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The Vigilante

William Lustig | US | 1982


William Lustig was probably accused of playing it a little safe after the hugely controversial Maniac, but it would be inaccurate to dismiss Vigilante as just a Death Wish (1974) clone. Arguably Lustig’s best work, he made a film that the average man from the savage streets of early 80s New York could relate to. This is New York at is most ugly — a city on the edge of the crack epidemic. This is the New York of 1982: corrupt, dirty and definitely not Disney friendly.

Robert Forster plays Eddie Marino, an Italian-American who believes in America. Tucked away in suburbia with his wife and young son, he works hard and lives for quality time with his family. Approached by Nick (Fred Williamson) to join his vigilante group, Marino dismisses them: ‘What? We gonna start beating guys because of the way they part their hair?’

When his wife confronts a gang of hoodlums terrorizing an older man, you know it is going to end badly. Taking refuge at home, she calls the police, who dismiss her cry for help. Suddenly the gang come bursting through the door. Eddie’s wife is near-fatally stabbed and in one of the most brutal scenes in the movie his son is blasted to death with a shotgun.

The distressed Marino wants justice, and as he believes in America, he leaves the wheels of legal justice to turn. But, what Eddie does not bank on, is the law being no better than the thugs who killed his son and maimed his wife. Enter Joe Spinell as Einsberg — as corrupt a lawyer as you could imagine. The gang’s leader Rico (played by salsa legend Willie Cólon, who also provided some of the soundtrack), pays some substantial kickback money to secure his freedom, which Judge Sinclair (Vincent Beck) happily obliges. Enraged at the lenient suspended sentence, Marino vents his outrage at the court, getting 30 days for contempt. 

Whilst serving his jail sentence, Marino meets Rake (Woody Strode), who convinces him to re-assess his stance on the American justice system. So, after release, Eddie decides to take Nick up on his offer: he joins the gang becoming judge, jury and executioner. No suspended sentences: the price you pay for wronging the innocent is death. After pulling the trigger for the first time, he tries (and fails) to rebuild his relationship with his wife; all she wants to do is forget, but with her husband still in her life, she feels she can never move on. This rejection only motivates Marino more in dealing with those who have destroyed his and others’ lives. He becomes more dangerous, because as of now, he has nothing to lose…






The true beauty of the movie lies in the canvas that the movie is shot on. New York City comes across in many movies as a character in its own right, and in Vigilante this is no different. Complementing this is Jay Chattaway’s notable synthesiser score, which punctuates and paces the movie in a very subtle way. Writer Richard Vetere  supplies some very memorable dialogue: Fred Williamson’s impassioned speech imploring those who want to take the streets back is endlessly quotable ‘This is our Waterloo, baby! You want your city back? You gotta take it. Dig it? Take it!’

Released theatrically at the tail-end of 1982 by Alpha Films Ltd., the film was a modest success, finding its true home on the blossoming domestic video market.  Debuting in July 1983, and distributed by Intervision, such was its rental success in the UK, that video re-title specialists Stateside re-branded Enzo G. Castellari’s Anonymous Avenger  (1974) as Vigilante II — just to make a quick buck off the back of it! This is an irony in itself as Lustig borrowed heavily from the Italian crime movies of the 70’s in both the structure and style of Vigilante.

SK Productions (a tangential label to Xtasy Video) gave the film its second video release, which was passed unscathed by the BBFC in March 1986. More shocking was the choice of artwork: in an era packed with muscle-bound Ramboesque superheroes, one could be forgiven expecting yet another generic action flick upon seeing the sleeve illustration!


aka : Vigilante

cast : Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Richard Bright, Rutanya Alda, Don Blakely, Joseph Carberry, Willie Colon, Joe Spinell, Carol Lynley, Woody Strode, Vincent Beck, Bo Rucker, Frank Pesce, Steve W. James, Randy Jurgensen, Henry Judd Baker, Dante Joseph, Vincent Russo, Donna Patti, Peter Savage, Mike Miller, Hyla Marrow, Frank Gio