• Vigilante Force

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: September 8th, 2015.
    Director: George Armitage
    Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Victoria Principal, Bernadette Peters, Brad Dexter
    Year: 1976
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    The Movie:

    When you get right down to it, 1976's VIGILANTE FORCE is an almost perfect time capsule of the Seventies meat and potatoes action film. From its old-school stunts and hairy cast (Kris Kristofferson could pass for a sexy wooly mammoth) and rural flavor and reliance on explosions, good 'ol boy shenanigans and macho a-man's gotta-do-what-a-man's-gotta-do aesthetic, this one just screams Me Decade.

    Sleepy town Elk Hills is having an oil boom. And that ain't necessarily an all round good thing for this California hamlet. Once the black gold started rolling out and the money started rolling in, something else came along like rotten tumbleweed: a whole lotta trouble. Drifters and bar brawls, brazen daylight bank robberies, hookers on patrol and two-bit no-good hustlers are on the town like a plague and local law enforcement is swamped. The mayor and the sheriff know a losing proposition when they see one and decide to bring in some local muscle to supplement their overburdened PD. Ben Arnold (Jan-Michael Vincent), a popular local businessman knows someone who he thinks will be a perfect fit: his brother Aaron (Kristofferson). Aaron is that stockiest of stock 70's archetypes - the Vietnam combat vet with a "past". This is a character dog that continued to hunt well into the 80's with the likes of Robert Ginty in THE EXTERMINATOR, but it's always great for giving you moody and intense right outta the box. Ben, off course, is the clean cut straighter arrow and you know these two brothers are gonna tangle at some point. Aaron gets some men together and makes a huge dent in the crime problem but once things start to improve for the town, he starts to reveal his real agenda. Starting off with some strong arm tactics on a local banker (Charlie's Angels icon David Doyle) to secure a questionable personal loan, matters quickly escalate. Aaron has a pretty big chip on his shoulder thanks to the war and his hatred of "the man" and he's developed a serious me-first attitude. Can his baby brother straighten him out?

    And that's... kinda it. Movies like this really rely on their drive-in spirit and stunt work to survive artistically. It also helps to have a pool hall sized pack of cool character actors to rack up. VIGILANTE FORCE has all that and Roger Corman's brother Gene in the producer's chair. This is a great example of the pre-cgi golden era of stunt work - plenty of cool fisticuffs (featuring guys that look like they could actually take a real solid shot to the solar plexus) and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT style car chases. Director George (MIAMI BLUES) Armitage has a major explosions fetish and the entire third act of VIGILANTE FORCE is insanely pyrotechnic - and all the better for it. As far as the actors go, nobody's expected to do much real emoting but everyone walks away head held high. Vincent - in his pre-physical decline peak, is a good-looking and capable hero. Kristofferson is a plausible moody dude and there are some nice acting pop-ins. 10 TO MIDNIGHT's Andrew Stevens (looking more MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH student than his adult cop in 10) has a nice small role, Loni Anderson and Dick Miller pop in and Victoria Principal and Bernadette Peters show up for the obligatory underwritten girlfriend parts. And of course gravel voiced Doyle of Pete Walker's THE COMEBACK has a fun turn.

    Smartly paced and well-shot, VIGILANTE FORCE has the quality production sheen of a decent Burt Reynolds vehicle from this era. Armitage would go on to make far more interesting and quirky films like the mini-masterpiece MIAMI BLUES with Alec Baldwin and Fred Ward as well as GROSSE POINT BLANK, but this is nothing to be embarrassed about. Check your brain at the popcorn stand and get ready to enjoy what used to be called "a programmer" - solid exciting entertainment delivered with little fuss and some gritty muss. It won't change your life or anything, but you'll have a good time.


    You know the drill with Kino in general, right? Little to no cleanup and a preference for rawer and more organic transfers? This 1.85. framed AVC encoded transfer is a bit below their usual standards but no TOWN CALLED HELL level disaster either. Minor print damage is just that: minor. But the grain field is a bit too dense at some points, with a very mild swarming effect on inside scenes. The scenes shot outside look uniformly good however. Color reproduction, fine detail, black levels and skin tones all pass muster and there is no trace of digital tinkering. The grain's slight over density is the only minor quibble.

    Houston we have DTS-HD Mono Master Audio and it came in just fine. Everything is nicely leveled and balanced and I heard no audio anomalies like heavy hiss or dropped dialog. Just don't expect rampaging LFE and you'll be a happy camper.

    The only real extra is a commentary track with director Armitage moderated by film expert and documentarian Elijah Drenner and it's a neat track. Anyone interested in how movies like this got made will enjoy it. There's also a great deal of info imparted on star Kristofferson. The anecdotes about the stunt work were particularly interesting and Armitage never runs out of steam on the track. Good stuff. The film's theatrical trailer is included as well as a ropey looking one for CONVOY and a DEFIANCE trailer in better shape.

    The Last Stunt Car Flip:

    VIGILANTE FORCE doesn't reinvent the wheel or anything but it sure is fun. It's also a bit grittier than the usual PG13 fare of its day. Vintage action fans and the Burt/Smokey/RACE WITH THE DEVIL crowd should lap this baby up. Kino's presentation isn't an HD world-beater by any means, but it's competent enough. Throw in an excellent commentary track and you've got an easy verdict. Recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Nice! Kino is doing a great job bringing the Jan Michael Vincent stuff out.