A new entry in The Terminator franchise hits theaters this week, so it seemed only fitting that I give a listen to a commentary track from the series. The first film doesn’t have one, we’ve already covered Judgement Day, I don’t own a copy of Rise of the Machines and McG’s narcissism made him forgo a commentary on Salvation in favor of a less entertaining and more intrusive Maximum Movie Mode instead. So in keeping with the franchise’s time travel theme I’ve instead looked to the past and found… The Exterminator.
Director James Glickenhaus recorded a commentary track for the Synapse Films Blu-ray release of his NYC-set vigilante flick, but since I own the Arrow Video I gave a listen to producer Mark Buntzman discuss the film with moderator Calum Waddell.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for The Exterminator.
The Exterminator (1980)
Commentators: Mark Buntzman (producer), Calum Waddell (moderator)
1. Waddell suggests Buntzman won’t need to discuss the film again after this commentary, but the producer replies he’s more than happy to as it represents good memories for him. “It came out as the number one film in the country,” he says ”it was a pretty good moment.”
2. The Vietnam-set intro was actually shot in California after the rest of the movie was completed. “We spent about five times as much money per moment on this opening as we did the rest of the film.”
3. The garden tool used against Michael Jefferson (Steve James) later in the film actually came from Buntzman’s mother’s tool shed. It’s his hand wielding the “weapon” in the close-up shot too as it tears into some store-bought meat.
4. The beheading effect was originally offered to Stan Winston, but his price tag of $50k was too high so they went to Tom Burman instead. His studio accepted the job for half that price, but when he grew too busy to work on the effect Winston was brought on to complete it. The scene ended up being cut for the UK release.
5. The MPAA threatened an X-rating for the later scene involving John Eastland (Robert Ginty) and a guard dog. Buntzman laughs about it because while they had requested an attack dog the trainer brought what amounted to a puppy. “Bob [Ginty] had to hold the German Shepherd on to him, and it looked terrible.” They were going to have to re-shoot it, but editor Corky O’Hara was able to rescue it with selective editing only to see the MPAA take issue with what they perceived was happening. It’s worth noting that the dog in the actual scene is a Doberman Pinscher ‐ but Waddell and Buntzman still refer to it as a German Shepherd even while it’s onscreen. Weirdos.
6. They rushed to have the film ready for Cannes, and their efforts paid off. “It was standing room only,” he says. “Someone was kind enough to pass out in the first few minutes and be taken away by ambulance, and within about 24 hours we were in profit on the film.”
7. The film also opened at #1 in the UK, and it was the success there that led directly to the sequel. A British investor met Buntzman, and after discovering who he was offered him money for the worldwide rights to a follow-up.
8. The sidekick, Jefferson, was originally going to be Puerto Rican, but when James came in to read for the role of a bartender they were impressed enough to offer him the bigger character instead.
9. He and Glickenhaus created a poster for the film based on the opening explosion, but the distributor suggested the flamethrower instead even though it’s not nearly as prevalent in the movie as that poster suggests.
10. The Vietnam-set scenes left them feeling really good about the quality of the film, and it encouraged them to step up their game in other areas too. Buntzman offers two examples. First, they hired composer Joseph Renzetti to score the film based in large part on his past Oscar win (for The Buddy Holly Story). Second, they pursued a Dolby stereo sound mix only to discover it was only offered in Los Angeles ‐ at night and at 3x the usual rate. He asked if they offered the service in NYC, and after being told no he was forced to be creative. The Dolby people told him that if he committed the film to the process when a NYC lab came available they would put it at the front of the line, so he went to Sound One ‐ an existing studio in NYC ‐ and asked “How would you like to be the best mixing place in NYC?” They liked the sound of that, and he quickly brought the two together with the promise that he would be the first customer. The Exterminator ended up being the first four-track film mixed in the city.
11. Buntzman shares his favorite Christopher George story which basically amounts to George sharing a trade secret involving John Wayne. “He asked me to show him how John Wayne walks, and I did kind of a swagger, and he said to me, ‘Do you know where that comes from?’” Apparently Wayne’s swagger, complete with downward glance, was his way of looking for his mark. “He gets to his mark, he stops and looks up.”
12. Waddell asks why there was never a third film in the franchise, but Buntzman says he never quite found the right story. There’s also been no movement on a possible remake.
13. When asked how it was working with Golan-Globus on the sequel, Buntzman replies with some hesitation. “Well that was a choice I made that I might not do again.” He had pre-sold the sequel with the intention of putting all the money on the screen and making the best film possible, but “Cannon’s idea was exactly the opposite. They wanted to make the film as cheaply as possible instead.”
14. The building where they were going to shoot the meat grinder scene had been around for decades, but it collapsed the night before they were scheduled to film there. “By chance we found that meat grinder in a basement and attached some wires to it and it worked.”
15. Buntzman points out that The Exterminator includes the line “If you’re lying, I’ll be back” while The Terminator used the line, “I’ll be back.” Coincidence?!
16. Regarding censorship and cuts, one snippet that was cut for original release was “that string of gristle” visible hanging out of the ground-up bad guy. They sold the film to Warner Bros. for European release ‐ and thankfully had no censorship clause in the contract as the studio wasn’t able to find locales willing to release it at first.
17. The pair go off on a minor tangent regarding 42nd street back in the early ’80s, and Buntzman mentions that his first film with Glickenhaus, The Astrologer, played Times Square under the title Suicide Cult. “That played for one day, and I was on the poster for that as a devil character.” His face was blown up to billboard size, and when he noticed it he immediately wanted a photo. There were no cell phones of course so he returned the following day only to discover it had already been pulled for lack of interest.
18. Waddell suggests this was cinematographer Robert Baldwin’s first film, to which Buntzman replies that he wouldn’t have hired him if he knew that. Per IMDB, Baldwin had actually shot seven films before The Exterminator including Let’s Scare Jessica to Death.
Best in Commentary
- “We were going to grind him up and have him in a giant hamburger bun on the street.”
- “The seediness is real ‐ not that particular scene, that’s over the top.”
Unlike Glickenhaus’ commentary on the Synapse Films release this one is far less interested in discussing on-screen events and actions. Instead Waddell and Buntzman talk in more general terms and frequently turn to talking about the sequel. It still entertains on and off, but Waddell does test the patience on occasion with the inaccuracy or vagueness of some of his comments and/or questions. Thankfully though his enthusiasm goes a long way.