John (Robert Ginty) has quite some history with buddy Michael (Steve James). We know this because a lengthy opening sequence shows the pair serving together in the Vietnam war, captured by Vietcong soldiers and under threat of death – until Michael risks life and limb to (quite literally) save his mate’s neck.

Once the war has ended and both men are safely back home in New York, their bond continues as they both go about their respective dead-end jobs to make ends meet.

Michael continues his good Samaritan act on US soil when his boss’ business is turned over by a gang of local hoodlums. Michael comes to the rescue – which results in him later being targeted by the gang, and crippled for his troubles.

When John later visits his old pal in hospital, he vows to find the bastards responsible and make them pay. Perhaps the sight of Michael’s weeping wife tugged at his heartstrings?

John soon puts his old commando skills to fine use, scouring the streets in search of the guilty parties. Before long he’s got one of the cunts tied up in his lock-up and prepares to torture him with a flame-thrower – before finding out where he can locate the rest of the scum.

A drugs party ends badly once John and his immaculately groomed hair turn up unannounced. But that’s just the beginning: our vigilante protagonist – fast becoming a hero in the public eye and a pain in the arse for beleaguered cop James (Christopher George) – has his sights set on bigger fish...

Along the way, John becomes more soulless while, ironically, he wins the begrudging respect of James as their cat-and-mouse relationship heats up.

Be it the opening salvo of beheadings and throat-slashings, the corrupt businessman being fed into a mincing machine, or the gory altercation with a Doberman ... chances are, if you’re of an age where you can fondly remember the early days of video, you’ll have some nostalgia for James Glickenhaus’ openly derivative, low budget 1980 film.

It rips DEATH WISH off mercilessly. George acts with all the panache of a constipated ape, while Ginty has a good crack at being the world’s most wishy washy action hero. But THE EXTERMINATOR also soars through one expertly staged, violent set-piece after another, and offers an authentically squalid glimpse at the seedier side of New York – through its brothels, dark alleyways and bent coppers – all the while delivering on the staple 80s exploitation requirements of explosions, shoot-outs and macho one-liners (most famously, "If you’re lying I’ll be back" ... uncannily close to "I’ll be back" from a certain James Cameron thriller of a couple of years later, with a startlingly similar title ...).

Gritty and certainly more brutal than the average revenge thriller of its era, THE EXTERMINATOR found huge success on home video and its cult status has persisted to this day. That’s despite a duff, enjoyably cheesy 1984 sequel (also crying out for a decent Special Edition release, uncut of course).

As alluded to above, THE EXTERMINATOR is a classic ‘also-ran’ (read: video hit) of the early 1980s, a film that soared briefly in the early days of VHS when its cover art captured the imagination of renters everywhere (despite the fact that the model on the cover bore no resemblance whatsoever to Ginty), but has been buried in crappy DVD releases ever since.

Arrow have now put paid to that by releasing the film – fuck me! – in a special edition blu-ray format. Woah. I did wonder where Arrow would go once they’d exhausted their rights to Argento and Romero classics ... and I’m impressed so far with their increased scope. Keep the cult curios coming, please!

The film comes uncut in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 television sets in a 1080p HD MPEG4 AVC file on this region-free blu-ray disc.

The picture is good, boasting stronger colours than have ever been suggested in earlier standard definition variants, and solid blacks throughout. Texture and depth are impressive, as is the clean nature of the print – although we do get minor natural-looking grain which suggests any employment of noise reducing has been modest. Bright, sharp, natural: this is a great rendition of the film. Any imperfections (occasional dulled colour schemes, softness, minor damage etc) are due to the wear and tear of the original elements, and not Arrow’s transfer. One possible negative, which is no fault of the transfer, is that the opening scenes are now laughably cheap – the extra detail and brightness makes the setting look as authentically Vietnamese as I am Russian.

English audio is presented in losses 2.0 and does a very good job of being clean and consistent throughout. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read.

The main menu page is animated (reproducing The Dude Designs’ new cover art) and pop-up menus from there include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

Extras begin with an audio commentary track from producer Mark Buntzman. He went on to write and direct the aforementioned sequel – a fact which, of course, gets mentioned a few times. Still, he offers a generally informative chat track regardless.

Next up we get a rather redundant 18-second introduction to the main feature from Glickenhaus. "Hi, I’m the director of ..." – he’s introducing himself as much as the film.

Much better is the 18-minute "Fire And Splice" retrospective making-of documentary. Again, the focus is on the director. At least here, he’s given much more time to speak freely on the themes, inspiration and problems associated with making the film. He’s not the wittiest of subjects, but Glickenhaus proves to be an interesting interviewee anyway – and it helps that this featurette is peppered with clips from the film throughout. He discusses the financing of the film, and the reason for choosing a distinctly non-macho actor in the lead role.

"42nd Street Then And Now" is a 15-minute featurette hosted by BASKET CASE director Frank Hennenlotter. This takes a look at the once-notorious New York location (one of the settings for THE EXTERMINATOR as well as, er, BASKET CASE), comparing it to the 1970s/1980s and what it has now become. This is intriguing fare, and Hennenlotter is a great guide.

All extras are presented in 1080 high definition, so the disc truly is playable worldwide.

As is usual with these Arrow releases, the packaging provides reversible cover art, a double-sided fold-out poster and a booklet containing liner notes from critic David Hayles. None of these were provided for review purposes.

Differences between the Arrow disc and Synapse’s recently released blu-ray (also region-free)? In terms of picture quality, there is hardly any to the naked eye. I was in the coincidental position of having my order for the Synapse blu-ray arrive a day before I viewed the Arrow release: they look pretty much identical, though I did think Synapse’s release proffered a slightly sharper picture. They’re both excellent.

In terms of extras, Arrow offer a whole host of stuff (not just on their disc either) that Synapse don’t match. But Synapse do provide a director’s commentary track, along with a couple of trailers and TV spots, and a copy of the film (and same extras) also on DVD.

THE EXTERMINATOR remains a great film: a relic from its era that modern viewers may fail to connect with, certainly – but a great, cheesy, violent flick nonetheless. The fact that it’s finally available uncut in High Definition and with decent contextual extras ... well, I find this unlikely fact most delicious. It would be a shame for UK-based exploitation fans to pass on this Arrow title, because it’s releases like this that give hope for a better world.

Highly recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review