Color, 1982, 89 mins. 29 secs..
Directed by William Lustig
Starring Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Richard Bright, Rutanya Alda, Willie Colon, Joe Spinell, Carol Lynley, Woody Strode
Blue Underground (UHD, Blu-ray & DVD) US R0 4K/HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
In a rough neighborhood plagued by rising gang violence, a group of fed-up citizens has decided to take matters into their own hands under the leadership of tough guy Nick (Williamson). Nice guy factory worker Eddie Marino (Forster) isn't too keen to join up at first, but when his wife and son are brutally murdered one afternoon, he agrees to join their merciless patrols trying to restore some order to the streets. However, a twist of fate soon separates the two men as Eddie is thrown into an ineffective legal system and Nick must decide how far the vigilantes can go before the law wipes them all out.
By the time Vigilante officially opened in early 1983 after a handful of festival screenings the previous year, the citizen avenger theme had become a popular movie staple thanks to the success of Death Wish and its sequels, not to mention an avalanche of imitators like The Exterminator, Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45, and Enzo G. Castellari's Street Law. The decision to do a vigilante movie makes sense considering director William Lustig had enjoyed the huge success of 1980's extreme gore hitManiac, and another spin through the exploitation wilderness seemed only natural. Vigilante definitely delivers the goods, especially in the extended version that most Americans couldn't see until its DVD release in the '90s; Forster makes for a good conflicted hero, and as always, Williamson is tremendous fun to watch.
However, the real kick here is the gritty New York location footage and colorful supporting cast, with Maniac's Joe Spinell popping up for a memorable supporting bit, Woody Strode as a helpful prison inmate, and even Carol Lynley appearing as an impassioned prosecutor whose efforts are thwarted by legal corruption. While Maniac amped up its grisly subject matter with gaudy colors, here Lustig shoots the film with a heavy emphasis on black and gray, closer in tone to Cruising than your average '80s drive-in movie. Some of this tonal change may be due to regular Abel Ferrara cinematographer James Lemmo (Driller Killer), who stuck around to shoot the the first two Maniac Cop films as well. Lots of nasty shotgun blasts and a spare but extremely effective synth score by Jay Chattaway make this a solid good time if you want a little iron-fisted vengeance with an amazing cast of pulp favorites.
Vigilante first appeared on DVD from Anchor Bay in 2002 in its unrated extended version, which has remained the standard ever since. That release contained a very entertaining audio commentary with Lustig, Forster, Williamson, and actor Frank Pesce, who all obviously get a big kick out of revisiting the film and the wonderfully egocentric Williamson providing the lion's share of memorable one-liners. As with Lustig's other titles, the film then became a Blue Underground title on both DVD and Blu-ray in 2008, with the latter stacking up as one of their strongest HD transfers at the time. The DVDs looked fine, but the Blu-ray does a much more capable job of handling the shadowy night scenes and really delivering the scuzzy little details hiding in all those visual layers of steely lighting. Audio is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD and 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX options (with D-Box enhancement if you really want to feel those gunshots shake your feet), as well as French, German, and Italian dubs in basic Dolby surround. Optional subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese are also provided, and the disc is region free. In addition to carrying over the original commentary, the Blu-ray adds an additional commentary with Lustig and co-producer Andrew W. Garroni that goes more into the production aspects of shooting in New York, the hiring process for the cast and crew, and the heavy influence of Italian crime films which eventually makes you expect to see a vacationing Maurizio Merli pop up to gun down some gang members at any minute. Other extras include four theatrical trailers (American, German, Italian, and French), TV spots, a radio spot, a promo reel, and a gallery of stills and promotional art.
In 2020, Blue Underground revisited the film for a combo UHD and Blu-ray set featuring a fresh 4K scan from the 35mm camera negative, including a new Dolby Atmos track (available on both formats) that increases the enjoyment factor even more with a more spacious audio presentation that funnels ambient noise and that great score to all of the channels to highly immersive effect at times. You also get 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA English options with optional English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles, plus Dolby Digital 2.0 French, Italian and German tracks. The transfer itself looks gorgeous and ranks up there with some of the label's other superlative 4K presentations preceding it, with the UHD in particular boasting an impressive amount of depth and color vibrancy (the latter aided by Dolby Vision HDR). The older transfer was nothing to sniff at, but it's outpaced here with better and richer colors even on the Blu-ray as well as a substantial amount of extra image info on the left and right sides. Both of the prior commentaries are included here, plus you get a newly recorded one with Troy Howarth and this writer that can't be appraised here (obviously) but will hopefully prove informative and entertaining. A brisk new featurette, "A Blue Collar Death Wish" (24m42s), features writer Richard Vetere, star Rutanya Alda, associaite producer / first assistant director / actor Randy Jurgensen, and a roundtable with Lustig, Forster, and actor Frank Pesce reminiscing about the film's crime movie influences, the rough urban environment of New York at the time, the radically different state of show business in the early '80s versus the '70s glory days, the casting process, and the reason behind the many hats Jurgensen wore on this film (one of which seems wildly un-P.C. now). Then "Urban Western" (25m8s) catches up with Chattaway to discuss the development of the score, his music experience growing up in Pittsburgh, the influence of Gato Barbieri, his first work with Lustig on Maniac, the state of synthesizer effects at the time, Lustig's collaborative practices including the avoidance of using temp tracks, and the reason there hasn't been a soundtrack release to date. The four trailers are carried over here along with a newly added international trailer and two British trailers, plus four TV spots, the radio spot and promo reel, and two newly expanded and upgraded galleries of posters and stills. The insert booklet features new liner notes by Michael Gingold, who provides a thorough sketch of the film's conception, execution (including its special effects), and rocky theatrical release in the waning days Film Ventures International.
Blue Underground (2020 Blu-ray)