The battle between commerce and vision in the world of filmmaking sometimes results in truly odd films. This can happen even at the low-budget level and a memorable example of this battle yielding such strange results is Exterminator 2. That the film exists in a finished form is a miracle in itself: it was dogged by directorial inexperience, a reluctant leading man, studio double-dealing and had to be extensively reworked and bolstered with new footage by a second director. However, it managed to make it past these obstacles to become one of the stranger entries in the vigilante genre.
Despite its sequel status, Exterminator 2 has little to do with its predecessor beyond some vigilante themes, the setting of New York City and the presence of Robert Ginty as Johnny Eastland. Any events from the last film are ignored, with Eastland merely being another guy trying to get by on NYC’s mean streets. Things look up for him when he gets a job working as a trash truck driver via his friend Be Gee (Frankie Faison). Even better, he becomes romantically involved with aspiring Broadway dancer Caroline (Deborah Geffner).
However, Johnny still has a habit of cruising the streets to bump off criminals (he now uses a flamethrower as his primary method!). When he takes out a gang of store-robbing thugs who work for X (Mario Van Peebles), the young ganglord swears vengeance and gets his men to hunt for Johnny. Unfortunately, Caroline gets caught in the crossfire and is crippled after a brutal beating. That’s all the inspiration Johnny needs to go into vigilante overdrive – and the stage is set for him to put his flamethrower and his garbage truck to good use on the city’s human refuse.
Though the above synopsis might seem to make sense, rest assured that Exterminator 2 plays out in a way that might make you question your sanity. Some scenes drag on with excess improv while others are bizarrely cut short and the hero sometimes seems like an extra in his own film (note how he doesn’t say one word during the lengthy finale). Even stranger is the way that Johnny’s vigilante actions are sometimes out of step with the way he acts in dialogue scenes (in one memorable example, he torches a gang member in one scene and then threatens to go after them a few dialogue scenes later!).
The reason for this disjointed, sometimes stream-of-consciousness feel is that the finished version of Exterminator 2 is a salvage job. William Sachs, who is credited as the co-writer, co-producer and director of “additional scenes,” was brought in to complete the film after Buntzman ran out of funds and couldn’t complete the film. Ginty was off to other projects by this time so Sachs had to write and direct a series of new scenes featuring a double in a welding mask (!) while also completing a number of other unfinished sequences. What he ended up with is a weirdly episodic patchwork of exploitation flick carnage and character moments that often go unfinished.
That said, Exterminator 2 remains oddly watchable as a grindhouse artifact, even if it doesn’t make a bit of sense. The Sachs footage is a cavalcade of eccentric carnage, including multiple human torch scenes and a moment where the gang members crucify a guard on some subway tracks that feels like a lost moment from an Italian Road Warrior rip-off.
The Buntzman footage includes its own hilarious bits, including a bizarre new wave club where Geffner does sub-Flashdance dance routines, an artsy sex scene with a horrible ballad over it and a moment where Ginty awkwardly interacts with a group of breakdancers. Van Peebles amuses with his wild overacting as the gang leader and the finale delivers plenty of explosive carnage, including a garbage truck rigged with machine guns. The end results might not hold together but they’re never dull.
In short, Exterminator 2 doesn’t come close to its predecessor but it’s a fascinatingly bizarre patchwork that will amuse exploitation movie fans. It’s also the only vigilante flick strange enough to work as a double bill partner to Death Wish 3.
Reviewer’s Note: all background information about the production of Exterminator 2 mentioned in this review comes from Paul Talbot, who wrote an extensive article about the making of both Exterminator films that was published in issue #23 of Screem. You can buy a copy of that issue by clicking here. Schlockmania would like to thank him for sharing his impressive research.