Directed by: William Lustig
Starring: Robert Forster, Fred Williamson
William Lustig is an often-underappreciated auteur of the early 80’s indie film scene. His films end the traditional grindhouse cinema era of the 70’s but revel in the indie horror and action movie scene of the early 80’s. Vigilante riffs on Death Wish, probably the mold breaking film of action revenge films, and it does it in style with Robert Forester and Fred Williamson. William Lustig produced and directed the film from a script by first time writer Richard Vetere.
The plot is pretty basic, gangs are ravaging the city and end up in conflict with Robert Forester’s Eddie Marino’s wife played by Rutanya Alda. They take revenge on her while Eddie is off with friends and she ends up in the hospital. Eventually Eddie, teamed with Fred Williamson’s Nick, seek out those responsible and enact some vigilante justice.
This film is full of rage, it oozes from every pore. Fred Williamson in a clever trick of the camera starts the film off by talking to the audience about the violence plaguing New York City and how we need to defend ourselves quickly followed by a class of people shooting targets. The social commentary here is similar to that of death Wish and a number of other films between the mid 70’s and early 80’s. The commentary isn’t that clean and simple though. Sure, there are statistics preached on gang violence and corruption, but there’s also a conversation between Eddie and Nick about the dangers of vigilante justice. Eddie actually sort of talks Nick into a corner by the end of the scene. The film plays on the fear of gangs in the era utilizing a formula that at that point was tried and true but the fact that it takes time to properly question the core of the story adds layers to what at first blush is a formula action revenger. Add to that the dynamic energy of Fred Williamson and the solid acting chops of Robert Forester and you’ve got yourself a good time.
Now, the film wants to get you in the proper mindset, and get to the action pretty quick so some of the setup is a little fast moving and aggressively punching you in the face. In fact, the court case portion of the film is very condensed and unrealistic but it did properly serve its purpose. Eddie gets severely beat up by everyone around him metaphorically even getting sent to prison while the gang members get off.
My favorite film from Lustig remains Maniac, but Vigilante reminds us that he did some really cool stuff in the early 80’s that should be celebrated. Vigilante is easily one of the best indie riffs on Death Wish out there, and now we have it in 4k. This is highly recommended for fans of revenge flicks or fans of the lead actors, grab it.
Wow, just wow. When we talk about stellar new scans of older films and restorations Criterion, and Arrow Video always come to mind but Blue Underground should be in this conversation more. In fact I’d wager that Zombie is one of the best uses of 4k on the medium. Vigilante looks fantastic in this 4k uhd bring solid detail to the proceedings but most notably really making good use of the new color opportunities allowed by HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Skin tones look more realistic than the blu-ray and little pops of color such as siren flashing lights and fire pop just the right amount off a darker color palette. Now, this presentation is a little darker than the 1080p release but the complex colors make it always easy to see. There are a few scenes where the blacks look just a little soft but the majority of the film is right on point. Grain is intact and looks very filmic while not getting in the way of detail. This really must have been what it was like to see a fresh film pressing of this film.
There are several audio options here that all sound good including the original stereo but if you have Dolby Trued or Atmos these are the most dynamic options. I didn’t notice a lot happening in the overhead speakers in the Atmos mix but what I did notice is how good the dialogue sounded blazing through the center channel with some immersion happening from the surrounds. The score for the film, especially the title sequence, just pops out of the mix. For a movie this old, the mix is really dynamic and clean. There’s not a lot happening in the subs or the overheads but the TrueHD mix is pretty rocking!
The Packaging and Bonus Features
First up this release continues the trend of classy mostly black slipcovers Blue Underground is doing for their 4k releases. This one has a lenticular cover similar to Daughters of Darkness with new artwork. Future versions of this package will not feature the lenticular cover. The cover on the actual amaray case is reversible with classic artwork on the backside. The 4k UHD and the blu-ray both also feature disc art. There’s a booklet packed inside with essays and photos too. Blue Underground spared no expense in this presentation and it shows. I’m not sure how limited this release is, but it’s definitely library quality for the fan of the film.
There are a number of extras on the discs too. Most of the extras are archival, from previous releases to home video, but Blue Underground does freshen things up with some new additions. So, beginning with the new stuff there’s a new audio commentary with film critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Watching a film with people that really know the history of a film, and look at it critically can really change your perspective on that film. If you haven’t watched audio commentaries before, this is a great time to start. We have two new featurettes titled Blue Collar Death Wish and Urban Western. Urban Western can be a little dry as it is just a one shot single interview with the film’s composer but it’s worth a watch because the score for the film is so good. The first archival audio commentary is with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig and Co-Producer Andrew Garroni is brought over from the previous release and is a must. Lustig has been both a filmmaker and a home video distributor for a long time and he really knows how to give up the goods on the making of his films. A second archival audio Commentary with Co-Producer/Director William Lustig and Stars Robert Forster, Fred Williamson and Frank Pesce is more anecdotal and a great listen. Anytime you can get Fred Williamson talking about filmmaking you’re in for a treat. Along with all of this you get a promo reel, trailers, TV spots, radio spots, and a poster and still gallery. Don’t overlook the gallery because seeing the classic posters is a blast.
Vigilante is a highly entertaining watch with two of the coolest dudes from the grindhouse era leading the way. If you’re a fan of revenge flicks this needs to be in your collection and I have no doubt it will be one of the best packages in your media library.
The Movie 8/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10