Skip to main content

Hipster Holy Grail: The Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

As far as Road Warrior rip-offs go, The Exterminators of the Year 3000 is... one of them.  Lucky thing The Road Warrior was so good.

My Rating: 3.5 / 5

The Plot Summary

Sorry to keep reviewing apocalypse-themed movies this month.  Back in November I thought, "Ha, it would be funny to make January a doomsday movie month," but now that we're actually here, I'm finding it really depressing instead.  Hope that's not rubbing off on you.


This week's entry is The Exterminators of the Year 3000, an Italian production that borrows heavily from the collective unconscious of apocalypse movies (translation: the Mad Max universe).  It features all the tropes you'd expect.  The bad guys wear leather and have punk haircuts, they drive a variety of custom cars and use a mix of weapons, both archaic (crossbows) and modern (flamethrowers), and the protagonist is a self-serving anti-hero with a heart of gold.

They're also quite fond of Interceptor-like cars that they call "exterminators."  Considering that the concept of an exterminator made it into the title, you'd think there would be more of a focus on them.  Or that there'd at least be more than one.  But that is incorrect.  Exterminators has but one exterminator, and it belongs to the hero, Elian (Robert Iannucci).  (Actually, his name is listed in the credits as "Alien," but the way they say it sounds like "Elian," so that's what I'm going with.)

The movie opens with a future police car patrolling some miscellaneous bad lands somewhere.  I think the point of the movie is that the location could literally be anywhere on Earth, since the major disaster driving people to tribalism and warfare is that it no longer rains and water is scarce.  The officers in the car get a transmission on their radio ordering them to turn around and come back to headquarters, but one of the cops sneers and pulls a loose cannon.  I guess he put on his "murder a transient" pants today and goddammit he's gonna use them.

The cops come to a screeching halt when they see a lone vehicle parked on the road, seemingly abandoned.  And then they turn into complete idiots.  Both of them get out of their car and walk toward it, at which point they are ambushed by Elian, who is driving his exterminator.  In any other context, I'd say, "Wow, that's really nice of you to be empathetic about a possibly stranded person in the desert," but you guys are apocalypse cops.  You should know this is what people do.  Why wasn't one of you behind the wheel at all times?

There's a brief and not terribly unpredictable chase sequence where Elian runs them down.  He leaves his car to steal stuff (including water) from the cops' car - but it turns out one of them is still alive, so Elian chases him down with the police cruiser.  Somehow the car ends up flipping, and Elian gets trapped in the ensuing wreck out in the middle of nowhere.

Now, we cut away from that to catch up with Tommy (Luca Venantini), a kid hanging out in a compound somewhere.  Tommy has some nebulous back story in which his dad was killed while trying to support the compound's water / food project - they have some ambiguous Science! thing where they're trying to restore the environment - and all the other kids on the compound give him shit for it.  I don't really understand why.  They basically make fun of his dad for being a coward or a traitor or whatnot, which leads me to wonder: how many of them aren't orphans?  It's the fucking apocalypse!  Having both of your parents alive is like owning two bunkers!

But whatever.  The point is, the compound is going through some rough times.  Their project could succeed at rejuvenating life on the planet, but they need water - and their well is starting to dry out.  One of them, a guy whose name I missed entirely, steps up and volunteers to go to a heavily-guarded well out in the desert and fill up a tanker with fresh water.  There's just one problem with that plan: there's a merciless tyrant named Crazy Bull (Fernando Bilbao) out there, and he will lead his gang of bikers to attack any tanker that passes through the desert.

After discussing it a bit more, they realize it's the only option.  Tommy wants to go with the convoy, but he's told to stay at home.  Y'know.  'Cause he's a kid.

Cut to them driving in the desert and realizing that Tommy has stowed away.  Of course he stowed away.  Did you guys not check that little flap behind the driver's seat?  There's always a stow away in there.  That's supposed to be on your checklist when you start up the trunk.  "1 - Check mirrors.  2 - Adjust steering wheel.  3 - Check hidey-hole directly behind me where kids stow away.  4 - Put key in ignition."

They decide they've come too far, so they keep driving - but then Crazy Bull shows up and attacks.  The bikers bring the entire convoy to a halt and swarm, and Tommy hides.  (Behind that flap again, I'm sure.  Nobody checks it, not even blood-thirsty raiders.)  Crazy Bull discovers that the tanker is empty and suspects they're on the way to fill it somewhere.  He's not able to get anybody to tell him where they're going, though, so he kills everyone and leaves.

Tommy comes out of hiding and mourns the dead, then starts to wander the desert.  Eventually, he stumbles onto Elian's wreck and finds him still alive.  They talk a bit and make a deal: Tommy will help Elian out of the wreck and get him some water if Elian helps him find a new tanker so they can finish the mission.  Elian agrees, and Tommy sets up a jack to raise the car.

Then Elian shoves Tommy, steals his water, and leaves.  They each wander the desert for a bit longer, crossing paths here and there so Tommy can keep pestering Elian and ask him if he's ready to make good on their deal.  Finally, Elian caves because he's sick of being bothered.

They travel together for a bit, but then they get swarmed by Crazy Bull's gang.  Crazy Bull is furious at Elian and wants him dead - apparently, Elian stole his exterminator from Crazy Bull, and they've been fierce rivals ever since.  They're about to kill Elian, but then he makes a deal: he'll tell them where a vast supply of water is if they give him a motorcycle.  Crazy Bull agrees - because Elian is clearly trustworthy - and Elian says, "Ask the kid," then drives away.

The bikers menace / torture Tommy for a bit, twisting his arm and trying to make him talk.  Tommy refuses.  Cut to dusk: the bikers have set up camp and tied Tommy's arm to a motorcycle.  They're dragging him around and roughing him up, and then: his arm comes flying the fuck off.

Admittedly, I did not see this coming.

Tommy screams (naturally) and the bikers whoop, and in the ensuing noise, Elian suddenly rolls into the bikers' camp and grabs Tommy - and his arm - and drives off into the distance.  The next morning, we find out that Tommy has a robotic arm, and it's severely damaged now.  Elian tries to patch it up using duct tape, but the arm isn't functioning.  He suggest they visit his old friend, Papillon (Luciano Pigozzi).

Papillon is a crotchety old tinkerer and former astronaut who lives in a junkyard and fixes stuff up in his spare time.  Much is made of his time in space - apparently in this universe, NASA went on dozens, if not hundreds, of manned missions to all the planets in the solar system, and Papillon was on quite a few of them.  Papillon has some bad blood with Elian, but agrees to help when he sees Tommy and his arm.

They set up inside his shop.  Papillon gives some cans of beer to Tommy and tells him to drink up, as this is his only form of anesthesia.  Then he starts to poke and prod the circuits in Tommy's arm and shoulder.  While the surgery is under way, Elian goes outside and messes with his exterminator, which Papillon found in the desert and has been restoring.  Elian immediately tries to steal it back.

Enter Trash (Alicia Moro), Elian's on-again, off-again girlfriend and current assistant/confidant to Papillon.  Trash holds a gun at Elian's head and tells him to get out of the car, and they have a bit of back-and-forth to catch us up on their back story.

Then the movie goes into joke mode and turns Tommy into the comic relief, since he's tiny and drunk as hell off of two beers.  They all have a good time and take a break.

After Tommy sobers up, Elian is ready to hit the road again with one of Papillon's tankers (he has a couple just laying around, I guess).  Tommy is not going, however - he's going to stay at the junk yard with Papillon and calibrate his newly restored arm, and Trash will go get the water instead.  Tommy has explained his compounds project to Trash and Papillon, and they've both agreed to back him up and stop Elian from stealing anything.

Not that Elian doesn't try.  Within seconds, he tries to convince Trash to get the water and run away with him, but she refuses.  He goes so far as to car tankerjack her, but she has rendered the tanker inoperable without her behind the wheel.  So, once again, Elian reluctantly goes along with the plot.

They drive a bit more, and finally we arrive at the well.  It's a huge compound guarded by men in creepy-looking fire suits and brandishing flamethrowers, rifles, and other heavy weapons.  Elian and Trash sneak inside and get into a fight with them, killing four men before they finally get access to an enormous drum of water.

Which makes me wonder: was this going to be Tommy's plan, too?  Like... did the other guys from the compound know they'd be getting into a fight at the well, or were they going to give a code word or something to be like, "Hey, this is our water, too, let's share?"  I'm very confused about who's laying a claim to the water rights here and how that sort of thing is enforced.  Exterminators is not very good with details.

Anyway.  Elian tries one last time to steal the water for himself, so Trash zaps him with a stun gun and knocks him out.  When he wakes up, he finds that she's taken all the water and is off on the road again.  He chases after her in his exterminator, then finds out that she's actually double-backing on the well.  Turns out Crazy Bull saw her and is in hot pursuit.

Elian tells her to keep driving and he'll take care of Crazy Bull.  This is supposed to be his heroic character turn where you see that he actually cares, but the dubbing gets in the way a bit.  He still seems kinda like he's going to steal that water.  Actually... maybe that's the point, and he's supposed to be an asshole through and through.  The point is, he stands alone to defend her as Trash leaves.

Crazy Bull sends two of his minions after Trash and the tanker, but he orders all the rest to stay with him and kill Elian.  Then they get into a huge car fight, which has a couple of decent moments in it, but mostly just looks like people driving in circles.

While that's happening, we cut over to Trash and the tanker.  The two minions shoot out one of her tires and she skids into a rock bank.  They pull her out of the car and start strangling her.  Then Papillon and Tommy show up in another truck just in time, and Tommy shows off his new-and-improved bionic arm by throwing a rock - which plunges inches deep into one of the bikers' heads.

That part was pretty cool, but then there's a bizarre sequence where the other biker holds Trash as a hostage and Papillon and Tommy struggle.  Papillon manages to distract the biker by blinding her with a mirror, and you would think that Tommy could just chuck another rock at her head while Trash escapes... but no, he forgot that his arm has that power or something.  What ends up happening is the other biker stabs Papillon to death, and then Trash strangles the biker to death.

Tommy and Trash mourn him for a bit, then Trash tells Tommy to get some tools so they can fix the tanker wheel and finish the mission.  Tommy refuses; he wants to save Elian, since that's the right thing to do.  Trash is hesitant, but agrees.  As they drive back to the battle in progress, we see that the biker isn't totally dead yet - just 99% dead.  With her last hit point, she opens a valve on the tanker and lets all the water out.

Cut back to Elian.  He's holding his own, but Crazy Bull's goons are closing in and he won't last long.  Enter Tommy's bionic arm and a crate of dynamite - Tommy starts chucking explosives at the bikers and blowing them apart one by one.  It's a pretty good way to end this scene, actually, and I really dug it.  Not all of the explosions look great; some of them are just a big, dusty "poof," but there are some good ones in there. Plus, there's a part where a biker falls off his bike and lands on a stick of dynamite, then his head comes flying off.  Not bad.

Eventually, the only one left is Crazy Bull himself, and he and Elian have one last chase scene in the desert.  It ends on something of an anti-climax when Elian whips out a shotgun and effortlessly shoots Crazy Bull to death.

The heroes return to the tanker and see that it has been emptied.  Fortunately, there's a well with more water out there, so they get to work fixing up the tanker.

Now, cue the sad music.  We cut back to the compound - the plants they've been growing are crispy and dying, and everybody's really sad.  And when we cut back to Tommy and his pseudo-parents, they're looking kinda grim, too.  The staff inside the well have turned on a self-destruct sequence.  Just as the tanker pulls up, the entire place goes up in a fireball.

The sad music swells, and for a minute, I actually bought into it.  This does kinda seem like the sort of nihilist, bleak ending that somebody would tack onto an apocalypse movie.

But then it starts raining really hard and they all rejoice.  Freeze frame, end credits.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

There's much to like this week.  Exterminators lacks originality, but it makes up for it with a solid story structure, good pacing, and a handful of good ideas that are executed perfectly.

My favorite thing about this movie is that Elian truly is an anti-hero.  A lot of movies try to present cold self-preservation as a "cool" thing, but the heroes with that spirit are rarely ruthless and never cruel.  It's not that I think people should be either of those things - I just like it when a movie puts its money where its mouth is.  If you're going to say somebody is an anti-hero, don't have them walk the line in the middle and occasionally be gruff while always doing the right thing.  (I'm looking at you, Marvel universe.  Your movies are fun, but stop pretending like you're fooling us.)

Elian is a constant source of tension in this movie because you truly don't know what he's about to do next.  Even at the end, I get the impression that he's not 100% on the side of the compound - he never once says, "I believe in your cause."  And he tries to cheat the heroes out of their water like five or six times.  In the version of this story where the biker doesn't open the valve on the tanker, I'm pretty sure the ending is that Elian ties up Trash and Tommy in the desert and starts to drive away with the tanker, but then it starts raining and he goes, "Well, shit, there goes my retirement plan.  Ugh.  Get in, guys, we'll go back to your stupid bunker, I guess."

Tommy is a decent enough sidekick, too.  There's moments when he's a bit obnoxious, but he's not going around ruining things the way kids often do in science-fiction movies.  There aren't any scenes where he's pulling a 28 Weeks Later and accidentally draining a water well or something stupid.  No, he's a forward-thinking part of the team that helps and actually gets in a couple of cool moments on his own.

And I liked the overall impact that the movie had.  When it tries to jolt you, it normally succeeds.  I was not expecting Tommy's arm to get ripped off, nor did I predict the bionic arm reveal.  I did not expect the tease at the end when the well blows up.  Those little moments bump this movie up from "average" to "worth a look."

Unfortunately... in the long run, this is still basically just another generic apocalypse movie.  While it has moments of brilliance, there's nothing major that sets it apart.  I have a feeling I'll probably start blending parts of this one with all the others I've seen, and in six months' time I won't be able to tell you which one was Battletruck and which one was Exterminators.

It's still worth a watch, though.  After you've seen your fill of better apocalypse movies.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

There's no obscurity bonus, as this one has almost 600 ratings on IMDb as of today.  However, it does get an immediate 10 point bonus for being an Italian production from before 1990, which lends it an aura of sophistication, no matter how superficial that might be.  (Don't sneer at superficiality.  We're talking about hipster cred, for Christ's sake.)

I'll give it another 15 point "you've probably never heard of them" bonus for the cast, although this one is a bit on the fence.  If you name drop this movie and anybody points out that they've seen Venantino Venantini or Luciano Pigozzi (often credited as Alan Collins) before - and both of them were prolific character actors, so there's a good chance they did even though they might not know their names - then you lose 5 points.

Finally, I'll give it 5 points for overall hipstery content, plus another 15 for a soft recommendation bonus.

That adds up to a total of 40 to 45 hipster cred out of a possible 100, depending on who you're trying to impress.  Not bad, but you can do better.

Where You Can Watch

If you go before it gets pulled for copyright violations, you can watch it on Youtube.  Or you can stream it on Amazon if you're willing to pay a few bucks.