There’s nothing like a hit movie — in this case, a direct descendant of Death Wish (1975) — to dislodge the writing and directing debut its auteur would rather not have seen reissued to the ’80s home video fringes.
The Death Wish rip and auteur we’re speaking of is The Exterminator (1980) by James Glickenhaus. A critically-lambasted action film “of little action with grotesque violence and distasteful scenes” concerned with a vengeance-seeking Vietnam vet with a flame thrower, grossed $35 million against $2 million.
Of course, when a distributor exists in a post-Guyana, Jonestown Massacre world, and the shingle needs to up the exploitation quotient, said movie is renamed as Suicide Cult* to align it with the Jim Jones legend and get it on the shelf as quickly as possible next to the Stuart Whitman debacle that is Guyana: Cult of the Damned (1979). (Well, that’s actually trashy-good, as Stuart does it with gusto.) Better that the film ends up in the “Horror” section of a local video repository because, with the film’s original title of The Astrologer, it would have ended up in the “Science Fiction” section next to the Star Wars-ripped, space opera oeuvres of Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash) and Alfonza Brescia. At least Uncle Lou’s and Uncle Al’s films had action and cheese . . . without the expositional yakity-yaks.
The irony, however, is that this debut effort by James Glickenhaus is neither a horror or science fiction film: its a pure Christploitation, aka Godploitation, romp . . . er, well, since some video-prints tossed an “. . . in the tradition of The Omen” tagline on the box, maybe this Glicken-joint is a horror film. . . . What the hell, why not: Kirk Douglas’s trollsploitation mess (the male version of hagsploitation**) that is Holocaust 2000, with its Alberto De Martino’s The Omen-Antichrist-Apocalypse hornswogglin’, was on the horror shelves next to De Martino’s own Christploiter-cum-Exorcist*˟ rip with The Tempter, aka The Antichrist (1974).
Honestly, if you were stocking shelves at a video store, where would you put a film that is part spy-government conspiracy flick (the thriller/suspense part) with a secret agency that uses astrology and biorhythms (the sci-if part) to track down the Antichrist (the horror part) and the coming of the “new” Virgin Mary (the Christploitation part)?
To say this film is bonkers, yet exciting . . . and expositionally boring . . . at the same time, isn’t an understatement. But hey, all filmmakers have to start somewhere, right? At least Glickenhaus went on to produce Maniac Cop, Frankenhooker, and the Basket Case franchise. As a writer-director, the Glick gave us — at least I think he did — two, pretty cool flicks with Shakedown (1988), starring buddy-cops in Sam Elliot and Peter Weller, and the actioner McBain (1991), starring Christopher Walken. Oh, and don’t forget the mercenary romp, The Soldier (1982), with Ken Wahl, which I saw in theaters.
In the New York Times article “At the Movies: Jennifer Leigh and her trip from X to R,” Chris Chase sat down with Glickenhaus, who spoke about his debut film:
“I’d inherited some money and I took all of it and lost it making a movie called The Astrologer. I’d been to film school, but film school was oriented more toward the avant-garde in those days, and I didn’t really know what a master was or a cutaway or a closeup. And I had great trouble conveying ideas, except in dialogue. So, The Astrologer, which was about 79 minutes long, was probably 60 minutes of dialogue. I mean, it was interminable. I didn’t think it was interminable then. I thought it was great and interesting and fascinating to listen to [the film took me two years to produce from start to finish].”
So, with that bit of insight from Glickenhaus, now you know you’re getting into a film that A) is boring, yet, B) fascinating, because C) it’s bat-crap crazy with its mix of religion, science, and political intrigue.
INTERZOD, a secret government organization, has developed a method of using computer technology and astrology (i.e., using an individuals zodiacal charts correlated to the environment . . . etc.) as a modern-day “Nostradamus” to predict threats to the world. The latest threat is Kajerste, a Jim Jones-inclined cult leader, wanted for an array of crimes in three countries, who they believe to be the prophesied Antichrist from The Holy Bible‘s book of The Revelations.
The wife of Alexei Abernal (he oversees INTERZOD), an advisor to theoretician Mother Bogarde (read: Madame Blavastky; Wikipedia), is possessed, and in need of a cleansing because, get this: she is possibly the new Virgin Mary, one that Immaculately Concepted a baby (because she won’t/can’t/don’t care have sex with Alexei), which she gave to the Catholic Church.
So, mind you, we learn all of this through talking . . . and talking . . . and, for some reason, this means that INTERZOD must assassinate Kajerste — with a combination of tranquilizers and video tapes (?), and a Congressman — who the Cult subsequently kills due to his betraying the leader (foreshadowing what J.J did in Jonestown that brought on his downfall).
After that . . . well, you’re either lost-in-the-plot, or half asleep, or in a coma. You know, just like when you watched the pre-Wiseauian efforts of director, producer, psychic to the stars, and actor Craig Denney with his zodiacal epic, which, to make this all the more confusing, is also known as The Astrologer. Now, that doesn’t have a Virgin Mary, or Immaculate Conceptions, or Antichrist-slanted cult leaders, but it does deploy a movie-with-a-movie plot about diamond smuggling, high-finance, and murder, so Denny can become the world’s foremost psychic and movie mogul.
Oh, Mr. Denney. If you only had the vision of Mr. Glickenhaus to include an Antichrist subplot or insights on man-made, organized religions, you’d have a Christploitation epic beyond compare.
** You need more trollsploitation flicks with aged-out and down-and-out A-List actors reinventing themselves in a horror film? Then look no further than Tony Curtis in The Manitou and BrainWaves (the latter also with Keir Dullea), Rock Hudson in Embryo, Fritz Weaver in Demon Seed, and Mickey Rooney in The Manipulator.
*˟ Check out our “Ten Possession Movies That Aren’t The Exorcist” featurette. Yes, we need to work one for The Omen rips. It’ll happen . . . hey, what do you know, we did: check out our “Ten Antichrist Movies That Aren’t The Omen.”