Blu-Ray Review: VIGILANTE
Death Wish (1974) spawned an endless array of clones both in the U.S. and Europe. The influence of Death Wish is so immense that filmmakers are still aping the source material. One of the entries in this multi-decade wave of thugs-kill-man's-family-so-man-kills-thugs movies is Bill Lustig's Vigilante (1982). The film, which will be available on a slick new Blu-Ray from Blue Underground on September 21st, is a grim spartan work that has enough edge to really stand out from the pack.
It is New York City in 1982. Rapists, hoodlums, and gangs dressed in bandanas and blue jean jackets are trolling every nook and cranny of the city in search of innocent middle-class prey. One of the victims is Eddie Martino (Robert Forster), a working class schlub who is ready for a vacation his wife (Rutanya Alda) and little boy. Eddie's vacation never happens because Rico (musician Willie Colon) slices up his wife and Prago (Don Blakely) wastes his little boy with a shotgun. A shady lawyer (Joe Spinell) gets Rico off on a suspended sentence. Eddie, who is enraged at the light punishment, gets tossed in the can on a contempt charge. Once he gets out, he joins a renegade buddy (Fred Williamson) in a quest for revenge.
Anybody who has seen Death Wish or any movie like it should be able to predict most everything happens. There is not really anything new about the story or the characters, but Vigilante compensates in various other ways. Most importantly, the film has a great cast. Forster's weary hang-dog face and defeated mannerisms really fill out what is otherwise a generic character. Fred Williamson does his usual tough take-no-prisoners routine, which is perfect for his role as leader of a vigilante street gang. Forster and Williamson are surrounding by a classy set of performers. Even though some of the roles are pretty minor -- Joe Spinell, Steve James and Woody Strode aren't on screen very long -- they add a lot to the film.
The other thing that gives Vigilante an edge is grim nihilistic tone. The film is drenched in dread, paranoia and helplessness. Violence is everywhere. A random encounter with a stranger can result in serious injury or death. Although this is bad news for the characters, it is good news for the audience because it leads to a steady flow of car chases, beat-downs, gun fights, and bloody squibs.
Blue Underground's Region 1 Blu-Ray is sourced from a 2K transfer of the original uncut negative. This transfer looks great with minimal DNR and a fine mist of grain. A lot of scenes involve exterior night shots or dark rooms with low light. Even the daytime exteriors look cloudy and overcast. The result is a moody, shadowy look with lots of contrast.
English audio tracks in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and Dolby Digital Surround-Ex 5.1 are provided as are Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks in French, German, and Italian. DBOX Motion Code is included for anybody who actually has a home setup.
The supplements are copious. The first audio commentary features Bill Lustig and co-producer Andrew W. Garroni. This one is like a textbook on low-budget filmmaking. The pair speak in great detail about struggles in casting, financing, and shooting the film. The second commentary is an entertaining, if not scatter-brained, yap fest with Bill Lustig, Robert Forster, Fred Williamson and Frank Pesce.
A promo reel, which actually ended up being used as the opening scene, is included. Seven spoiler-ridden theatrical trailers for the U.S. and Europe show the contrast between how the movie was sold in various markets. All trailers use mostly the same footage with slight differences to appeal to the various target markets (e.g. the Italian trailer is cut for violence and emphasizes the presence of Fred Williamson over that of Robert Forster). Four TV spots, a radio spot, and a still gallery round out the extras.