Who doesn't love a good vigilante movie? Or a bad one for that matter. The Michael Winner / Charles Bronson partnership sure has a lot to answer for throughout the years, but at least we could sleep better at night safe in the knowledge that there may be a bad ass bringer of justice around every stinking street corner armed with a .45 handgun and a shitload of hate...
And what better way to kick of Vigilant Night than with a movie as aptly titled as Vigilante, which sees Robert Forster join Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson's 'V' Team after his wife and child are murdered by thugs. How can this be any less than brilliant? Second up we see Tom 'The Delicatessen Man' Skerritt taking vigilante hijinks to a new level in Fighting Back, where his actions make him a local hero. Last up is an admittedly altogether weaker contender that could have been so much more, because Rolling Vengeance is vengeance on really big wheels in Hicksville, USA where Ned Beatty heads up a slime ball family of complete dickheads.
This evening's Zombie Club was brought to you by Zomblee in association with the mighty hand of justice. And People's Neighbourhood Patrol body warmers.
Plot When his wife is attacked and son killed by gang members, a New York factory worker joins a secret vigilante group to target and kill criminals.
Zomblee I noticed something new about vigilante movies tonight. The would-be vigilantes almost invariably seem to have an idyllic family life, along with peaceful, happy music and stuff. It’s all so beautiful that it makes me want to cry. But it never stays that way, no. Because out back, lurking in the undergrowth, is a disgusting gang of what Rawshark would call “sneering thugs”, who are poised and ready to wreck havoc on Bronson’s family. Or Tom Skerritt’s family. Or, in this case, Robert Forster’s family. Vigilante is a 1980 movie from Maniac man William Lustig, starring the aforementioned Forster, most famous these days for being the guy Tarantino cast as the bonds bail dude in Jackie Brown.
After his wife slaps a sneering thug in the street, the slapped sneering thug then turns up with his homies at the family home, all intimidating and nasty like, before going too far and gunning his young son out of the bathroom window upstairs. As you would expect, this pisses dad off no end, and after a crooked lawyer gets one of the sneering thugs off with a two year suspended sentence, Forster gets all angry, mouthing off to the judge, eventually landing himself a small jail term for being in contempt of court.
Meanwhile, Fred Williamson and his V team are taking the law into their own hands. Equipped with their own special transit van, you know, a bit like the A-Team, they cruise around the city beating the bejesus out of unsuspecting but thoroughly deserving thuggers. Their exploits usually involve a good chase, during one of which Fred Williamson demonstrates that extra-tight jeans do not hinder the mighty hand of justice (”Fred is never going to make that jump wearing those jeans. Oh…he did it!” – Jim). Anyway, Forster gets out of jail, following a near bum rape incident in which Woody Strode saved his anus, armed with some tasty insider information, asks Fred Williamson & Co if he can join, and promptly deals out some justice to those who have wronged him.
Lustig’s gritty movie is a prime example of the Bronson / Winner inspired subgenre; well acted and thoroughly entertaining to the hilt. The more than able Robert Forster cuts an impressive figure as the unlucky hero of the piece, and is brilliantly assisted by Williamson.
”System? System my ass!”
Jim It's the early 80s again, and you've just seen Death Wish. What do you do now? Well, create more of the same obviously, but with a nasty grittier, exploitationy feel, that's what Bill Lustig must have been thinking when they churned out this baby. I want to see a mild-mannered family man (as Zomblee pointed out) have his life ruined before his very eyes, and him extract a cold, calculated revenge!
"This feels like it's the trailer" pointed out Zomblee as Fred Williamson gives a rousing opening speech about corruption and what they're going to do about it. Then we meet those sneering thugs, and watch the lady walk in to the lift, a bit like the intro sequence for The Equalizer. Rawshark doesn't like it - "You don't want sneering thugs going in to a lift." and we all grimace, thankful that we don't live in Sleazetown USA in the early 80s.
Enter Robert Forster - the guy from Alligator that got a career restart with Jackie Brown, as has been pointed out. He's a nice family guy and welder whose wife interrupts a sneering thug doing his thing so the thug and his pals follow her home, cut her up and blow the son out of the window with a shotgun. Forester is obviously devastated, more so when thanks to crooked lawyer Joe Spinell (great cameo) the thug gets off with a 2 year suspended sentence prompting a contempt of court incident followed by him getting thrown in jail. Thank goodness for Woody Strode, or Forster would definitely have had some issues with sitting down.
Getting out of jail, Forster finds out about Williamson ("Quite a timely chat!" - Zomblee), eventually joins, and calculated revenge is enacted, after a long sub plot involving Horace the Pimp. And that's the end.
Vigilante movies have very simple plots (man's wife / daughter / mum / son is killed / raped / has finger cut off / is shotgunned out the window so he enacts terrible revenge on all the perpetrators) and this movie is no exception. Perhaps the main reasons to watch Vigilante though are for the performances by Forster and Williamson, and for the grittiness of Lustig's movie compared to the slightly more polished Death Wish. I say polished, I mean slightly more expensive with a larger distribution deal and bigger star, and Vigilante is a little less unashamed with it's handling of the violence, if that's possible. Having a young son, I for one actually found the shotgunning of Forster's son remarkably shocking (who wouldn't?) and was right behind him as he enacted terrible revenge. I guess that's a testament to the quality of the film all round.
"How come we never get a case on the ground floor?"
Rawshark Robert Forster’s angry, and he’s not going to take it any more! Ok, so Vigilante’s plot is fairly straightforward; all Robert / Eddie Marino dreams of is taking his family on a holiday to Florida when some bad men break into his house and shoot his son (off-screen). He tries the system approach first, but when a bent Counselor for the Defence (a great appearance from sleaze-ball plus ne ultra Joe Spinell) gets the accused off on a 2-year suspended sentence, Eddie finds a temporary solace with Fred Williamson’s nasty Nick and his gang of vigilantes who drive about in their very own V-Van…
If a film features Robert Forrester, Fred Williamson and Joe Spinell, and has been directed by William (Maniac) Lustig, it’s pretty much guaranteed it will go down well at Zombie Club, and indeed Vigilante did just that. This early 80s kid, riding off the back of the huge success of the vigilante genre inspired by Death Wish at the time, is certainly mean and punchy enough to withstand his own in the playground, but he’s not quite the hard hitter enough to be champion. It’s a sense of almost being all there, throwing in some good ideas, but not quite carrying them through enough – as Zomblee observed at one point ”Parkour! Well, rubbish Parkour”, or as Jim noticed that the beating of the pusher happens with ”a really rubbish bat”.
Having said that, Robert Forrester gives a great performance of an angry and grieved man who’s losing sight of where the line is following all his injustice. He grounds the film in a reality that really engages, to the point where following the time he spends in prison with ”some Howard the Pimp subplot” (Jim) and an uncomfortable shower scene, you feel his rage bubbling over and really want him to join Fred’s team and begin dispatching true justice.
He does of course, but this ain’t no ordinary blood-thirsty and amoral revenge flick, as we can quickly see that Nick, in a great deranged performance from the legend Fred Williamson - despite the insanely tight jeans he wears, or indeed maybe because of - is quite psychotic, and Eddie must learn where he should draw his own line. Cue a fun few fast and furious minutes with a car chase in stolen cars, lots of shooting and squibbage and a strangely abrupt ending that once again almost threatens, right on the brink of success, to take away from the film.
But that wouldn’t be fair, because you’ve got to give Vigilante it’s due, and overall it’s a pretty tidy little scrapper of a b-movie that is definitely worth checking out.
”I don’t know about you guys, but me… I’ve had it up to here!”
Director William Lustig
Cast Robert Forster
Runtime 90 Mins
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Fighting Back (1982)
Plot A Philadelphia shop owner organises a patrol of civil people, but it all starts to go wrong when his team's actions are taken as racial discrimination.
Rawshark Unfortunately for Vigilante this evening, it quickly came up against Fighting Back which delivers a much harder hit – right from its opening real-life news sequence montage, which includes the Zapruder footage and the Hinkley / Reagan shooting, leading up to present day. Chaos rules the streets and scum are running around, robbing stores, shooting the owners and using pliers on ladies fingers to get their rings. Enter Tom Skerritt as Guardian Angel John D’Angelo…
With a screenplay by Paul (Taxi Driver) Schrader and directed by Lewis (Cujo) Teague, Fighting Back shows a more gritty and political side over its fellow exploitation graduates. When John attempts a Citizen’s Arrest on the thug who cut off his mother’s finger, he fails and we’re then given the laws of situation within the narrative. Jim wondered aloud if we were ”writing down the Citizen’s Arrest rules?”, which I think we all indeed were and - if you’re interested - included things like, you can only hold someone until an officer arrives and you can’t take a suspect into a police station. Frustrated with this ridiculous state of affairs, John then sets about establishing the People’s Neighbourhood Patrol, aka the PNP, a kind of angry, vocal and very active Neighbourhood Watch.
Building quickly they soon begin operating like a military control centre with a Ghostbuster’s style vehicle and a nifty little logo, which is used on everything from headed paper to badges on their body warmers. They get involved in bar brawls (”you don’t see enough bar brawls in films these days” - Zomblee) on their quest to fight fire with fire, but this ultimately ends up aggravating not only the local pimps on the street, but also the police and local politicians. As John’s family life increasingly suffers due to his obsession with the PNP’s activities, the film takes a slide into political territory when he starts running for office in an effort to really put things to rights.
The ever-reliable Tom Skerritt is awesome as John D’Angelo. Never overplaying the character for audience sympathy, his role is a tricky one, veering dangerously over the balancing line of hero / villain. It’s a typical ‘tormented character’ script as you’d expect from Schrader, but Skerrit pulls it off effortlessly. He’s well supported by Michael Sarrazin as his best mate and Yaphet Kotto (hey an Alien reunion!), who I think was some sort of random string-vest wearing dancer in the movie. Yet, don’t fret, it’s not all heavy drama, and the film does bow to it’s exploitation roots plenty enough with lots of fairly nasty imagery (the dead dog hanging from the ceiling for instance) and a fair few fist-fights. Like us, you’ll be cheering on all the way through to the surprisingly upbeat ending, complete with a fun theme tune featuring ”unexpected bongos” (Zomblee). The only thing missing was a cameo from Harry Dean Stanton or Sigourney Weaver to really seal the deal on that Alien link.
”I don’t eat chickens. Chicken eat chickens.”
Zomblee We don’t normally see the words ‘Written by Paul Schrader’ appear on our screen at Zombie Club. Not that we have anything against the man, you understand, it’s just that his work is generally a little too weighty for our feeble minds to contemplate. Tonight, we want justice, and plenty of it. Thank God then for Tom Skerritt AKA John D’Angelo, local delicatessen and dispenser of pain. Tom remembers when the neighbourhood was a safe, now it’s full of drug-tootin’ scummy lowlife types, and it makes him a bit angry. After his pregnant wife jumps to the defence of a woman getting beaten up, a car chase ensues which leads to the death of their unborn child. Shortly after, Tom’s old mum gets her finger chopped off during a drug store hold-up.
Tom duly forms what Jim monikered a “Neighbourhood Patrol”, which we then find out is really called “The People’s Neighbourhood Patrol” (pretty close there Jim!), which is exactly what it sounds like, a voluntary police force. Yes, our local vendor of fine coffees and exquisite Italian proscuitto has assembled a small task force of like-minded local men who have had enough of this shit, complete with a base, uniforms, and their own PNP vehicles, ready for action. They soon decide to hit a dodgy local bar, ‘The Brunswick’, where they appear to indiscriminately beat the living shit out of everyone in the place, even those who might have innocently turned up for a quiet drink.
A bit heavy handed? Most definitely, yes, but Skerritt’s brutal antics have attracted the attention of City Hall / the press / the public, becoming a local hero in the process. The commissioner and the local police chief want him to stop, but he refuses, saying ”Guys like me got special responsibilities”, after which he decides to get into politics and run for local office. When his best friend is shot dead, he assembles the boys to clean up the local park (which was previously a nice place you could take your family but is now a squalid den of druggy whore-ness) good and proper, giving the PNP their most dangerous task yet. Cue some “really good stunts” (Rawshark) and a rather big brawl, which pretty much signals the end of the movie.
Fighting Back sure isn’t your average vigilante movie, although it comprises an adequate amount of the subgenre’s main trappings. There appears to be a number of more grown-up concerns going on here, which is a refreshing change from rubber suits and tits that normally appear here at Zombie Club. Skerritt is a force to be reckoned with, even though he’s clearly less easy to identify with, compared to the Bronsons of this world, but this sort of complexity just makes his character more interesting.
” I want to get those bastards, John.”
Jim So yeah, Tom Skerrit's wife stops a pimp beating up one of his whores, the pimp takes offence, he pulls a gun, there's a car chase and his wife loses the baby. Then some robbers rob his 'Delicatessen' (that's what the sign says - "Well at least we know what to call it!" - Zomblee) chopping off his Mother's finger with some pliers to get to her ring. Tom Skerrit gets very cross.
But soon enough, Tom Skerrit (TS..." - Zomblee, "Yeah, I'm writing TS..." - Rawshark), okay, TS spots the pimp that cut his Mum's finger off car at a bar and storms in pistols out, making a citizen's arrest while Rawshark writes down the citizen's arrest rules. Then TS decides he's going to create some kind of neighbourhood patrol, which he calls the People's Neighbourhood Patrol, much to our amusement. But he doesn't do anything by half this guy, they get a HQ like the one in Ghostbusters with a big sign and everything, patrol cars, caps, body warmers, the lot. They even get a special hotline, how do you go about that? It's beyond me.
Anyway, there's a few more bar brawls involving citizen's arrests, then TS's house is done over and his dog hung. That makes him more cross, and he goes on the full-on ass kicking rampage, ignoring protests from the immaculately dressed Yaphet Kotto dance teacher character ("Fred Williamson could have learned something." - Zomblee) that he's targeting blacks. Then he visits a mob boss ("Who has an axe in their kitchen?" - Rawshark, mob bosses apparently!), while the cops and TV crews begin to accuse him of having heavy-handed methods.
"He's getting a bit big for his boots, isn't he?" pointed out Rawshark as we find out he's neglecting his business in favour of his PNP addiction, and his son who is now on smack ("He'll get a smack for that!" - Rawshark). And then, when things look like they can't get any worse, they get an anonymous call on the hotline ("Shit it's a setup." - Zomblee, "Looks like it." - Rawshark) and his mate from Gumball Rally gets shot in a setup. That makes TS very, very cross, so he decides to run for City Council and organises a big fight in the local park of PNP guys versus drug dealers ("It's all about the park Jim, it's all about the park." Zomblee.) Then it ends.
Now, as Zomblee's pointed out, Fighting Back has no rubber suited monsters and no tits. It also has no zombies, aliens, ninjas, rocket-propelled motorcycles, midgets, spikey shoes, fishmen, cavemen, dinosaurs, nor does it have any post-apocalyptic biker types, cannibals or trolls, and it's not directed by Lucio Fulci or starring George Kennedy, Al Cliver or John Saxon. It does have a strong story, a complicated lead character played well by an established veteran and an important point to get across. That's a bit unorthodox for Zombie Club, but sometimes we push the boat out here, and Fighting Back is certainly a cracking little film that seems to have got lost in Death Wish's shadow, which is a shame. I'm kinda hoping the next film has more gratuitous nudity and over the top violence though, if you know what I mean.
"Ryan, get on the radio, get the fire department and the cops right away."
Director Lewis Teague
Cast Tom Skerritt
Runtime 98 Mins
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Rolling Vengeance (1987)
Plot A truck driver builds a special, eight-ton truck to help get revenge against the rednecks who killed his family and raped his girlfriend.
Jim Next up, Rolling Vengeance, tonight's token trucking movie. It starts off with Big Joe and his son Little Joe trucking, Big Joe playing with his CB like all truckers did in the 70s and 80s ("He embraces it." - Zomblee). There's some stuff about a shipment of whiskey, we meet Ned Beatty, his hair and his thick-as-shit redneck sons. It looks like it's about to kick off but no, Ned calms it all down.
Then, Ned's sons (who Rawshark has labeled as 'hoodlums' at this stage) play a stupid game of drunk American Football, then they spot Big Joe's wife and we get a car chase that ends in Big Joe's wife and younger son dying in a car crash. Rawshark confirms this officially upgrades Ned's sons to thugs, and we're treated to a very dull funeral which includes a boring "mourning montage" (Rawshark) - ("I'm just drawing pictures." - Zomblee).
Cue court scene as Ned's sons are bought up on charges. ("Joe Spinnell's not there though so they might be alright." Zomblee) but sadly no, they all get off ("I'm learning quite a bit about the American legal system tonight." Rawshark), and Ned still has ridiculous hair. Then there's some pushing and shoving, a bar brawl and one of Ned's thug sons drops a breeze block on Big Joe's car, putting him in intensive car (or might have killed him, can't remember) which prompts Little Joe to build a monster truck in his dad's barn.
From here on in the rest of the film is Little Joe in his monster truck taking out Ned's sons one by one by rolling his monster truck over their house / bar / car / whatever. There's a love scene between Little Joe and his bird that's so dull we talked over it, then she gets raped (Ned's thug sons again) and Little Joe finds a movie-defining jacket. ("He's put the jacket on - he's not Little Joe any more he's big Joe, except the jacket's too big for him." - Zomblee) This sets up the end of the film, where everyone who deserves it gets it.
All right, on paper the idea of a vengeance movie involving a bizarrely hair styled Ned Beatty and a monster truck is brilliant, but the truth of it is it's quite boring. There aren't enough monster truck scenes, and those scenes that don't have the monster truck in feel like padding pretty quickly. In fact, if it wasn't for Ned Beatty's hair do, this movie would be completely forgettable. Never mind.
"You're a hotdog and you drive like you've got a firecracker up your ass."
Rawshark Two movies down, so it’s time to bring on the Truck! The quite brilliantly titled Rolling Vengeance is a 1987 movie with Ned Beatty featuring quite possibly some of the best trashy VHS artwork of the 80s. I mean, c’mon, who here doesn’t want to see a vigilante / vengeance movie featuring a massive Monster Truck smashing it’s way over people, cars and all that stands in its way in the pursuit of justice! Well, we definitely did…
Unfortunately, it turns out it’s not quite the mash-up marvel we were all hoping for. Very 80s in its style, Rolling Vengeance starts with a bunch of hoodlums mooning a local truck driver Big Joe Rosso (Lawrence Dane) and his son Joey Rosso (Don Michael Paul). It seems the gang are out to cause a bit of chaos and anarchy in the area under the eyes of local businessman Tidy Doyle (Ned Beatty), but, wouldn’t you know it, they go and take it one step too far when they torment Big Joe’s wife and their younger son to their deaths in a car crash.
During the funeral, the thugs have a “thug meeting” (Jim) in a strip joint (of course) and eventually get let off with only a fine in court, leading to a bar room brawl which, as Jim put it was ”properly going off”. Big Joe and Joey are saved from the brawl by their friend Steve, but then the thugs start playing dirty and drop a breezeblock on Big Joe’s truck (a good stunt, well-filmed), eventually killing him in the process. Finally, now suitably enraged, we get to the revenge strand of the plot as Little Joe starts building his Monster Truck to an A-Team style montage and accompanying rock tune with lyrics like ”Comin’ up on you this time” - well, let’s just say it’s no Eye of the Tiger.
To be fair, the Monster Truck made for the film is quite impressive with huge tyres, spouting fire and with a quite ridiculous combined drill / metal cutter attachment fixed to the front. In such a machine, Joey’s starter alone has him running over one baddie, then up and over a van to kill another. But not all good things last, and as the kills pile up, the Police start investigating (”How about a motive Officer?”) and eventually call round to warn Joey to ‘retire’, but by that point in the film (he’s now wearing his Dad’s jacket for instance), you just know it’s not going to stop there, and those Monster Truck ignition keys are going to be turning again pretty soon…
So, the mechanical lead is pretty good, it’s just a shame that its driver is no Tom Skerritt or Robert Forster, or even, considering the car-nage on display, Mel Gibson. The fairly indistinguishable Don Michael Paul (is that three people or one?) tries hard, but it’s a poor script, and Ned Beatty aside, there isn’t much support from the rest of the cast. Pedestrian direction and unmemorable music, it all feels a bit TV, especially in terms of the other two films seen tonight.
But ultimately it’s the monster truck shots that matter in this film and they’re not bad (although we did have to sit through a lot more hospital scenes before the final smash-up), and along with those and the well-covered breezeblock stunt as seen in the trailer, you’re probably better off just fast-forwarding to those bits.
”I’m going to take you for a ride in my Dad’s new truck”
Zomblee After two good vigilante movies comes the stinker of the line-up. I say a stinker, it’s not really that bad, it’s just that it has a bland TV quality about it, which Rawshark noticed on early on, and it makes any scenes that don’t involve violence or big trucks seem REALLY boring.
Set in Hicksville, USA, this formulaic offering depicts what happens when you really piss off a nice young truck driver called Joe. The perpetrators are none other than the local hick sons of Ned Beatty, sporting a sort of rockabilly look and ”fascinating hair” (Rawshark). They’re all idiots basically, you’ve seen their type before, and dad Beatty is brighter than the offspring, but not much. When they act up, he slaps them around the place a bit for a while, after which they tend to apologise in a “Ahm sorry pop!” kind of way.
Anyway, hick boys terrorize, rape, and kill those close to Joe Junior, and following the scene where they drop breeze blocks from a bridge onto Joe Senior’s moving car, he goes into A-Team montage mode, building a fuck-off massive battle truck in his dead dad’s barn. What predictably ensues is a series of episodes whereby he hunts down and disposes of Ned Beattie’s ugly offspring, utilising the full effect of his newly constructed behemoth’s fear-inducing frontage to make the hick boys shit their pants with fear before they inevitably become a flattened bit of road gore.
If you like big trucks constructed with technical knowhow and the all-important ‘revenge factor’, then Rolling Vengeance might be worth a look. It’s always a pleasure when Ned Beatty appears, even more so when he plays a bit of a shit like he does here, and especially with that stupid hair-do that Rawshark mentioned. Lead actor Don Michael Paul does an average and routine turn as Joe Junior although if you ask me, I reckon the role was crying out for Jan Michael Vincent, who may have been busy doing Airwolf stuff at the time. Despite some fun moments, it does remain quite a dull and humourless movie, and not quite bad enough to be laughably so. Which is a shame.
“I’ll get them. I’ll get the bastards!”
Director Steven Hilliard Stern
Cast Don Michael Paul
Michael J. Reynolds
Runtime 90 Mins
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The vigilante does live a roller coaster life...the highs of offing scummy thuggers often offset by the loss of a loved one at the hands of said thuggers, often achieving some sort of local celebrity in the process. It's not a dull existence, so thanks be to God for movies like these (well, the first two anyways) which document the ups and downs that befall the mighty hands of Justice.
Rawshark traipsed off back to north London after a well considered bag-packing process, whilst Jim and I sat up for a while thinking about what it means to keep the parks for the people, and what it must feel like to be running about in a van with Fred Williamson, beating the shit out out of folk. We both noticed however that Rawshark donned his beanie hat before venturing outdoors in the early hours, thus conforming to the vigilante aesthetic...could it be that he was planning on righting some wrongs on his route homewards? We shall see my friends, we shall see...