The Exterminator (1980/Synapse Blu-ray w/DVD)/The
Ledge (2011/IFC/MPI DVD)/Madso’s War
(2009/MGM DVD)/The River Murders
B & C+/C/C/C Sound: B- &
C+/C+/C+/B- Extras: C+/C-/D/C+ Films: C+/C-/C-/C+
following thrillers include an older brutal film that holds up chillingly well
and three newer productions that all had potential and fell short.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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