After directing porn, Bill Lustig went on to direct exploitation movies outside of that spectrum. The resulting first three movies-"Maniac", today's movie "Vigilante" and "Maniac Cop"-stood out for two reasons. The first was the sheer respect they had for the Grindhouse/exploitation scene and the movies they produced, and the other was how they depicted pre-Giuliani New York. In these films, the streets are a world of corruption, drug pushing, prostitution, murder and other niceties that run rampant, and that are sometimes punished. "Vigilante" is a look at what happens when people are pushed too far in this city.
Nick (Fred Williamson) and others have had it with the pimps, dealers and filth that routinely threaten the lives of their families and loved ones, and have formed a vigilante group to deal with what the police and law can't and won't deal with. Eddie Morino (Robert Forster) doesn't want to get involved-then his wife Vickie (Rutanya Alda) is fatally wounded and his son is killed by a gang of thugs. When the law doesn't work his way and he ends up in jail, Eddie realizes that vengeance is the only solution, and Nick's posse are the answer.
Though it doesn't exactly break new ground in the revenge genre, "Vigilante" is a very entertaining and well directed slice of gritty action movie making. The acting is fine, especially from leads Forster and Williamson, and the villains are pure scum that are clearly meant to be hated and picked off one by one. The electronic score by Jay Chattaway complements the action well, and the action scenes themselves are violent but never veer too far into sadism. This is also a more accessible movie than Lustig's prior work "Maniac", as it isn't filled with sleaze and ugliness. This is a pretty standard movie in comparison.
Also worthy of note is the sheer love the movie shows for it's exploitation brethren. You can tell that this movie is heavily inspired by the Italian cop and revenge movies, especially the way the violence is handled, while the color scheme at times harkens the works of Dario Argento. In this sense, it's a logical successor to "Maniac", as it shares that movies affinity for violent exploitation and it's depiction of New York as a city that's rotting away at the core.
If you're a sucker for revenge movies, then "Vigilante" is a must. It's also a given for those interested in 42nd Street Fair from the 80's, so check it out.