William Lustig | 1983 | 90 min | US
There are many, many films of this era revolving around the topic of "this city has become a cesspool of crime; the legal system cannot protect us; ordinary citizens should start a-killin." Even the tagline for Vigilante is "You're Not Safe Anymore." This may be as close as we will ever come to Whitesploitation cinema.
Eddie Marino (Robert Forster) is a family man and factory worker in New York City. He loves his wife, his young son, his buds, an honest day of labour, and planning for the future. As soon as the talk of vacations with his wife starts, you know they are all doomed. Days later, Eddie's family is destroyed by a gang of thugs after a dispute over a ten dollar tank of gas. Understandable.
Eddie's coworker and friend Nick (Fred Williamson) floats the idea that he has a van, a gun, and a shit-ton of rage, so maybe they can start picking off gang members themselves? But no, Eddie isn't that kind of guy, the system works, et cetera. He trusts the authorities to deal with these career criminals. But when Eddie's court date rolls around, he witnesses a vulgar display of bribery and a suspended sentence for a killer in a bedazzled denim vest. He attacks the judge in a fit of righteous anger. No, Eddie! Luckily, this clears the way for the most interesting portion of the film. While Eddie tries to navigate a short prison prison stint for contempt, Nick and two other coworkers on the outside are climbing their way up the gang hierarchy using bats and dick kicking.
Once he is released from the clink, the boys welcome Nick and his new lust for street justice with open arms. What follows is a judgment-free depiction of serial assault and murder by the "good guys."
It's not best in class, but thanks to the gore-savy direction of William Lustig (of the Maniac and Maniac Cop films) and the yin and yang performances of Williamson and Forster, this is a satisfying offering of the subgenre. Thumbs up, take back the night, and so forth.