The TWLB guide to the man with the gun in his eye and a blade shining oh so bright (thanks Meat Loaf). As thrilling for a 13 year old (come on, is there really any other audience for this type of stuff??) as smoking fag butts at the back of the school bus, Vigilante films, comics and even videogames prove that sometimes, the wronged (wo)man can get his (or her) vengeance, can strike down those who have made them suffer, by any means neccesary. With excessive force. And extreme prejudice. etc.etc. Sometimes it can be gripping, sometimes stomach churning, sometimes exciting, sometimes…..daft, but vigilante fiction holds a lurid and voyeuristic appeal, and is rarely less than entertaining. And never dull. Here are TWLBs top 6;
6) Rolf – The Last Mercenary
A rare Italian action/exploitation flick directed by Mario Siciliano and starring Tony Marsina (from COLT 38 SPECIAL SQUAD). Rolf had a bad start in life – raised by a junkie hooker mother. As an adult he became a mercenary. His ex-partners (cocaine smugglers!) rape and kill his girlfriend. Rolf sets out to make sure his former accomplices pay their dues……Check out the trailer. There is disco music (courtesy of frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi. Plus, flying children…….No, I don’t know either.
5)The Exterminator (1980)
Basically, the no.5 slot was a toss-up between Charles Bronson (as Paul Kersey) in the ‘Death Wish‘ series of films, or ‘The Exterminator’. In the end, I had to go for ‘The Exterminator’ because the whole mood of the movie is grim and fatalistic. Death, violence and sleaze seem to cling to the film stock. It feels grimy. It looks grimy. It is grimy. A fantastic exploitation film from 1980, directed by James Glickenhaus and starring Robert Ginty (who also starred in the post apocalyptic Italian Sci-fi ‘Warrior Of The Lost World’, featured in an earlier post). Very much of it’s time (the American soldiers Vietnam experience is a theme of the film) and borrowing from other brutal revenge / vigilante films of the time (e.g. ‘Death Wish’) ‘The Exterminator’ satisifies as a brutal, no-nonsense action thriller.
The film begins in the midst of the Vietnam War, where John Eastland (Ginty) and his buddy Michael Jefferson (Steve James) are American POWs of the Vietcong. During this opening scene we are witness to a brutal execution that involves the throat slashing and decapitation of an American soldier so severe that the head flips back with the force of the blow (all captured in bloody, visceral slow motion). It certainly grabs the attention (the effects were done by Stan Wilson, who later went on to work on blockbusters such as ‘Terminator 2’).
After this scene setter, Eastland and Jefferson make it back from Vietnam, but find the seemingly lawless streets of New York as hazardous a terrain as the war we have returned from. It is here that a gang called the ‘Ghetto Ghouls’ take revenge on Jefferson for his part in foiling a robbery. The attack on his friend leads Eastland onto a path of revenge, but his mission encompasses not only the ‘Ghetto Ghouls’, but also Organised Crime as a whole, including protection racketeers, Mob bosses, leaders of child prostitution rings and their clients. There’s some FBI involvement in the film as the agency tries to track down the vigilante on the loose, but that doesn’t amount to much. The focus is on Eastland and his vendetta. Its primal, thrilling stuff, seeing really bad people get really bad things done to them.
To dismiss this as a bad movie is a nonsense. It’s a tough thriller, with reasonable acting and fast pacing. A definitive revenge movie, and an essential vigilante movie.
There’s a couple of clips here of Eastland taking the law into his own hands, including the infamous ‘meat grinder scene’;
It left it’s mark. Apparently even Judge Dredds writers were inspired by ‘The Exterminator’ to produce a story called ‘The Executioner’, about a female vigilante in Mega City One. Speaking of which………..
4)Judge Dredd – ‘The Executioner’ (1982)
The Executioner, 4 episodes, 2000 AD progs 291-294 (11/20/82 to 12/11/82). Story by “T.B. Grover” (Wagner & Grant), art by Carlos Ezquerra (source – http://www.2000ad.org/thrillpower/judgedredd1980s.html
I just remember this being a cut above the Dredd stories of the time. A vigilante is murdering executive fat-cats and it is up to Dredd to stop the killing. It turns out the killer is a female, previously a judge cadet, who is avenging the death of her husband, who was worked to death by the corporation whose executives are now feeling the fury of a woman scorned…The moral ambiguity of Dredds role as ‘Judge, Jury, Executioner’ was brought into question – were the Judges any better than a Vigilante?
More information here;
The Executioner 4 episodes (Progs 291 to 294) 26 pages
Script: John Wagner/Alan Grant, Artist: Carlos Ezquerra
The Best of 2000AD 18
Rebellion: Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 06
The Complete Judge Dredd 28
Titan: Judge Dredd Chronicles Book 4
Quality: Judge Dredd 34, Colour: Unknown
At the 2000ad prog slog blog, Prog 296 is reviewed, and mentions the recently finished ‘Executioner’ tale.
3) Guy, Cody and Haggar from Final Fight (1989)
We all know that vigilantism exists in videogames – it is one of the industries main themes, which, alongside space combat, sport, driving and conventional warfare, that could be depended on to be present in arcades. There are those that were around before, such as Double Dragon, but Final Fight is the premier vigilante side-scrolling beat-em-up.
The plot is simple and also compelling – in the fictional American city of Metro City “sometime in the 1990s” the newly-elected Mayor’s daughter, Jessica, has been kidnapped by Metro City’s dominant street gang – Mad Gear. By kidnapping the Mayors Daughter, Mad Gear hope to bring the official to heel – under their control. The Mayor, however, is a former pro wrestler who goes by the name of Mike Haggar. Haggar refuses to give in to the gang’s demands and sets out on a mission to rescue his daughter with the help of her boyfriend – a martial artist named Cody – and his friend, a modern-day Bushin ninja named Guy. With that motivation, the three set off on a journey of violence and revenge as they seek to bring down Mad Gear and rescue Jessica.
Despite overwhelming odds (the Mad Gear organisation seem to have an inexhaustible supply of ‘soldiers’, all well armed, all combat trained or adept ‘street fighters’) Cody, Guy and Haggar mount a rescue attempt by any means neccesary in the harsh urban nightmare of Metro City;
http://www.klov.com/game_detail.php?game_id=7794 – Killer List Of Videogames (KLOV) entry for Final Fight
http://www.finalfight.classicgaming.gamespy.com/FFmain.html – a great site dedicated to Capcom’s superlative arcade game
2)Vigilante (DC comics) (1987)
There have been several iterations of this character in the DC universe – but it is the second version of the Vigilante, and in particular issues #39 and #40 of ‘Vigilante’, that stand out as being very powerful and emotive, as the Vigilante goes up against child abductors, traffickers and pornographers. There are no easy resolutions, and the whole thing is tinged with sadness, misery and an acknowledgment that even comic book heroes cannot fix the evils of child abuse and exploitation. The fact that one man is willing to take a stand is, however, thrilling and visceral storytelling and a highlight of DC output in the 1980s.
1) Max Rockatansky (aka Mad Max)(1979)
He loses his best friend, then his wife and child to the manic ‘Toecutter’ and his gang of bikers / psychotics. He goes after them, relentlessly, and by the time he has caught up with ‘Johnny the Boy'(see above) there is not a lot of humanity or compassion left in Max Rockatansky. The violence wreaked upon those he loves (the act or the aftermath usually shown in unflinching detail) is more than matched by the cold-eyed revenge exacted by Max. Brutal and brilliant, with a superbly nihilistic ending. The fact that Mad Max 2 followed afterwards just makes me love this movie all the more…
http://www.madmaxonline.com/ – A site maintained by cast and crew that celebrates the first film.
Mad Max original theatrical release poster;