A mondo plus about being an Anchor Bay Entertainment honcho is that B-connoisseur Bill Lustig can produce spiffy special editions for his own work in between heralding Italian masters. That's not so good for Elite Entertainment, considering they were the previous distributors of his illustrious Maniac, Maniac Cop and Uncle Sam. Elite's already impressive Maniac disc got even more lavished when Bill went Bay-side. Now, he's unveiled an extras-laden "unrated director's cut" of Vigilante (1982, 89 minutes). Keen! Can we assume an Uncle Sam commemorative "tin" can't be too far behind? Until then, my out-of-print, but oh-so swift Elite version will do just Yankee Doodle Dandy.
The movie: Leave it to Fred "The Hammer" Williamson to take care of business. The blaxploitation titan's supporting role is delivered with such power and authority that CineSchlockers will SWEAR he's in every scene. As Nick, he heads a neighborhood association of ordinary Joes who dispense the justice they see the police as unwilling, or unable to administer. When a stinkin' punk pushes drugs on their corners they flap him out a window until his memory is jarred into coming up with the name of his supplier. They take a fists on approach to community activism. CineSchlocker favorite Robert Forster is the film's star and heart-breaking case study as Eddie Marino. He spends a lazy Sunday afternoon in the park with his young son and lovely wife, both of whom land in a world of hurt within just 24 hours. She (Rutanya Alda) foolishly smacks Rico, a mean-nasty gang leader (salsa king Willie Colon), who'd up until that moment had been rough-housing an elderly gas station owner. Perturbed, Rico and his crew follow her home, ransack the house and engage in other unspeakable activities. Poor Eddie finds out by arriving home from a hard day's work to find his house crawling with cops -- and the coroner. Things actually manage to get BEYOND worse for him thanks to sickening corruption within the legal system. That's when he must turn to Nick for salvation and the eye-for-an-eye justice he craves. And like I Spit On Your Grave, revenge coated in blood is mighty sweet. CineSchlockers will quickly recognize Joe Spinell from his unforgettable role as a scalpin' mommy's boy in Maniac.
Notables: Two breasts. Eight corpses. Gasoline shower. Gratuitous scene were guys jump from building to building. Shotgun murder. Whore slapping. Foot chase. Target practice. Dealer dangling. Involuntary free fall. Wheelchair toppling. Machine-gun attack. Car chase. Gratuitous prison shower scene. Pimp pummeling.
Quotables: Eddie gets reflective, "When I was a kid, you could sleep with the windows open. I wonder what happened to that?" Nick emotes, "System? System, my ass! Who they protecting? The SCUM on the streets, or us?!" Grim reality of the times, "Damn recession! How the f@#$ do they expect a working man to make a god-damned living?!"
Time codes: Hammer's vigilante manifesto (:16). Big trouble at the neighborhood gas station (13:13). Eddie and Nick have a heart to heart (30:50). The great Woody Strode lays the smack down (55:40). Eddie steps up (1:03:20).
Audio/Video: Presented in an occasionally dodgy widescreen (2.35:1) transfer. All manner of sound options including Dolby Digital Surround EX, DTS ES and multiple foreign language tracks in stereo.
Extras: Commentary by the director, Williamson, Forster and Frank Pesce (drug-dealin' Blueboy). Originally recorded for the 1995 laserdisc, the track takes on the feel of longtime buddies meeting over beers. Fred's boastful 'tude keeps things interesting, like when he kids Forster about getting nekkid with a bunch of dudes for that shower scene. Audio is slightly out of sync with on-screen action. Promo reel used to secure financing (2 mins.) Still gallery with more than 60 poster, lobby card and behind-the-scenes images. SEVEN versions of the trailer. TV and radio spots. Printed insert with reproduction of the Warriors-inspired theatrical poster. Animated menus with audio.
Final thought: Infuriation breeds jubilation when working men take a baseball bat to crime in this gritty chunk of urban street life. Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.