After producing the first Exterminator [M] (1980), Mark Buntzman fancied taking the director’s chair, plus co-writing the script with veteran hack William Sachs (The Incredible Melting Man, Galaxina), but even with James Gickenhaus’ iconoclastic character already established, what ultimately emerged is one of the worst sequels to any film.
In spite of cinematographer Robert M. Baldwin (The Exterminator, Frankenhooker) joining the creative team, Exterminator 2 is such a botched job because Cannon Films clearly wanted to create a new franchise using familiar elements. Whoever concocted the original story had to wrestle with Cannon’s low budget limitations, and one suspects there was an influential hand(s) in guiding the script into a variation of the studio’s ongoing Death Wish franchise, where Charles Bronson singlehandedly (or with the odd help from like-minded vigilantes) cleans out buildings and whole neighbourhoods of scum with a really big gun.
The film’s opening scene sets up the character of John Eastland as a loner, sleeping with a police scanner running whenever he’s jonesing to unleash a compulsion to kill, with his welding helmet and flamethrower kit ever-ready by the window. Both the ad campaign, trailer, and main title card all tie the Exterminator to his cleansing kit, but the character only used the flaming device once in the original film.
To give him mobility, and some might to make his crusade right, he's given a powerful crime-fighting tool that keeps him real with the local ‘hood: a garbage truck… courtesy of old friend (and assumed fellow war vet) 'Be Gee' (Frankie Faison).
Eastland’s also been courting a free-spirited hot dancer named Caroline (Deborah Geffner) at a local club, but things go sour when Be Gee uses his truck to interrupt a gangland armored truck robbery, organized by the mysterious “X” (Mario Van Peebles).
X uses the cash to begin his ‘reclamation’ of the streets (to be followed by New York City, and then the world, according to his List of Cool Things to Conquer), because he’s fueled by ancient Aztec hoodoo, goosed with a lithe, muscular physique, and a bad haircut. Be Gee’s intolerable interruption of the robbery mandates some payback, but X mistakes Eastland as the driver when Be Gee loans him the truck one night (which he’s never driven before) to 'get ready' for his new job (for which he's yet to have a formal interview, let alone submit a resume).
X and his goons of bad-haired morons (featuring a ridiculous looking Arye Gross, and Irwin Keyes, who played another thug in the first Exterminator) go after Eastland by breaking Caroline’s legs and ruining her dancing career. The cruelly ironic gesture sends Eastland back to his flame-throwing kit, which he uses to incinerate city scum in record time, from walking and talking humans to simmering BBQ briskets (including X's psychotic baby brother).
As his relationship with Caroline disintegrates, Eastland and Be Gee band together, snatch one of X’s thugs, and later interrupt a meeting where X plans to use the stolen cash to buy drugs from a local mafia kingpin.
Be Gee’s mortal injuries from the meeting fracas seem to conjure Eastland’s superb Do-It-Yourself skills, and he transforms the garbage truck into a mighty crime fighting machine, armed with hand-crank & pulley machine guns, a rocket launcher, and armored plating scrounged from a disintegrating warehouse that happened to have more gear than a Home Depot.
The final battle eventually reduces the odds to a straight one-on-one, and Eastland manages to navigate up and along catwalks, down boiler holes, and through dim tunnels without ever having to remove his welding helmet. When justice is served, Eastland dumps his gear, and walks away from the camera in an End Credit shot seeming stolen from Chained Heat [M] (1983).
Van Peebles looks ridiculous in his post-apocalyptic tire garb, but he makes the most of his starring feature film debut, giving sincerity to stale dialogue, and leading his troupe of goons on a human sacrifice adventure into the subway system; apparently neither writers nor director thought passersby or police would notice a phalanx of punks carrying bright torches and a man on a cross at 2am.
There’s also an odd moment when X kills a fellow gang member before he can get directions to the Exterminator’s lair, yet X and his Mighty Aztecs arrive at the warehouse ready to rumble. Just as ridiculous is the big red “X” the goons spray paint on the door and the cadaver of Caroline, after which they drive off in a car marked with red “X’s” on the doors.
Sloppily directed, the film also contains reshoots done by co-writer Sachs and cinematographer Joseph Mangine (in his first scene, Van Peebles’ hair is shorter, likely because he was filming Rappin’ for Cannon the same year). Unlike the first film, gore is kept low, including the finale where X’s impalement is covered in flash cuts.
David Spear’s repetitive synth score is simply horrendous, and it’s baffling why it was never replaced during post-production, unless by the mixing stage, no one cared, and the studio just wanted to get the film into cinemas to recoup expenses.
Exterminator 2 has definite kitsch value for fans of eighties B-actioners, but it’s an embarrassing alteration of Glickenhaus’ character, making it all the more clear the original Exterminator was a one-of-a-kind film that should be left alone.
Buntzman stayed away from directing, and produced two of Van Peebles’ directorial efforts, Standing Knockdown and Love Kills (both 1999), whereas Sachs directed & co-wrote the comedy Hit Chilli (1985) for Cannon.
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan