Vigilante LE 4K UHD Review
Blu-ray Release: December 15, 2020
Video: 2.40:1/2160p/Color (4K); 2.40:1/1080p/Color (BD copy)
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0; Dolby Digital 2.0 French, Italian, and German
Subtitles: English SDH, Francais, Espanol, Portugues
Run Time: 89:29
Director: William Lustig
New York City factory worker Eddie Marino (Robert Forster) is a solid citizen and regular guy, until the day a sadistic street gang brutally assaults his wife and murders his child. But when a corrupt judge sets the thugs free, Eddie goes berserk and vows revenge. Now there's a new breed of marauder loose on the city streets, enforcing his own kind of law. His justice is swift. His methods are violent. He is the vigilante. (From Blue Underground’s official synopsis)
Director William Lustig came onto the horror/exploitation scene in a big way when he unleashed his scum-soaked, Taxi Driver (1976) meets slasher trash portrait of New York City’s dark side, Maniac (1980). Maniac was not a revelatory film, nor a particularly well-made one, but it had an inescapable raw authenticity that heralded Lustig as a guy for horror fans to watch. Lustig, however, wasn’t as interested in pursuing horror as he was in rough & tumble action. While he worked on horror movies throughout his career – including production work for Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980) and Tenebrae (1982) and the preservation of numerous films via Anchor Bay and Blue Underground – he arguably only directed one other film that would qualify as “horror,” 1996’s Uncle Sam, which was, not coincidentally, his final narratively-driven film. Otherwise (minus his early pornography), his filmography is made up of action movies, some with a horror slant, namely the Maniac Cop series (1988, 1990, 1993), while others are of the purest cops vs. robbers variety.
Lustig’s second (non-porn) film, Vigilante (1983), represents a massive shift in both content type and, more importantly, directing quality for the sophomore director, who shot it only two years after Maniac. Vigilante is, by definition, an exploitation film, but has little to none of the grotesque brutality of Maniac’s scalpings and exploding heads. It’s slickly made with beautiful scope compositions and well-executed action set-pieces. The car chases, in particular, are comparable to A-list cop movies. Frankly, its quality can be a detriment, since it lacks the danger seen in similar, lower budget Death Wish (1974) and Dirty Harry (1971) cash-ins. It doesn’t help that, since the early ‘80s, this type of vigilante pastiche had saturated the police procedural television market and burgeoning straight-to-video action market, or that people like Larry Cohen, Abel Ferrara, and Michael Winner had already perfected the art of this particular brand of reactionary (and oftentimes racist, let’s be honest) exploitation. Vigilante doesn’t have a crazy hook and doesn’t have much shock value. What it does have, besides the attractive photography and killer stunts, is a stand-out cast of B-movie stalwarts and ‘60s/’70s stars in need of a career boost, including Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Richard Bright, Carol Lynley, Rutanya Alda, Woody Strode, and the Maniac himself, Joe Spinell. Best of all, not a single actor is phoning it in, despite mediocre paychecks and a smaller-than-blockbuster distribution.
Vigilante works best as a piece of William Lustig’s directing career, rather than a standalone action film. It’s a way point between the rarely matched genuine grindhouse vibe of Maniac and the Maniac Cop films, which combined the director’s talent for orchestrating/shooting insane stunts with his eye for outrageous visuals, straight from 42nd Street’s dankest gutters. It’s also an early example of Lustig’s underrated capacity to direct actors, in particular cult actors who had either fallen out of favor or not quite found their niche just yet. It’s no accident that actor rehabilitator extraordinaire Quentin Tarantino had “re-discovered” Robert Forster for Jackie Brown in 1997 – Lustig had previously helped give his career a second life with Vigilante in 1983. Overall, the final film ends up feeling like a proof of concept and talent, and it’s easier to appreciate and respect than completely enjoy.
Vigilante is an interesting case, like Maniac, in that the director is directly responsible for its various restorations over the years. Over the years, Lustig, the owner of Blue Underground, has overseen non-anamorphic and anamorphic DVDs from Anchor Bay, a remastered Blue Underground Blu-ray, and, now, a completely restored 4K UltraHD and Blu-ray combo pack. Both the 2160p and 1080p transfers have been taken from a 4K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative. The previous Blu-ray looked pretty nice, but, as expected from this, I guess, third round of Blue Underground remasters, the 4K transfer is a worthy upgrade. The image is cleaner and details are tighter, yet the natural film grain is better preserved and there aren’t any oversharpening artifacts. Softer focus shots and various anamorphic lens effects are impressively reproduced, which gives the whole presentation an extra level of authenticity, like you’re seeing the film on its first run, before too many grinds through the projector chunked up the grain and scratched up the frame. To my eyes, the darkness has been pushed a little too far, as tends to happen with a lot of 4K UHD remasters, but this is only really notable during already dark sequences. The HDR helps mitigate the issue and the contrast levels of (comparatively) brighter sequences aren’t any flatter than what was seen on the 2010 BD.
Vigilante comes fitted with a solid assortment of lossless sound options, including the original 2.0 stereo mix in DTS-HD Master Audio, a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix and a brand new Dolby Atmos track. The latter two were seemingly developed from the DTS 7.1 track heard on the 2010 BD. The Atmos mix has advantages in terms of centralizing dialogue and incidental effects, and it helps Jay Chattaway’s eclectic pop-rock, synth, and smooth jazz score fill out the room a bit better than the original mix, but I personally don’t like the directional rearrangement very much. Not to say that the movement is as artificial as the stuff you’d hear from earlier mono-to-5.1 mixes. The 2.0 track is a hair rougher, including more dramatic shifts in volume and clarity from scene to scene and angle to angle, though, again, I think it makes for a more authentic experience.
Commentary with co-producer/director William Lustig and co-producer Andrew W. Garroni – This track was originally recorded for the 2010 BD. It’s not intensively screen-specific, but that’s just fine, because, at its best, it's a pretty good lecture on how to make low-budget movies.
Commentary by co-producer/director William Lustig and actors Robert Forster, Fred Williamson and Frank Pesce – This track was originally recorded for the 1995 ROAN Group Laserdisc and has made the rounds on almost every physical release since. It has a dated quality, given that commentaries were still a pretty recent idea in the mid-’90s, but Lustig does a really good job filling the space all on his own. The actors add extra flavor with their anecdotes.
Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson – The first new extra is a solid expert commentary with author Troy Howarth and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson. It’s a typical outing for both commentators, who cover the making of the film, greater context, easter eggs, and the larger careers of the cast & crew.
Blue Collar Death Wish (24:42, HD) – A tightly edited, quick moving 2020 retrospective featurette including interviews with Lustig, cast members, writer Richard Vetere, star Rutanya Alda, and associate producer/first assistant director/actor Randy Jurgensen.
Urban Western (25:08, HD) – A 2020 interview with composer Jay Chattaway, who discusses his training, musical inspirations/collaborators, his work scoring Navy training movies, meeting/working with Lustig, and scoring Vigilante.
Two poster and still galleries
U.S. trailer, international trailer, two British trailers, German trailer, Italian trailer, and French trailer.
Includes 1080p Blu-ray copy
The images on this page are representative of the remastered 2020 Blu-ray, but not representative of the 4K UHD image quality. Please visit Caps-a-Holic for their fullscreen comparisons.