Exist in the wilderness of terrible cinema for long enough, and you will eventually encounter things like this week’s entry. It is, only in the loosest sense of the term, a film. Sure, it claims to be a movie while hitting on some bored woman at a cocktail party, studiously ignoring her gazelle-like body language, but it’s just talking itself up. Exterminator City is the Patrick Bateman of movies, if Patrick Bateman’s idea of a disguise was a blood-splattered clown costume and a necklace of baby heads.
More Accurate Tagline: We’re kind of hoping you mix this up with Terminator.
Guilty Party: Writer, director, and producer Clive Cohen. I don’t know anything about this guy, but if I had to guess, he spent most of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s masturbating and watching Liquid Television. He only ever made one movie, so I guess the system kind of works, but how he made this one is beyond me. If you told me this was cobbled together from hostage videos seized from a cult compound after a bloody raid, I’d believe it.
Synopsis: Look, this thing is basically two scenes, over and over, for ninety minutes. Watching it is a bit like trying to read a Chinese newspaper, only you don’t read Chinese, someone keeps screaming dad jokes at you with a bullhorn, and you’ve been shot in the head six times.
It’s 2027 in the possibly futuristic Atro City, a dystopia where shirts and wide shots have not been invented yet. It’s always raining because Cohen accidentally watched Blade Runner and gave himself the most baffling orgasm of his existence. Tiny flying cars zip past cardboard tenement slums in perpetual night. Meanwhile, every interior shot is a brightly-lit home in the sunny San Fernando Valley. In this future, only two kinds of creatures exist: robots, and aging starlets whose plastic surgery runs the gamut from floatation device to nightmarish. Don’t ask me how any breeding happens. And really don’t ask Cohen, because he’ll bust out a 300 page comic he drew just to answer that question.
A cowboy cop and a psychologist are on the trail of an ex-exterminator and current serial killer who is systematically murdering women. The cop, psychologist, and exterminator are all robots. Everyone who isn’t a screaming victim is a robot. If Clive Cohen went in to test for a mental illness, he’d get diagnosed with “Yes.”
The two scenes are: the exterminator is wandering through a house stalking a woman who was briefly famous in 1988 for getting topless in a movie about breasts in Miami, or the two robots are muttering at each other about the crime. With the amount of practice Cohen has shooting these, you’d think one would be good. You would be wrong.
Eventually, the cop busts the criminal, but then Satan gives him the choice to be reincarnated as anyone he wants. Yes, this happens. I didn’t just have a stoke and start typing letters at random, although I kind of wish that were the case. In what Cohen assumes to be irony, the exterminator comes back as the cop. Cohen is familiar with O. Henry, only because he saw the name and assumed he was a porn star.
Life-Changing Subtext: Robots have souls but women don’t.
Defining Quote: “Just what the world needs, a schizophrenic toaster.” Should have been the movie’s tagline.
Standout Performance: Look, the main characters are all either puppets, or whatever former porn star Cohen could blackmail for an hour of shooting at her place. I still have no idea what any character names were, or even if they were supposed to have names. Although, helpfully, the credits finish up with the websites of all the actresses involved. You know, in case you weren’t feeling slimy enough already. Their IMDB pages read like Madlibs completed by a pornographic chat bot trying to get you to open the pod bay doors.
What’s Wrong: About 95% of the dialogue is between the two lead robots, both of whom speak in raspy whispers and are wrestling with the kind of Aussie accents that want to run off into the desert and die for the Humungus. Trying to understand any individual line would take a hostage negotiator, Marlee Matlin’s West Wing interpreter, a Navajo codetalker, and a hammer to pulverize your frontal lobe.
Flash of Competence: Nope. Just nope.
Best Scenes: Just a quick note here. I should never, ever, be watching a movie and wonder if I’m in the middle of a car chase.
Our hero, this cop robot, figures out that all the victims have had priors, which helps him determine the killer’s weird “exterminator” motivation or something. I’m not totally sure here, because the every line out of his mouth sounds like a lifelong smoker gargling their final confession to a priest who only speaks Esperanto. The point is, break in the case, right? Well, it took him thirty goddamn victims to figure this out. This is less police work and more thinning the herd.
A couple fight scenes liven up the premises, but since Cohen can’t show the robots in full at any point, it’s mostly just closeups of very delicate boops onto metallic skull faces. It looks like a coffee maker trying to sweetly fist a toaster oven. You know, on their anniversary or something.
Transcendent Moment: There is, actually, a third kind of scene that happens in this movie. It still makes very little sense. The exterminator robot has periodic visions of hell, and wouldn’t you know it? He has a little company. When Cohen thought of this character, he was in breathless awe of his own genius. He couldn’t quite believe one man could be so ball-shatteringly incredible to come up with three whole kinds of scenes for a movie. And this character, well, this was gonna blow some minds. This shit was subversive, a real indictment that other filmmakers were afraid to make.
Yeah, you probably already guessed, but I’ll say it. Hell features Devil Hitler. This whole goddamn movie exists entirely in the world posited by the burlesque shows in Flashdance.
Exterminator City should never be watched. Ever. This is why the cylons destroyed us. This is why Johnny Five’s eyes turn red and he starts smoking everything with his military laser. After sitting through all ninety minutes of it, I see where they’re coming from.