on 7 April 2013
Eddie Marino is your average blue-collar factory worker in New York City. He's aware that some of his co-workers have formed a vigilante group, as they're sick and tired of the streets they love being taken over by scum, and of course the police don't do a thing to clean it up. Eddie has a wife and young son, when his wife slaps the leader of a Puerto Rican street gang after they assault a gas attendant, the gang show up at Marino's house. They break in and kill Eddie's son and leave his wife for dead, Eddie arrives home from work and is told to go and see the District Attorney. Eddie is soon in court trying to put the leader of the gang behind bars for life, but the corrupt system means that Melendez, the leader of the gang is only given a two year suspended sentence. Understandably upset, Eddie loses his temper and tries to attack the Judge and it's Eddie that ends up in jail for thirty days. In prison, Eddie befriends an inmate named Rake who saves him from getting raped in the showers, once Eddie is released he immediately finds his co-worker, Nick, and asks the vigilante group for their help as he looks to get revenge on the gang and corrupt officials.
Robert Forster is great as Eddie Marino. Tony Musante was originally cast but had to drop out, Forster was then offered the role as William Lustig remembered his performance in Alligator. It was apparently Forster's performance in this film that got him the role of Max Cherry in Jackie Brown. As good as Forster is, it's Fred "The Hammer" Williamson that steals the show as Nick, Eddie's co-worker and leader of the vigilante gang. Standing at six foot and three inches, the former American football star is intimidating and unbelievably charismatic. He rose to fame in the '70s as the star of several excellent blaxploitation films and later went on to appear in several European exploitation films, Vigilante is one of his best roles and he gets most of the film's best lines. Joe Spinell who was previously the leading man in Lustig's vicious 1980 film, Maniac, is a little underused as Melendez's corrupt lawyer. His alcohol and drug addictions were spiralling out of control by the time Vigilante was made, and it was hard enough getting him to film the small role he has. Woody Strode, another former American football star puts in a very good but short performance as Rake, he'll be very well known to western fans. Vigilante is wonderfully directed by the underrated William Lustig, and I personally feel that this is his best work. He previously directed the sleazy Maniac, and later directed Maniac Cop and its two sequels, he also made a very good film with Judd Nelson called Relentless. He directed the very silly but very fun Uncle Sam in '96, that was his last film as director as he started Blue Underground, a DVD and Blu-ray label that specialises in releasing cult classics in the best possible version.
Vigilante is sometimes called a Death Wish knock-off, but as much as I like Death Wish, I personally feel that Vigilante is the better film. Vigilante seems more real and brutal, and unlike Bronson in the Death Wish films, they don't really seem to enjoy killing these punks, they're just doing what needs to be done. It's fair to say that Vigilante is a very violent film, the murder of Marino's son is horrific and really sets the tone for the rest of the film. There's plenty of blood and guts and it feels more like the gritty violent thrillers from Italy like Street Law and Contraband rather than Death Wish. The New York setting is cold and bleak, a perfect setting for the violence. There's an exciting ten minute car chase which is superbly handled, and a huge mention has to go to the music score which is absolutely sublime.
The Blu-ray from Blue Underground looks fantastic, there's far more detail than I expected and some of the colours really pop. Just ten years or so ago it was hard enough to find a watchable copy of a lot of exploitation films, it's amazing that we now have access to these classics and they look as good as films shot today. Vigilante is presented beautifully in widescreen, the disc is region free so will play on any UK Blu-ray player. The audio options are 7.1 DTS-HD or 5.1 Dolby digital, it can also be watched in French, German and Italian. English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are available. There's two commentary tracks, the first is with Lustig and co-producer Andrew W. Garroni, the second track is Lustig with Forster, Williamson and Frank Pesce. The first track is quite informative, the second is absolutely hilarious at times, especially the comments from Williamson and Pesce. Finally there are theatrical trailers, tv spots, radio spot, promotional reel and still gallery.
Vigilante is a great film that all fans of exploitation cinema should have in their collection, and the Blu-ray is just as impressive as the film itself. Any fan of Death Wish should love it, it's sleazier, more brutal and a whole lot more fun. I highly recommend this film.