Color, 1983, 90m.
Directed by William Lustig
Starring Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Richard Bright, Rutanya Alda, Willie Colon, Joe Spinell, Carol Lynley, Woody Strode
Blue Underground (DVD & Blu-Ray, US R0 NTSC/HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9) / DTS-HD 7.1/DD5.1

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 opened in 1983, the ciizen 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 hit Maniac, 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 inmage, 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 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 home video from Anchor Bay on DVD 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, with the latter stacking up as one of their strongest HD transfers to date. The DVDs looked fine, but the Blu-Ray does a much more able 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 Puero Rican 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.