary for the movie. It was difficult because I really wanted to let him be involved but I couldn’t.”
David Buntzman came from New York to finish shooting his role. Sachs says, “It was weird because I had to direct the father after the son was fired. But I don’t think he really cared. He just wanted to be in the movie. thought he was really good.”
Sachs recalls filming the grisly images of the elderly couple getting killed in their store: “I insisted on having the gun go off and the squib go off in the same frame. When we shot it, it was one take and worked perfectly. The DP almost passed out when he saw it. He turned around and looked at me-he was pale–and said, ‘That’s the most realistic thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Of course, the MPAA felt the same. I had eight or nine (gun) shots and they kept saying we can’t have it. So I would take off one shot and send it back and they’d reject it. I’d take off another shot and send it back. We finally negotiated a quick cut of one shot. It was probably good that they (cut] it because it was really upsetting. When you’re shooting (and) you blow people up and you have heads chopped off, it’s all great fun. But you don’t realize how it affects some people.”
Buntzman’s original script climaxed with the Exterminator being bound by X to busy subway tracks before Caroline arrives to fatally shoot the villain. Butzman explains, “None of that was shot.”
Sachs wrote and directed an ending where the masked vigilante and X stalk each other in a warehouse before the gang leader gets blown up by a concealed grenade. Sachs says, “We shot the ending in Vernon, California, at a steel plant. It’s a giant complex. It was dangerous because had (the stuntmen) running around that steel plant up in the rafters on narrow walkways. It was like 100 feet in the air with spikes below. The gaffer, the grips, no one would go up there. I had the special effects guys go up there and rig lights because it was so scary up there.”
The scene ends with Van Peeble’s character falling to his death. Sachs: Joe Gilbride, who was one of the ones that did the burn in the alley way, was gonna do the fall. He used to set himself on fire for carnivals and fall 100 feet into a pool. Then someone complained and SAG protested because you have to double a black actor with a black stuntman. I’d me: Mario’s mother, whose a blonde-haired, blue-eyed German woman. But he’s considered black. We could not find one black stuntman willing to do it. It was dangerous because there were spikes. If you miss, you get impaled. And it was falling backwards on fire. Finally they talked Julius LeFlore, who was a (black) firefighter/stuntman, into doing it. The stunt coordinator, went through it with him (and) put gel on him. Just before we shot, he wiped his mustache with his hand which took the gel off. He burned the tip of his nose. Not a terrible burn, but he had to go to the hospital It was a real shame. Plus, the stunt wasn’t done well. It was supposed to be flailing and you could barely see movement in one arm. But he still won a Stuntman of the Year award for the best high fall.”
The film closed with a cool image of the Exterminator walking away from the camera as he discards his welder garb and flame thrower. Sachs says, “I loved my last shot, when he goes off into the whiteness. We took a white sheet and put every light we had on the other side and had him walk into it. I didn’t leave it (onscreen) forever, but it goes until he becomes like a skeleton and disappears.”
Editing was done at the Cannon facilities in Los Angeles. Sachs: “I think I shot most of the movie by the end. I think everything (Buntzman) shot, or parts of it, is in the movie.”
Buntzman: “I was initially working with the composer. And then, at a certain point, I was locked out of the editing room. Up till that time, I didn’t know that Bill Sachs had changed his loyalties through the shooting. He became a functionary of Cannon and that was a little bit of a surprise. had become persona non grata because I started to get in a lawsuit with Cannon] about distribution.
Sachs: “I didn’t ban him. I stayed friendly with him. We had a big screening and Golan and Globus were all excited. Menahem would introduce me to people: “Here’s Bill Sachs. If you have a movie in trouble, call Bill. If the elevator broken, I call Bill!'”
Promotional materials distributed prior to the film’s release billed Buntzman as the lone writer and director. But Sachs wanted credit for the many scenes he was responsible for. He says, “I was in the Writers Guild, so we went to the Writers Guild. They get a bunch of scripts and they have like, five people read it and give their determinations. The Guild decided it. We shared (writing credit). There wasn’t a Directors Guild (arbitration). (Cannon) wanted to give me co-director credit. wasn’t in the DGA (Directors Guild of America) yet, neither of us were. David Buntzman sued Cannon so Mark could have the directing credit and not have to share it. (Cannon) gave in and said [Buntzman) would have the sole directing credit. That lawsuit pissed me off, him trying to steal my credit. So I just put my credit right at the end: ‘Additional scenes directed by William Sachs. Buntzman flipped out and got all upset about that. I actually ran into him a few years later and he was okay. He’s a good guy!
Exterminator 2 was the second film (after Bolero) that Cannon distributed themselves after their breakup with MGM. The Exterminator sequel opened in 535 American theaters on September 14. 1984–almost exactly four years after the first entry hit screens.
Buntzman: “I remember seeing it in Manhattan. I was more than a little embarrassed at some of the changes that had happened. I was certainly disappointed. I had something slightly different in mind when we started out.”
Sachs: “I don’t love the movie. It’s a fun film. I would have done it differently if I’d done the whole thing. But I had to follow what Buntzman did and keep it the same style.”
Geffner: “I first saw the movie in Hollywood after it opened. I went with my husband and a director friend, who both thought it would be great fun. I went incognito dark glasses and everything. There was a family in the row right in front of us with really young children-five and eight-years-old. They sat through all this violence and blood and torture, and then, when the love scene came on, they put their hands over their children’s eyes, and left the theater in horror! I was so glad I was wearing a dark hoodie so they wouldn’t know it was me. I was interested to see the scenes that I hadn’t filmed at all! In one of them, two actors doubling as Caroline and Johnny were walking to Caroline’s apartment, shot from behind. You hear my voice and Bob’s saying dialogue from a different part of the movie. The company had contacted me about coming to L.A. to do re-shoots, but Bob wasn’t available, so it fell through. And then there was ‘my death scene. Please understand that in the movie that I shot in New York, Caroline lived. In the movie they released, suddenly … there was Caroline face down on the floor, naked, with a red ‘X’ on her, and, worst of all, fat! Not only that-it looked to me like the naked dead person may have been a boy. Quite a shock all in all.”
The sequel opened at #10 on the charts and collected $1.2 million in its first week. Within a month it was gone from theaters after a total gross of only $3.7 million at U.S. screens. Buntzman: “It was one of the first films that Cannon distributed themselves and it was a fairly clumsy, last-minute situation. Exterminator 2 had foreign sales that were good. The video sales were pretty big and the television sales were pretty big.”
An Exterminator 3 was discussed. Bunizman: “Cannon actually tried to get the rights from me for that. Any number of people have approached me and some folks attempted to license it for a television series. I had a number of meetings about that.
Sachs immediately followed the Exterminator sequel with the Cannon teen sex comedy Hot Chili (1985). He did later ‘film doctor work on Servants of Twilight (1991) and Leprechaun (1993) and directed Spooky House (2000). Buntzman and Van Peebles teamed up later to form Ivan Cain Productions and made the thriller Love Kilis in 1999. Ginty continued to star in action movies like Mission: KM, Out on Bail, and The Bounty Hunter. One was even called The Retaliator. He went on to direct live theater, direct-to-video features, TV episodes, and Disney theme park movies in IMAX and 3-D. He died of cancer, at age 61, in 2009. Sachs says, ‘Ginty was a good guy. I stayed friends with him. It’s sad that he died.”
Buntzman recalls working with Ginty: “It was an uneven experience. Robert was a good actor and I think he aspired to do some much more intellectual projects. He had a love/hate relationship with his Exterminator character. When he would get into character-which was a very angry character-he would tend to be angry, which made him hard to work with at those times. He would also apologize to me, sometimes, later. We finished out a situation, the shooting (of Exterminator 2), when he was quite angry. And then I saw him much later and he was apologetic and wanted to be friends and hang out and we did. And he would ask me advice. He was trying to get a studio off the ground in Ireland and he’d meet with me about that. So I think he regretted some of his behavior.”
For years, fans have discussed rumors about the existence of an Exterminator 2 “work print that was prepared prior to the cut that Cannon released. Bunizman: “There probably is a work print. I thought I had a copy of something, but I haven’t been able to locate anything. There’s just an outside, small chance, that I may have something. But I don’t think so. There is a bunch of stuff that was shot that isn’t in the film.”
The Exterminator (1980)
Robert Ginty as John “The Exterminator” Eastland
Christopher George as Det. James Dalton
Samantha Eggar as Dr. Megan Stewart
Steve James as Michael Jefferson
Tony DiBenedetto as Chicken Pimp (credited Toni Di Benedetto)
Dick Boccelli as Gino Pontivini
Patrick Farrelly as CIA Agent Shaw
Michele Harrell as Maria Jefferson
David Lipman as The State Senator from New Jersey
Tom Everett as Hotel Clerk
Ned Eisenberg as Marty
Irwin Keyes as Bobby
Cindy Wilks as Candy
Dennis Boutsikaris as Frankie
Exterminator 2 (1984)
Mario Van Peebles