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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Exploitation > Grindhouse > Revenge > Murder > Vietnam > Gangs > Con Artists > Gamgster > Thriller > The Exterminator (1980/Synapse Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Ledge (2011/IFC/MPI DVD)/Madso’s War (2009/MGM DVD)/The River Murders (2011/Sony DVD)

The Exterminator (1980/Synapse Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Ledge (2011/IFC/MPI DVD)/Madso’s War (2009/MGM DVD)/The River Murders (2011/Sony DVD)


Picture: B & C+/C/C/C     Sound: B- & C+/C+/C+/B-     Extras: C+/C-/D/C+     Films: C+/C-/C-/C+



The following thrillers include an older brutal film that holds up chillingly well and three newer productions that all had potential and fell short.



James Glickenhaus’ The Exterminator (1980) is the oldest, yet the most brutal and effective of the four films here.  In this “Unrated Director’s Cut” (even cut down, this is brutal), it comes from a cycle of brutal films that were exploitation with plots and storylines that contextually increased the brutality.  Led by films like Bonnie & Clyde, The Wild Bunch, the original Straw Dogs, Death Wish and several Horror classics (Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Last House On The Left, etc.) this was issued at the peak of the one-upmanship (along with I Spit On Your Grave and The Toolbox Murders) as Vietnam buddies get involved in more violence back at home than on the battlefield.


Michael (Steve James) and John (Robert Ginty) are friends and Mike has saved John twice in Vietnam, including in an early, gruesome scene we see with some brutality at the hands of a (borderline stereotypical) Vietcong.  Back home, this happens again with a thieving gang, but they come back for revenge and put Mike in the hospital.  John can’t take it anymore and goes on the kill, literally and as he investigates, the attack turns out to have more to it, his revenge attacks get more brutal and a police officer (Christopher George) tries to stop it all.  More interesting, though this is treated oddly, this becomes a federal government matter, but I will limit what I say on that for another time.


Avco Embassy issued this film as they were having genre success with the likes of Phantasm, Escape From New York and a few other films before being bought out and becoming simply Embassy Films.  This is as brutal as any of its competitors at the time and more effective than the recent, goofy “torture porn cycle” which turns away form some of the implications this films dares to take on.  Not a great film and very gruesome, it seems to have been somewhat influential, even down to a few scenes in the 1989 James Bond film Licence To Kill, but I would also argue despite the rollback Vietnam politics (the idea that “we could have won” among the many myths), it is more liberal in its violence and ideas of the world at large than most such films today making it an odd anomaly.  Ginty is good in what turns out to be the title role and its look definitely influenced the likes of Cameron’s first 1984 Terminator film.  It is worth revisiting, unless you cannot handle the relentless and graphic violence.  Extras include theatrical trailers and TV Spots in HD and a feature length audio commentary track by Director Glickenhaus.



Matthew Chapman’s The Ledge (2011) has some good ideas and a cast trying to pull them off, but is too choppy to work.  Charlie Hunnan plays a man being conned into jumping off of a ledge for religious reasons by an ultra-religious character played by Patrick Wilson to give his life up or someone he loves will be hurt.  Liv Tyler is the love interest and Terrence Howard a police officer who might be able to stop the vicious cycle of events.  Unfortunately, the plotting is tacky and this is not bold enough about the actual issues at play, making this a sad failure.  A trailer and interviews are the extras.



Rob Marcus’ Madso’s War (2009) is basically a Gangster film set in modern day Boston, yet it never feels like Boston, while the gang war that breaks out is as clichéd as the rest of this exercise in formula genre work.  A telefilm for Spike TV by MGM, it plays like one and seems very weak after the recent success of The Sopranos, better work by Ben Affleck and far superior films about the Irish mob like State Of Grace or Kill The Irishman.  A curio at best for diehard gangster fans only.  There are no extras.



Finally we have Rich Cowan’s The River Murders (2011) with more potential and some of it realized, even if the whole thing does not work thanks eventually to the script running into the limits of its plot.  Ray Liotta is a cop whose former girlfriends are turning up brutally murdered by a serial killer who wants to taunt him apparently, which eventually drives him a bit mad and has him being suspended by his boss (Ving Rhames).  An FBI Agent (Christian Slater in his best work in years) gets involved in investigating what is really going on and for a while, this has some energy and moves nicely, but it falls apart in the final reel.  Nice while it lasted though.  Extras include a making of featurette and cast/crew feature length audio commentary.



The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on The Exterminator Blu-ray is a big surprise coming from a nice, clean print with nice detail and depth throughout for its age, though it is not perfect, it is in much better shape than you would expect a film from the time, especially a brutal independent production like this to be.  It has some great shots of New York and the scenes of brutality are as well edited as they are lensed, down to the suspense.  The anamorphically enhanced is softer by comparison even using the same print, but could not compete with the Blu-ray no matter how much sharper the transfer could have been.  The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the remaining three DVDs is even softer than The Exterminator DVD due to stylizing choices, the way they were shot and the use of digital video just not looking as good.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 lossless Stereo mix transfer on The Exterminator Blu-ray has healthy Pro Logic surrounds and was a Dolby A-type analog release, but this has been cleaned nicely and a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 lossless Mono mix has also been included for those who might be used to the film that way.  The DVD version has the same configurations less effective in Dolby 2.0 lossy mixes.  The rest of the DVDs have Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, but they all disappoint by being too much towards the front speakers, save River with more of a soundfield in line with a new multi-channel film production.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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