Fighting Back (1982)

Tom Skerritt, Patti LuPone, Michael Sarrazin, Yaphet Kotto,
It's a hard crime story about a Philadelphia shop owner who has enough of the criminals' violences and ravages. He organizes a patrol of civil people. It all starts to go wrong because his team's actions are taken as racial discri...
  • 6.0 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Thomas Hedley Jr., David Zelag Goodman, Writer:
  • Lewis Teague, Director:
  • D. Constantine Conte, David Permut, Producer:

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8 / 10

Streets of Philadelphia ? The grim, early 80's vigilante edition

First of all I concur with all my fellow reviewers who can't seem to fathom that "Death Vengeance" is still so underrated, unknown and unavailable on DVD. This is a cult movie in the purest definition of the term, for crying out loud, with an acclaimed director and cast and a harshly realist subject that is applicable to all times and all big cities! Even more so, there were most vigilante thrillers all too easily revert to crowd-pleasing violence (Charlie Bronson's "Death Wish" being the best example of this), at least "Death Vengeance" attempts to remain more rational, with ordinary characters, dramatic sub plots, politically engaged and socially relevant. Tom Skerritt, in one of his best performances ever, stars as the Italian-American John D'Angelo who owns a deli shop in the roughest and most crime-infested neighborhood in Philadelphia. Following a couple of dramatic incidents where his wife lost their unborn baby and his mother her ring finger, John mobilizes his fellow petrified neighbors into founding the People's Neighbourhood Patrol. In a relatively short time, they free the park and streets around their houses of muggers, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes and organized crime. Even though John's family life suffers under his obsession and he often has difficulties of drawing the line between what's legal and what's not, his achievements grow increasingly important. So important even, that the current mayor fears John to become an unbeatable rival in the next elections. "Death Vengeance" is a strong and compelling revenge/vigilante thriller with the emphasis on character development and grim atmosphere. The sequences where John D'Angelo confronts Ivanhoe Washington (a black volunteer who tries to keep petty criminals off the streets) are equally important as the sequences where the vigilantes battle hardcore thugs in the park. For the real die-hard fanatics of grisly early 80's cult cinema, "Death Vengeance" has quite a lot of brutal images to offer as well, like the drug store hold-up, but the violence never becomes gratuitous or overly exploitative. That alone is a remarkable accomplishment of director Lewis Teague ("Alligator", "Cujo"). The supportive cast is excellent as well, with Michael Sarrazin ("The Reincarnation of Peter Proud"), Yaphet Kotto ("Across 110th Street") and David "Sledge Hammer" Rasche! Is there an online petition anywhere to release this gem on DVD that I can sign?

7 / 10

Taking back the neighbourhood.......

Here's an almost criminally forgotten post Death Wish gem from director Lewis Teague.

Whilst perhaps not as violent, nor as rewarding purely entertainment wise as the aforementioned pinnacle of the vigilante/revenge genre, this film approaches the issue of taking the law into one's own hands in a very different (and perhaps more realistic) manner and succeeds in delivering a solid ninety or so minutes of highly gripping viewing.

The always superb Tom Skerrit headlines as Michael D'Angelo, a humble greengrocer who is pushed too far by a series of brutal events and who subsequently decides to fight back by setting up a citizens patrol force in order to clean up the area in which he lives. Not giving too much away, but fuelled by his anger at the both the suffering of those around him and additionally the blatant inefficiency of the police force to tidy up the neighbourhood, Michael's methods are very hands on, leading to a number of violent altercations with the criminal denizens in the district.

Despite the nature of the subject material (perfect exploitation fodder), the director and cast performances manage to instill a far deeper sentiment into this than that usually found in a typical vigilante/revenge flick of the era. In fact, far from a simple tale of one mans war on crime, this serves in effect as a fascinating study of the social degeneration and general feeling of hopelessness, powerlessness and despair so prevalent in today's society at the escalating crime statistics and inefficacy of the law system to punish those responsible. The simple message is that together, as communities we can unite and turn the tide against this abject unhappiness for both ourselves and indeed future generations.

Rousing stuff indeed and highly recommended.

8 / 10

Great revenge thriller.

Set in an Italian neighborhood of Philadelphia "Fighting Back" tells the story of a storekeeper(Tom Skerritt),who is outraged by an incident on the streets that results in his pregnant wife losing the baby and by a robbery in which his mother's ring finger is cut off.He organizes the local people into a security patrol.The patrol does wipe out crime but operates beyond the law with our vigilante carrying on more of a personal vendetta than a campaign to establish law and order."Fighting Back" by Lewis Teague is a taut and exciting revenge thriller obviously influenced by "Death Wish" movies.The film is well-acted and looks surprisingly authentic.There is not much violence on display,however if you are a fan of thought-provoking cinema you can't miss this gritty flick.8 out of 10.

5 / 10

5.8 rating about right...wanted to like this more, but movie is aimless

I love these 1970s and early 80s gritty movies, and in this regard, the film delivers. The large old American cars, the street scenery, the police, etc. all has that feel that you don't get in today's movie. But overall, the film fails to deliver. By the middle of the movie I was starting to get bored waiting for something more interesting to happen. Much of the movie is also unrealistic. The police seem virtually non-existent, which is not genuine (even if the point is that a neighborhood watch is needed). The rivalry with the pimp also made no sense, there were a series of meetings which just did not flow with the plot. Overall, you are unlikely to be very satisfied with this film, although it is reasonably watchable. This is why the rating is in the 5-6 range and the film remains obscure. The few reviewers who gave it an 8 to 10 rating are waaaaaaay over-rating the movie and do not know what a true 9 or 10 movie is (in my view, only 4-6 movies a year can really be called a 9 or 10).

9 / 10

More than a Death Wish Rip-off

Why this has never been released on DVD I'll never know, especially when so much grade-z rubbish has been given the lavish 'Special Edition' treatment. This is, quite simply, one of the finest 'revenge' genre films made and far more intelligent than most of it's type. I mean, just take a look at the cast: Tom Skerrit, Michael Sarrazin. These a class actors.

What makes Death Vengeance so strong are the well developed characters. You identify with them more than anything. Paul Kersey was someone who appealed to the lowest common denominator, those who liked to cheer violent characters responding in a totally over the top fashion. John D'Angelo seemed to be grounded more in reality, reacting in a way we can understand. While not always sympathetic, Skerrit's performance made him believable.

The film was marketed in a fairly deceptive way. This is more than just another shoot-em-up no-brainer and deserves to be recognised as such. Director Lewis Teague could have taken the easy option, thrown in lots of action set-pieces and had a sky-high bodycount. Instead, he decided to engage our brains instead of our base instincts. He, and the film need to be recognised for this. Shame this doesn't happen more often. See it and you will find an underrated and surprisingly thought provoking film.