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The Annihilators

* * * - -

A surprisingly entertaining entry in the 1980s vigilante action sub-genre.

Image of The Annihilators

Charles E. Sellier Jr./ 1985/ USA/ 85 mins

Available now on DVD and Blu-Ray

This cross between The A-Team and the Death Wish films sees the Annihilators, a group of ex-Vietnam veterans led by Bill (Christopher Stone), on a mission to clean up the crime-ridden streets of an Atlanta neighbourhood after a fellow comrade is killed by one of the three gangs operating in the area who are also working for a Colombian drug cartel. However, the fate of the residents doesn’t just rest in the hands of the experienced combat veterans, but also in those of the ordinary people themselves.

Whilst the film contains many of the familiar tropes commonly found in the 80s vigilante action sub-genre (attempted sexual assault, stereotypical multiracial gangs, a comically inefficient police force), the narrative manages to effectively avoid being a simple rehash of preceding vigilante films. For example, the Annihilators themselves are not only more fleshed out as characters, with a notable subplot dealing with Annihilator Woody’s alcoholism, but the people they protect are also provided with a narrative agency often denied by the conventions of the genre. The film places a greater emphasis on sequences showing the Annihilators training the residents in self-defence and interacting with them than similar sequences in films such as Death Wish 3.

The action sequences are also more varied and professionally filmed than those found in Charles Bronson‘s films, although they do contain their fair share of obviously-telegraphed missed haymaker punches and roundhouse kicks. In particular, a climactic car chase followed by the flamethrower-wielding villain Roy-Boy’s holding hostage of schoolchildren a la the villain Scorpio in Dirty Harry proves surprisingly engaging, as do the efforts of the residents in fighting back against the gang members. Whilst they don’t result in the significantly larger body counts usually seen in such films, the avoidance of having these sequences play out as simple shooting gallery simulations is a credit to director Sellier.

In addition, the performances are a welcome change from the one-note line readings of genre stalwarts Bronson and The Exterminator‘s Robert Ginty, with Stone and Andy Wood as Woody providing the best performances. Wood, in particular, provides his character’s alcoholism and relationship with a diner waitress with a poignancy rarely found in films of this nature. However, this praise can’t be extended to the villains, who mostly rely on the stock overacting required of them with Paul Koslo as Roy-Boy being the worst offender.

The Annihilators is a surprisingly entertaining and overlooked 80’s vigilante action film that deserves to gain the same amount of attention as the Death Wish films. Hopefully, this carefully-restored release from Arrow Video can provide that.