Vigilante (4K UHD)

Director: William Lustig
Screenplay: Richard Vetere
Stars: Robert Forster (Eddie Marino), Fred Williamson (Nick), Richard Bright (Burke), Rutanya Alda (Vickie Marino), Don Blakely (Prago), Joseph Carberry (Ramon), Willie Colón (Frederico “Rico” Melendez), Joe Spinell (Eisenberg), Carol Lynley (Assistant D.A. Mary Fletcher), Woody Strode (Rake), Vincent Beck (Judge Sinclair), Bo Rucker (Horace), Frank Pesce (Blueboy), Steve W. James (Ptl. Gibbons), Randy Jurgensen (Det. Russo)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1983
Country: U.S.
Vigilante 4K UHD

By the time that director William Lustig released his second feature Vigilante, there had been so many similarly themed movies about otherwise law-abiding citizens pushed to extralegal justice by rampant crime and an inept court system that it didn’t even feel like a Death Wish (1974) rip-off, but rather just another low-budget exploitation of our primal desires to see justice served. That is both its strength and its weakness, as it clearly demarcates itself from the Charles Bronson mold by focusing more on collective vigilantism rather than a lone wolf trying to right the system, but at the same time such a focus demands more resources than Lustig is ultimately able to deliver. A fantastic pre-credits sequence (which also served as a promotional reel for the film when it was still in production) finds blaxploitation legend Fred Williamson’s Nick rallying a group of citizens in a dark room intercut with the same citizens taking aim at a gun range. This opening scene sets a gritty, unrelenting tone, but also suggests the promise of a whole group of violent citizen-activists prowling the streets for robbers and rapists, when in fact the movie eventually settles on a trio of industrial workers led by Nick.

The story’s conscience is Eddie Marino (Robert Forster), a husband and father who takes his family to the park when he isn’t working overtime in order to make ends meet and make good on promises of a Florida vacation. Eddie, who works alongside Nick and his fellow vigilantes but is unaware of their nocturnal activities, is saddled with the requisite dialogue about the proper role of the police and the legal system in maintaining law and order, proclamations that are little more than targets to be later knocked down once Eddie is confronted with a combination of corruption and injustice that allows the gang that murdered his little boy and assaulted his wife to go free. A sleazy defense attorney (played by Joe Spinell, the star of Lustig’s 1980 gorefest Maniac) and a self-serving, lazy judge (Vincent Beck) essentially conspire against the well-meaning, but clearly inadequate assistant district attorney (Carol Lynley) to ensure that the gang leader Rico Melendez (Willie Colón) gets off scot-free. Eddie, in the meantime, has an understandable meltdown in the courtroom, which results in his being sentenced to 30 days in a maximum security prison. This particularly ugly and ironic injustice only hardens his sensibilities, and as soon as he walks out, he heads straight to Nick with nothing but vengeance on his mind.

Vigilante was shot entirely in and around the most dilapidated, graffiti-covered, and burnt-out sections of New York City, giving it a gritty, frightening sense of verisimilitude that goes a long way toward balancing some of its more salacious exaggerations and stylistic embellishments (including the John Carpenter-ish synth score). While Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979) had just a few years earlier presented a similar city-as-hell vision as a kind of cartoonish projection of the near future, Lustig roots his film in the here and now. Like all urban scare movies, Vigilante’s primary goal is to push your fear buttons by depicting the city—once the gleaming bastion of progress—as a cesspool of crime, an unrelenting visualization of society not just crumbling, but crumbled. Drug pushers, pimps, and gangsters prowl the street with authority, while “decent” citizens stay hidden behind locked doors; when Eddie’s wife (Rutanya Alda) is being assaulted in her own backyard in broad daylight, no one replies to her screams. It’s all set up to justify Eddie and the others’ vigilantism, which the movie embraces with little question.

Screenwriter Richard Vetere, an accomplished novelist and playwright, jets past moral qualms and cuts right into our most feverish sense of righteousness. He does this primarily by associating the bad guys not with evil, but with a nihilistic void. The film’s climax finds Eddie dangling a villain over a railing, and the villain taunts him by saying, “Go ahead. It don’t mean s--t to me,” to which Eddie responds, “It does to me.” This plays as a kind of answer to an earlier scene in which Eddie dared to ask what would differentiate him from “the scum” if he took the vigilante plunge, to which Nick replied, “That’s something you gotta figure out all by yourself.” Vigilante, with its uncomplicated divide between the nihilistic brutes and the involved citizenry, effectively figures it out for us.

Vigilante 4K UHD + Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.40:1
  • Engish Dolby Atmost surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital EX 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
  • German Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
  • Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
  • Subtitles English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
  • Audio commentary by director William Lustig and co-producer Andrew W. Garroni
  • Audio commentary by director William Lustig and stars Robert Forster and Fred Williamson
  • Audio commentary by film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
  • “Blue Collar Death Wish” Interviews with writer Richard Vetere, star Rutanya Alda, associate producer / assistant director / actor Randy Jurgensen, and others
  • “Urban Western” interview with composer Jay Chattaway
  • Promo reel
  • TV spots
  • Radio spots
  • Theatrical trailers
  • Poster and stills gallery
  • DistributorBlue Underground
    Release DateDecember 15, 2020

    It has been 10 years since Vigilante made its high-definition debut on Blu-ray, and now Blue Underground is back with a new, digitally restored 4K 16-bit scan from the original 35mm camera negative, with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio. The original Blu-ray looked great, but the new 4K presentation of this low-budget, early-’80s indie looks even better. The digital restoration has left the image virtually pristine, with no signs of age or damage anywhere to be found. Compared to the 2010 Blu-ray, the image here is noticeably darker, which adds to the film’s gritty tone. There has also been some definite color correction that has smoothed out some of the inconsistencies in color and contrast, which are now much more stable across the film. The image is overall sharp and well detailed, with exceptional grain structure readily apparent throughout. Nighttime scenes are appropriately dark and inky without sacrificing any shadow detail. We also get a newly remixed Dolby Atmos soundtrack to go along with the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track available on the Blu-ray, both of which primarily benefit the guitar-and-synthesizer-heavy musical score, spacing it out nicely and creating an enveloping atmosphere.

    The disc includes a number of substantial new supplements, although everything from the 2010 Blu-ray is accounted for, as well. Once again, we get a boisterous audio commentary by director William Lustig and stars Robert Forster and Fred Williamson (originally recorded in 2007) and another commentary (recorded in 2010) in which Lustig is joined by co-producer Andrew W. Garroni. Lustig and Garroni essentially give us a course in Guerilla Filmmaking 101, as they spend the majority of the time talking about the sneaky and complex tactics they used to get the film financed, shot, and finished, which is no small feat given all the obstacles they encountered. So, there are plenty of stories about begging for and borrowing money, conspiring with Teamsters, and shooting without a permit. And, in case two audio commentaries just isn’t enough, the 4K UHD adds a third track, this one recorded by the always insightful and entertaining film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, who add to the film’s context. Also new to this disc are “Blue Collar Death Wish,” a 25-minute retrospective featurette that includes new interviews with writer Richard Vetere, star Rutanya Alda, and associate producer / assistant director / actor Randy Jurgensen, among others, and “Urban Western,” a 25-minute interview with composer Jay Chattaway. From the 2010 disc we get a three-minute promo reel that was used to entice foreign distributors while the film was still in production, several TV and radio spots, seven original theatrical trailers from both the U.S. and Europe, and an extensive gallery of posters and stills.

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    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

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