directed by William Lustig
starring Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Carol Lynley
It is curious how one of the most quintessentially urban film sub-genres, the vigilante movie is at its heart a western, transplanted to the modern urban landscape. The vigilante is one of the most popular and enduring elements of the Western mythos, especially in the Euro-Westerns of the ’60s and ’70s. The ’70s-‘80s cycle of vigilante movies was set off by Charles Bronson in Michael Winner’s iconic Death Wish. Before Death Wish took a hard turn into a live action cartoon there were several classic, gritty, vigilante movies and one of the best is William Lustig’s Vigilante.
Although it feels like it exists in the same NYC universe as Lustig’s slasher classic, Maniac (1980), Vigilante takes place in the parts of the city the tourists never see, namely the parts of the city where people have yards, drive cars, and commute to work on Long Island. As crime runs rampant throughout the five boroughs a small group of factory workers bypass the system and deal with crime and criminals themselves. The groups leader Nick (Fred Williamson) tries to recruit with friend and co-worker Eddie Marino (Robert Forster) into the fold, but Eddie isn’t interested until a gang violently attacks his wife and child resulting in the death of his son and his wife Vickie (Rutanya Alda) being mutilated. When the courts predictably fail him, Eddie goes berserk in the courtroom leaving him in Riker’s Island for 30 days for contempt of court and the man responsible for the destruction of his family going free. Once out of jail, Eddie and Nick team up to unleash vengeance and right wrongs.
One of the most striking things about Vigilante, especially exemplified in this new 4K edition is how damn good it looks. Although working with a tiny budget William Lustig manages to get it all on the screen. The cinematography captures the night and darkness in a way that is exciting, full of danger, and never leaving you straining to make out what is happening on screen. Lustig also makes the most out of practical locations in the city to give the film a dynamic realism. The film is also aided by an impressive roster of character actors including Joe Spinell (Taxi Driver), Richard Bright (Al Neri in the Godfather films), Rutanya Alda (When a Stranger Calls), Carol Lynley (Bunny Lake is Missing), Woody Strode (Spartacus) and even legendary Salsa musician Willie Colon as Rico the leader of the gang in Forster’s and Williamson’s sights.
The new edition of Vigilante is brilliant. The film looks and sounds great, especially in maintaining the rich shadow detail without looking over processed. The extras on the film are lavish featuring three audio commentaries, one with William Lustig, and co-producer Andrew Garroni, another with Lustig and actors Robert Forster, Fred Williamson and Frank Pesce, and a critic/historian track from Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. There are also interviews, trailers, ads, and terrific booklet from writer Michael Gingold who in addition to being an editor at Rue Morgue magazine is also the screenwriter for a number of Troma movies.
Vigilante is one of the films of the early 1980s that bridged the gap between the ultra-dark ’70s grindhouse/drive-in exploitation and the cheekier fare of the mid-‘80s that was consumed largely at home via cable and VHS. This edition continues Blue Underground’s decades long work to preserve exploitation and horror films and provide them the context and respect the films and their creators deserve.