Starring Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Rutanya Alda, Don Blakely
Directed by William Lustig
Distributed by Blue Underground
The first time I saw Bill Lustig’s Vigilante (1982) was roughly a decade ago and I distinctly remember feeling a bit letdown by what my mind had built up as some kind of wild Death Wish III (1985)-style picture about a group of street-justice-seeking citizens taking on local thugs – and while that may ostensibly be true the story is more thoughtful and reality-based. In fact, it sometimes feels like Lustig is torn between making two different pictures – in one, a savvy and clandestine posse targets low-level criminals and beats them senseless for information about their higher-ups while in the other picture a grieving family man is forced into a violent world of vengeance when his hope for justice is failed by the legal system. Vigilante runs a tight 88 minutes and when it was over I couldn’t help but feel it needed an additional 15-20 minutes more to flesh out some of the concepts and story beats – but this movie wasn’t made for anything more than the grindhouse circuit and it’s a curious example of an exploitation picture that should have had higher aspirations.
Eddie Marino (Robert Forster) is a simple blue collar family man. His wife, Vickie (Rutanya Alda), cares for their eight-year-old son, Scott (Dante Joseph), while Eddie works at the local factory. He keeps his head down, obeys the law, and tries to stay out of the way of danger… unlike his co-workers, like Nick (Fred Williamson), who participate in a local group that targets criminals and literally beats them off the streets. One night Eddie returns home from work to find his wife has been stabbed and their son shot to death in retaliation for Vickie intervening in a gas station altercation earlier in the day. Nick offers his assistance but Eddie wants to see the assailants prosecuted legally…
…until the justice system fails him miserably, setting his wife’s attacker, Rico (Willie Colon), free and not even bringing his son’s killer, Prago (Don Blakely), to trial. In an ironic and cruel twist, Eddie is jailed after having an understandable outburst in the courtroom when the crooked judge gives Rico a suspended sentence. On the outside, Nick and his guys are still beating the local pushers to a pulp and aiming high for the big money men. They satisfy the exploitation side of the picture while Eddie, finally out of jail, has to contend with a wife who no longer feels safe in their home – or with her own husband, who “failed to protect” them – and his only son is dead while the perps roam free with gleeful abandon. So, he decides to join up with his vigilante friends and eliminate his problems.
Like I said, this almost feels like two different films. The crowd satisfaction story follows Nick’s escapades around town and they’re exciting and tense, with his trio running down small time crooks to get the big names and still beating their asses all the same – or worse. Then there’s Eddie’s story, which is filled with sympathetic tragedy, endless grief, frustration; so many thoughts and scenarios running through his mind. And once Eddie accepts the system has failed him and he must be the arbitrator of justice, he is swift, calculating, and cold. Even Nick seems taken aback by the ease with which Eddie slips into the role of executioner. Similar to Paul Kersey’s (Charles Bronson) turn in Death Wish (1974) Eddie goes from law abiding citizen to vigilante when the courts won’t offer justice.
For his part Forster is fantastic. His character is subjected to a gauntlet of challenging tasks and emotion turmoil and Forster sells all of it, sometimes with little more than a look. He doesn’t magically turn into a one-man urban assault vehicle when facing down bad guys. He’s still the same blue collar guy – but now he’s got a gun. Fred Williamson brings the flash and show as Nick, a man who talks big and has the muscle to back it up. The villains aren’t as colorful. Every one of them is thin and more of a villainous caricature than anything else, which is a bit deflating because the good guys are such an interesting bunch. Still, Vigilante is an underrated title that will hopefully get more eyes with this new 4K release because it’s one of Lustig’s best.
The quality of Blue Underground’s 4K Ultra HD work cannot be overstated and the 2.40:1 2160p image presented here is an astonishing leap in quality over the old DVD and Blu-ray releases. The opening scene starts off with a black screen as Fred Williamson slowly walks into frame and the depth of the black levels and fine detail available with such minimal lighting is incredible – and this is in total darkness. Once the action moves to broad daylight the picture lights up with popping colors, a fine sheen of healthy film grain, insane definition – one of the finest looking catalog restorations of the year.
But I did encounter an anomaly during chapters 9, 10, and during a few other moments throughout – a brightness fluctuation that happened frequently during scenes, shifting constantly in some cases. It looked like this was part of the color grading that maybe never got finished? Or an issue with Dolby Vision playback? I only know what I saw, not what the root may be, but I’ve seen it reported a few other places online so I know it isn’t my equipment. Perhaps Blue Underground will address this issue because otherwise the video quality here is stellar.
Audio gets the usual 4K upgrade with an English Dolby Atmos track joining the previously available English DTS HD-MA 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, along with French, Italian, and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes. This is another winner – you expected less? – and the only possible issue I heard was during the home invasion when the score loudly outshines the dialogue but I won’t call that a complaint because Jay Chattaway’s score is seriously rockin’. The Vigilante main theme sounds like gritty urban Morricone, with electric guitar, acoustic strumming, keyboards, and a pulsing drum beat. It’s a whopper of a track. In fact, just about every song in the film is a winner and I was wondering why Blue Underground didn’t include a CD copy as they have on similar releases… only to learn the soundtrack hasn’t ever had a proper release. This needs to change. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
- BRAND NEW 4K 16-BIT RESTORATION FROM THE ORIGINAL 35MM CAMERA NEGATIVE
- DOLBY VISION/HDR PRESENTATION OF THE FILM
- NEW ENGLISH DOLBY ATMOS TRACK
- NEW Audio Commentary #3 with critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
- NEW Blue Collar DEATH WISH – Interviews with Writer Richard Vetere, Star Rutanya Alda, Associate Producer/First A.D./Actor Randy Jurgensen, and others
- NEW Urban Western – Interview with Composer Jay Chattaway
- Audio Commentary #1 with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig and Co-Producer Andrew Garroni
- Audio Commentary #2 with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig and Stars Robert Forster, Fred Williamson and Frank Pesce
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spots
- Radio Spot
- Promotional Reel
- Poster & Still Galleries
- Theatrical Trailers
- BONUS: Collectible Booklet with new essay by Michael Gingold
- Reversible sleeve with vintage poster art
- First pressing only: 3D lenticular slipcover
- Optional English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles for the main feature
- Additional audio tracks: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0, French Dolby Digital 2.0, Italian Dolby Digital 2.0, German Dolby Digital 2.0
Vigilante functions well as both a hard-hitting revenge picture and a portrait of a man dealing with extreme grief, though it mostly succeeds with the former. Blue Underground’s 4K release is another definitive package with one minor caveat in terms of video quality. Regardless, this comes highly recommended as usual.