Vigilante (1983)
By: Mark Nichols on January 17, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 89 minutes
The Movie
Director: William Lustig
Starring: Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Richard Bright, Steve W. James, Joe Spinell
Screenplay: Richard Vetere
Music: Jay Chattaway, Willie Colon
Tagline: You're not safe anymore...
Country: USA
Vigilante begins with Nick (Fred Williamson) urging his neighbours to take a stand against increasing street crime in New York, circa 1983. His argument is that the police force and legal system can no longer protect them. "...this is our Waterloo baby! You want your city back? Take it! You dig?!" Next we see urban vigilantes shooting targets in a dark underground firing range. The tone and theme of Vigilante is set; this is a dog-eat-dog world with no hope or justice except our own...

Meanwhile, at a park beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, Eddie (Robert Forster) is flying a remote controlled aeroplane with his young son Scott (Dante Joseph) while his wife Vickie (Rutanya Alda) happily looks on. Life could not be better for Eddie right now. Let's hope nothing bad happens!

Later, at a service station, a gang of scary looking dudes harass the owner and Vicki comes to his defence. Bad move! She is followed home, and the gang members blast her son with a shotgun and rape her (offscreen) at knifepoint.

At the courthouse, Eddie learns the defence lawyer (Joe Spinell) is being bribed. The gang leader is convicted, but is only given a two year suspended sentence and walks free. Eddie becomes outraged at the plea bargain and is ironically jailed for contempt of court.

In prison he is protected by and befriends hardened prisoner Rake (Woody Strode, Spartacus). "Don't come back." Rake sagely warns Eddie as he leaves prison. "Don't let 'em catch ya".

His marriage over and hankering for revenge, Eddie teams up with Nick to take the law in his own hands and make his own justice...

The characters are hard to get emotionally attached to in Vigilante because there are two protagonists instead of one. Other than being fed-up with crime, Nick's motivation is never explained, preventing the film from having the emotional impact of more successful revenge films like Straw Dogs, Death Wish or Mad Max (to name only a few). There are only three slightly gory revenge murders, so those expecting the same gore quotient as Lustig's Maniac will be disappointed. However the settings and clothes worn in the film have aged well since it was released in 1983 other than a pimp's loud shiny gold satin jacket.
Umbrella presents Vigilante in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement, although many scenes are too dark with over-saturated blacks. This is partly due to what appears to be a poor NTSC to PAL conversion, but the source material is also partly to blame as Lustig himself admits that a lot of the backgrounds in scenes he shot never showed once the film was developed. In one violent night rape scene it is virtually impossible to see anything except the New York skyline behind the actors.
Satisfactory Dolby Digital 2.0. Music soundtrack not particularly outstanding or memorable.
Extra Features
Audio Commentary with Director William Lustig, Robert Forster, Fred Williamson and Frank Pesce (who plays Blueboy, a drug peddlar to teenagers). This is the second feature Lustig directed after Maniac and he speaks about how he had developed professionally and his progression from filming on 16mm to 35mm. The anecdotes and banter between them all is extremely funny and interesting, making it more enjoyable than when I saw Vigilante without it.

Theatrical trailers and TV Spots: Numerous versions of the TV trailer for TV. Enough to make anyone just old enough with a driver's licence and car in 1983 make a trip to the local drive-in on a Saturday night!

Stills Gallery: Comprehensive collection of stills and film posters from various countries marketed to look similar to The Warriors.

Umbrella Trailers: Maniac, Dead Ringers, King of New York and The Stepfather.
The Verdict
The story has no surprises or innovative subplots, but there is a good shotgun blast to the stomach stunt and a nice splattered brain shot. It is really only the solid performances from cult favourites Robert Forster, Fred Williamson and Woody Strode that give this film its strength. Vigilante will probably be enjoyed most by fans of their work, or those who want to relive the thrill of seeing it when it was originally released in 1983.
Movie Score
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