Filmmaker William Lustig appeared at the Grindhouse Film Festival held at New Beverly Cinema to talk about his 1983 “Death Wish” exploitation knock off, “Vigilante.” Joining Lustig for this Q&A were some of the films stars: Robert Forster, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and Frank Pesce. For these four men, the evening was full of laughs and great memories as they discussed the making of this movie which was shot in the “real New York” with blue collar workers and all.
Lustig recalled that when “Vigilante” played in Grindhouse theaters in New York, security guards were constantly walking around the audience and spraying disinfectant everywhere. He also recollected there were times you could hear a rat going into an empty bag of potato chips. There was even a guy in the audience one time who, when we saw Forster’s character getting sent to Riker’s Island, said out loud, “Hey! I remember being there!”
The print of “Vigilante” being shown was from Lustig’s own collection and was over twenty years old. The color was pretty faded which the director apologized for. While they could have shown a digital copy of it instead, he was quick to remark, “The great thing about going to the Grindhouse is the prints, warts and all.”
Forster said he got cast thanks to Pesce and Lustig who remembered him from another movie he starred in called “Alligator.” The role of factory worker Eddie Marino was originally given to Tony Musante who later turned it down by saying he didn’t want to work with “those guys.” Forster said the three guys onstage with him did more for his career than anybody and that he got four or five film roles from Pesce alone as well as the set of golf clubs he still uses.
Forster also had a very positive overview regarding his career as an actor: “I never ever worried about the jobs I didn’t do. Every single movie I’ve done has been instructive to me in its own way.”
Pesce said he was also responsible for getting Williamson cast in “Vigilante,” but Williamson saw it a bit differently: “I don’t remember how I got involved and I don’t give a damn!” Suffice to say, Williamson was the coolest guy in the theater that evening.
Pesce also gleefully told one story about the scene between him and Williamson where he was chasing him and they get separated by a chain link fence. Between takes, Pesce asked Lustig, “Should I spit through the fence at Fred?” “Do what you want to do,” Lustig replied. So Pesce did what his instincts told him to do, the director yelled cut, and afterwards Williamson went up to Lustig and told him point blank, “Cut the spit.” Williamson’s reasoning in telling the director that was very blunt: “You don’t do that to a brother!”
Lustig also got Williamson to talk about some of the ad libs he came up with on set like when he was asked what he thought about capital punishment: “Do you think anyone really misses Ted Bundy?” Pesce also remarked that the guy in the wheelchair he pushed over was an homage to Richard Widmark from “Kiss of Death.”
“Vigilante” may not be great cinema, but watching it with an audience was highly entertaining and we were lucky enough to have the cast of actors there as well. Lustig summed it up best:
“There always seems to be a need for retribution movies.”
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016