After surviving grisly mission in Vietnam, where one of their fellow Army Rangers was beheaded with a machete, John Eastland (Robert Ginty) and Michael Jefferson (Steve James) return to New York to work on a loading dock, moving sides of beef and produce for a grocery store. One day, during a normal work day, John takes a load to a isolated storage unit to find a local gang, the Ghetto Ghouls ransacking it. When he tries to get them to put back the stuff that they’re stealing, he gets held up at knifepoint and Michael comes to the rescue. Little do the know how this chance encounter will change their lives forever.
The next day, Michael is making his way to the bar to meet John for a drink, and the gang from the previous night catches him before he makes it. They beat him brutally and put him in the hospital where it’s found that he’s going to have to live the rest of his days as a quadriplegic. As this gang will soon find out, they messed with the wrong dude.
John finds out what happened to Michael and goes on a vigilante rampage, torturing the gang members responsible, and leaving them to have their faces chewed off by rats. Because his friend Michael won’t be able to provide for his family, John kidnaps a local meat mobster (I didn’t even know the mob had their hands in the price of meat!) and threatens to send him through a grinder if he can’t get enough cash to help Michael’s family. From then on he spirals out of control taking out anyone who he crosses that has done wrong to another person. He’s also leaving notes for the authorities, identifying himself only as “The Exterminator”
While I was watching, I couldn’t help but notice how slipshod the editing was, abruptly changing from one scene to the next. When John informs Michael’s wife that her husband is paralyzed, he doesn’t pull any punches “Hey, listen… Mike’s paralyzed” uhh, thanks for the warning buddy! The scene switches to this shot of Mike laid out in a hospital bed on a respirator with a bunch of gauze wrapped around his head, then cuts to a shot of the city skyline. I also noticed that police work has really advanced in the almost 30 years since this movie was made. Hell, the cops don’t even dust for fingerprints, let alone take blood samples of the perpetrator, since there are times when John leaves buckets of his own blood at the crime. Whenever he takes someone out, he never wears gloves, never wears a mask and does next to nothing to hide his identity. He’d easily be picked out of a lineup, because he bears a striking resemblance to a young Larry Bird.
The story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, the action doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and the motives for John to go nutty on these creeps doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Thankfully, they add a lot of gore and creepy slimebags to get put in front of the Exterminator. There’s a side story that they try to wedge in there, and that’s of the detective that’s been assigned to the Executioner case , Dalton (Christopher George). He’s never really developed other than to say, “hey, this is the guy that’s hunting down this ‘serial killer’, watch him go on dates and stuff”. He’s always just a step behind, following the trail that John’s leaving. If Dalton’s character wasn’t in the movie, I don’t think it would make much of a difference, besides the very ending scene.
While, I’m on the topic of the ending, let me get this out of the way without spoiling anything… It’s a real head scratcher. I was pretty sick when I watched this, but I don’t think the sickness was impairing my comprehension. It just didn’t make any sense at all, and seemed to be a way to end the movie without having to explain anything else.
The Executioner is gritty, and grisly. I was actually surprised to see this was out in 1980, as some of the subject matter is pretty dark. It was cool to see the way that how seedy New York was back then, especially Times Square and all the porno shops, instead of the squeaky clean image it’s trying to portray these days. Best line of the movie by far: “You must have to take a shit, because it’s comin out of your mouth”. The clip below is from the opening scene, and it’s a great indication for what’s in store throughout the rest of the film. The Executioner gets 3.5 pounds of ground mobster meat out of 5.