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Vigilante Main

Vigilante 4K UHD - Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Blue Underground

Vigilante Large

Directed by William Lustig
Written by Richard Vitere
1982, 89 minutes, Rated R
Released on December 15th, 2020

Robert Forster as Eddie Marino
Fred Williamson as Nick
Richard Bright as Burke
Rutanya Alda as Vickie Marino
Joe Spinell as Eisenberg
Carol Lynley as Assistant D.A. Mary Fletcher
Woody Strode as Rake

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It’s 1982 and the streets of New York are filled with danger as roving gangs terrorize the locals with random acts of violence. Rape and murder are commonplace in the drug-infested city and the average citizen is best served by keeping his head down and avoiding conflict. One of the more brutal gangs is led by the sadistic Rico Melendez, who lives to prey on the weak and vulnerable. There are those in the community who know the only way to escape this living hell is to stand up and fight back. Nick leads a group of middle-aged factory workers fed up with these cretins to take the law into their own hands. They cruise the city in their van pulling gang members off the streets for some private justice when the ineffective and outnumbered police fail to do their job.

Eddie Marino works at the factory with Nick and his crew but keeps to himself and stays out of trouble. When his wife and young son are assaulted by Rico’s gang, Eddie puts his faith in the law to punish those responsible. Nick warns him that the legal system is rigged against him. At the arraignment, a corrupt lawyer and judge let the gang leader off with a slap on the wrist and when Eddie freaks out at the injustice, he lands in jail for contempt. On the inside, he faces daily physical threats, but receives protection from an older inmate named Rake. He serves his thirty days and is back on the streets where he reaches out to Nick for help. Eddie proves quite adept when it comes to revenge and he has his own list of dirt bags that need to be taken out.

I have a soft spot for movies from the 1970s and ‘80s set in the mean streets of New York. There’s something attractive about the unforgiving city with its overwhelming abundance of unchecked seediness and danger. The streets are filled with hustlers, pimps, gang members, prostitutes, victims and the average Joe just trying to get by, not to mention glorious piles of garbage lined up along the sidewalks. Films of this era serve as a time capsule of the days before areas like Times Square and 42nd Street were sanitized and made family-friendly.

In 1974, the wildly successful Death Wish sparked a wave of vigilante pictures from the sublime (Taxi Driver) to the sleazy (Ms. 45) with titles like The Exterminator and Rolling Thunder landing somewhere in between. Director William Lustig (Maniac Cop) puts his own personal stamp on the subgenre with the highly entertaining Vigilante. Working from a script by Richard Vitere (The Third Miracle), Lustig rips the bandage off early with scenes featuring a series of criminal acts before breaking the cinematic taboo of murdering a child, leaving audiences aghast and unsure where he will lead them next.

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The picture benefits from confident direction and steady pacing, but where it excels is in its performances. Robert Forster (Alligator) and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (VFW) co-star as Eddie and Nick respectively. Nick knows the game is rigged and is tired of waiting around to be saved or sacrificed and is more than happy to defend his city and encourages others to join him. Eddie wants nothing more than to enjoy his quiet, peaceful life, but when his family unit is attacked, he is devastated. Going to jail for losing his cool in court changes Eddie, awakening a call for revenge so strong that he is willing to do anything including commit murder to even the score. Nick supplies the outlet Eddie needs and is more than willing to comply. Forster is fantastic here as we follow blue-collar Eddie on his journey from victim to avenger. Williamson is charismatic and intense with his rousing monologues and calls to action and it’s always fun watching him kicking someone’s ass in a fight.

The supporting cast is equally impressive, starting with Rutanya Alda (Amityville II: The Possession) as Eddie’s wife Vickie. She displays great strength when standing up to Rico at a gas station, even if confronting him invites a cruel fate. Her best scene is opposite Forster in the hospital as they decide how to move forward after the tragedy. Joe Spinell (Maniac) is in top form as the crooked lawyer, Eisenberg, and he fills the role with scummy goodness. Forster and Spinell would reunite a few years later in the underrated Walking the Edge. The always-watchable Woody Strode (Spartacus) commands every minute of his screen time as Eddie’s jailhouse protector, Rake. Richard Bright (The Godfather) plays Nick’s right-hand man, Burke, a no-nonsense tough guy who knows how to handle himself in any situation. Carol Lynley (The Poseidon Adventure) holds her own as Assistant D.A. Mary Fletcher, a realist who tries her best to help Eddie navigate the system.

Vigilante is gritty and dark to be certain, but is highly entertaining. There’s no room for levity, but seeing Forster and Williamson take down some bad dudes is rewarding. Lustig shot the picture on a low budget and makes the most of his New York locations while avoiding the more popular tourist attractions. A third act car chase boosts the adrenaline while the explosive finale paints a grim picture of how far our protagonist will go to get justice. As far as vigilante movies go, this one ranks pretty high and continues to thrill nearly forty years later. The city has changed a lot over the years, but I believe Nick and Eddie Marino could still find plenty to do to keep their streets safe.

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Video and Audio:

Vigilante makes the leap to 4K UHD disc and shines as never before thanks to a fresh 16-bit 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The 2010 Blu-ray featured strong image quality, but this new transfer leaves it in the dust with striking improvements across the board. The disc features Dolby Vision HDR and offers additional detail and clarity that reaches reference quality. Colors are rich and well-saturated while black levels appear bottomless. This release also includes a standard Blu-ray disc of the film that sports the new transfer as well.

There are six audio tracks on this Blu-ray release: English: Dolby Atmos, English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English: DTS-HD MA 2.0, French: Dolby Digital 2.0, Italian: Dolby Digital 2.0, German: Dolby Digital 2.0. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 is the most faithful to the source material but the expanded 5.1 track opens the action a bit more. The new Dolby Atmos track packs quite a punch during the more dramatic elements’ music and effects cues.

Optional English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles are provided for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Returning from the previous release is a pair of insightful audio commentaries with director William Lustig. On the first, he is joined by co-producer Andrew Garroni and they take a more nuts-and-bolts approach to how the picture was made. This is an interesting discussion that reveals a lot of information about the low budget production and the film industry at the time.

The second archival commentary finds Lustig in a frequently hilarious conversation with stars Robert Forster, Fred Williamson and Frank Pesce. Williamson is affably cocksure and tends to dominate the track, but in a good way, as his stories are highly entertaining. Forster’s comments are more reserved as he shares his memories of the shoot and the character. Pesce and Lustig contribute their fair share with behind-the-scenes trivia making for a well-rounded track definitely worth checking out.

A new commentary featuring film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson offers insights and observations on not only this picture but on the vigilante subgenre as a whole. They talk about the city in the early 1980s and the types of movies being made at that time. This is a broader conversation that doesn’t go into much detail on how this picture was made, as they rightly point out the previous two tracks more than cover that.

Blue Collar Death Wish (25 minutes) is a newly-recorded look back at the production, featuring interviews with Lustig, screenwriter Richard Vitere, producer Randy Jorgensen and actors Rutanya Alda and Frank Pesce. We are treated to more fond memories and humorous anecdotes from the shoot. In one of his final appearances, the late Robert Forster is sitting at the table with Lustig and Pesce, but is unfortunately silent for the duration.

Composer Jay Chattaway (Silver Bullet) reflects on his career in film in the new featurette Urban Western (26 minutes). He discusses his background and then focuses on his work on this picture.

The original theatrical trailer (restored) is joined by a collection of international trailers, TV ads and radio spots.

A promotional reel (4 minutes) gives audiences a taste of Fred Williamson’s leadership skills.

There are two photo galleries featuring international posters and promotional stills.

An insert booklet features a thoughtful and informative essay by Michael Gingold.

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Movie: Threeandahalfstars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Buy Amazon Uk
Video: Fivestars
Audio: Fourandahalfstars
Features: Fourstars
Overall: 4 Star Rating

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About The Author
Robert Gold
Author: Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer - USA
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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