I have 469 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it.
What’s the movie? Vigilante (1983)
What’s it rated? Unrated for Robert Forster’s pasty white ass, prison shower fighting and William Lustig soul carnage.
Did people make it? Written by Richard Vetere. Directed by William Lustig. Acted by Robert Forster, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Richard Bright, Rutanya Alda, Don Blakely, Joseph Carberry, Willie Colon, Joe Spinell, Carol Lynley, Vincent Beck and Woody Strode.
What’s it like in one sentence? Revenge: Forster style.
Why did you watch it? The nefarious Rockatansky made it sound pretty tits.
What’s it about in one paragraph? In Queens, NY in the early 1980’s street crime perpetrated by violent gangs was at an all time high and the cops just couldn’t keep up with the demand placed on them. So Fred Williamson and a few of his friends patrol the streets and crack some skulls to try to make The City a safer place. When Robert Forster (a co-worker of Williamson who doesn’t believe in vigilante smackdowns) comes home to find his 5 year old son shotgunned to death and his wife stabbed like so many meatsacks, he finds that his earlier pacifism might not be the way to go anymore. When the gang leader responsible is given a suspended sentence, (and Forster is sent to prison for being out of order) he’ll have to decide between letting justice find it’s own way or between taking the law into his own hands and delivering a smorgasbord of vigilante face shootings, Kersey-style.
Play or remove from my queue? Play this one, but your mileage may vary. It’s really well paced and put together and I was entertained for every minute that it was on, but thinking about it after the fact, I realized that this film has no third act. Since the movie was only 89 minutes long it made no sense to me why it ended where it did. I wanted more and I think the movie had more to give, but it just ends like a wet fart or possibly even a dry one. I’ve got to go into the plot specifics to talk about it, so spoilers until I say otherwise.
After Robert Forster’s young son gets blasted to onesie wearing pieces and his wife is carved up like a lady shaped ham, (and after he gets out of a maximum security prison for being in contempt of court) he joins The Hammer to get some sweet, sweet revenge. The problem with this is by that point there’s only 15 or 20 minutes of movie left. He shoots the guy who led the gang (who just sits there and takes it) and then he throws the guy who shot his son off of some construction equipment to his death (after chasing him for awhile). These guys are supposed to be tough, scary, pseudo-post apocalyptic (in the way ’80’s gangs were. Like they could either be on the set of Police Academy or Road Warrior) gang bangers, but the whole final battle with the guy who shot Forster’s son is weird. The guy instantly takes off running when he sees a 42 year old white guy coming at him, and when they start struggling on top of the construction equipment Forster throws him over without a lot of effort. If the subtext was supposed to be that Forster found this hidden animal inside him that made him fearless and +1 strength against gangsters then that didn’t come across very well. He still just seemed like a normal guy pushed to his breaking point. I guess I was looking for more of a fight, more of a test of Forster’s will to survive. Maybe the point was that without their backup gang buddies they’re all cowards who run at the first sign of trouble. Again, if that was the point, it didn’t come across well.
Where I was also let down was the ending. The climax is Forster blowing up the judge who sent him to jail and released the evil gang leader. He blows the guy up and then it just fucking ends. Just when we see the lengths he’s willing to go to in order to avenge his family… it ends. I know the movie was exploitation and I shouldn’t expect much depth from the director of Maniac Cop, but it felt like there was a whole chapter of the story left to tell where his revenge knows no limits and he starts stalking the court stenographer or something, cutting off her fingers so she has to type with her face. Leaving the film in that place left the point of Vigilante in question. Were we supposed to be rooting for him or were we supposed to be horrified once he killed the judge? I like those answers to be ambiguous, but not when the questions are so shallowly put together. I don’t think the film knew what it wanted to be by the end: whether it was going for revenge-sploitation or whether it wanted to tell a character based story of a man with nothing left to lose. Another 15 or 20 minutes of movie might have made all the difference or it might have made the movie a slog. Either way, this ending was all anti-climax. End of Spoilers.
I know I’ve been picking on the movie quite a bit, but I really did enjoy it while I was watching it. It was only after probably putting way too much thought into it afterwords did I start ripping it apart. Robert Forster really gives an excellent performance in this, filled with pathos and tortured masculinity that showed sides to him that I haven’t seen before. Fred Williamson is a shit ton of fun and does what he does best (although he kind of disappears at the end). Vigilante has some genuine moments of absurdity that elevate it into cult classic status. Like why the hell does Woody Strode protect Forster in prison? He comes across as a guardian angel for Forster and it made me wonder if Forster was in prison longer than 30 days if Strode was maybe trying to gain his trust only to pull a Schillinger on him. BTW: a Schillinger is when you make a weak con trust you so you can make him your prag and burn swastika’s on his ass at a later date, like Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons) did on OZ. Honestly, Vigilante is a fun piece of junk food that goes down easy as long as you don’t think about it too much later like so many early ’80’s crime pictures require.
Do you have a favorite line? “This is our Waterloo, baby! You want your city back? You gotta take it. Dig it? Take it!” The Hammer
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? Tony Musante (Nino Schibetta on OZ) was supposed to play the lead but dropped out at the last second. William Lustig remembered Robert Forster from his immortal turn in Alligator and magic was born.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? Street Law (Nero film I’ve never seen. Looks awesome and added to queue), Beast With a Gun (amazing looking Italian trash. Added to queue), Fighting Back (Vigilante with Tom Skerrit?), Attack Force Z (confession, I’ve never seen this) and Freak Out (I keep almost watching this and decide to rub one out instead).
What does Jared say I’d like if I like this? This honestly reminded me of an early prototype of Law Abiding Citizen, but that movie has the worst fucking ending ever, so I can’t say you’ll like it. I’m going with Kevin Bacon’s partially shaved head in Death Sentence. That shit owned my facehole.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 2.8
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 3.3
Can you link to the movie? I sure can!
Any last thoughts? It’s fun. You like having fun, don’t you?
Did you watch anything else this week? Raging Phoenix!!! THE best damn martial arts movie I’ve seen this year. Drunken Boxing combined with break dancing moves!!! Watch it on Instant Watch today!!!!!!! GOOOOOOOOO!!!
Next Week? Cool World? Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge? We could start a season of something?