'Vigilante,' the 1983 crime thriller from William Lustig (mastermind behind Blue Underground distributors and nephew of boxer Jake LaMotta), lives up to its promising title, jumping right into the nitty-gritty and delivering the kind of street-justice drama fans expect. The revenge/vigilante subgenre of exploitation films was fairly popular with moviegoers and action fans when this independent feature hit theaters. But Lustig brings a great deal of energy and excitement to a straightforward and conventional plotline. Making it a fun and memorable flick is the movie's horror/suspense elements being turned against the criminals, putting it alongside such notables as 'Sudden Impact,' Death Wish,' and 'Rolling Thunder.'
After making his controversial debut with the graphic schizoid shocker 'Maniac,' Lustig takes another look at the brutal violence which plagues city streets. Only this time, average citizens are fed up with the bloodshed and the ineffectiveness of police to stop it. With a bigger budget and more freedom to legally film in the streets of New York, the heroes of 'Vigilante' are also the relentless, unforgiving killers — average, working-class family men pushed to the edge and without any qualms over what they do. As a matter of fact, the plot simply bypasses questions of morality and social responsibility entirely, quickly providing the reasons for these urban citizens to take action and not much else.
Fred Williamson ('Black Caesar,' 'The Inglorious Bastards,' 'From Dusk Till Dawn') opens the movie with a tirade of how gangs and drug dealers control the streets once the sun goes down. He speaks to a small group in a dark, dingy basement about people locking themselves indoors, too afraid to come out. He's pissed off and is going to do what the cops cannot. It's an interesting scene which makes clear their secret gathering is frowned upon in society. And watching a big, bulking figure like Williamson towering over everyone, you know he means business. Later, one street pusher accidentally bumps into him, and we see the fear in his eyes, the same feeling he probably provokes in others. Things then turn comical as the panicking criminal tries to run away from his pursuer.
But things really get ugly when Robert Forster ('Alligator,' 'Jackie Brown') joins Williamson's group and enforces his own personal vendetta. As Eddie Marino, a blue-collar guy who wasn't there to save his son's life and protect his wife from being assaulted, Forster is excellent at portraying the pain and turmoil of a guilt-ridden husband. Feeling like swift, ruthless bloodshed is his only recourse, he easily wins over the audience to his cause as he hunts down the leaders of the gang which ruined his life. The actor is also given a thrilling car chase sequence in the vein of 'The French Connection,' which is surprisingly and grippingly well-executed for a small independent film.
In the world of vigilante cinema, films like 'Billy Jack,' 'Death Wish,' 'Walking Tall,' 'Taxi Driver,' 'Mad Max' and the Dirty Harry series has become staples of the subgenre. But William Lustig's 'Vigilante' is another great exercise of genre conventions which can be easily mentioned alongside any of those. Then again, for cult enthusiasts, the movie remains a favorite amongst such notables as 'Coffy,' 'Ms. 45,' 'Rolling Thunder,' 'Death Weekend,' 'Savage Streets' and 'I Spit on Your Grave.' It's an entertaining and satisfying action flick which delivers exactly what its title promises.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Blue Underground brings 'Vigilante' to Blu-ray on Region Free, BD50 disc and housed in the normal blue keepcase. At startup, viewers go straight to the standard menu selection with full-motion clips and a shattered screen.
William Lustig's 'Vigilante' serves some great-looking street justice on Blu-ray with this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1).
For a nearly thirty-year old movie, the picture is in excellent condition, displaying outstanding clarity in the far distance. Fine object and architectural details are very well-defined and resolute. Natural facial complexions expose pores and small blemishes in close-up, and the textures in clothing are plain and often stunning. Contrast is comfortably bright and crisp, while blacks are accurate and deep, providing the film with a good depth of field. The color palette, particularly reds and greens, are bold and energetic with brightly rendered secondary hues.
Aside from a few age-related scenes with poor resolution, the 1983 revenge flick looks fantastic in HD.
'Vigilante' also arrives with an often impressive DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
The front soundstage is wide and welcoming with a sharply-rendered and precise mid-range, which doesn't show a lot of variation, but it's clean and stable nonetheless. Imaging is surprisingly expansive with strong separation and effortless movement between channels. Bass isn't all that persuasive or active, but there's enough low-frequency present to give the track a bit of depth. Vocals are generally well-prioritized and audible, but there are moments when conversations are not all that clear. Surrounds are used quite frequently to pleasantly expand the soundfield, but certain discrete effects tend to feel blatant and easily localized, as if the design were being forced somewhat.
All in all, this low-budget actioner sounds great on Blu-ray.
Hitting Blu-ray for the first time, Blue Underground offers a rather small but still appreciated collection of bonus features.
Following a long line of entertaining revenge films, William Lustig's 'Vigilante' is another memorable and amusing exploitation movie. Featuring strong performances from Robert Forster and Fred Williamson and boasting some cool action sequences, the flick is a good deal of fun with an engaging story. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent video and good audio. The bonus collection could be better, but for what it is, the package makes a decent purchase for cult genre enthusiasts.