Story by Aubrey K. Rattan
Screenplay by John F. Goff, Peter Brosnan, Josh Becker, and Scott Spiegel
Directed by William Lustig
Hit List takes the vague premise of Vigilante, but heavily rewrites it for late-80s/early-90s direct to video action. It’s less dirty and gritty, with more wise guy quips and an optimistic tone. But shades of Lustig’s themes are there. The system is still broken, criminals are running free and they can’t be contained by the courts, and our heroes will have to step in and do what the system won’t. Hit List was made for Cinetel Films, best known here for their constant stream of SyFy flicks. Lustig had previously made Relentless for them, which had become one of the top-grossing DTV films of 1989 and even had a limited theatrical run.
Hit List has another amazing cast – Lance Henricksen, Rip Torn, Jere Burns, Charles Napier, Harold Sylvester. Weirdly, the success of the film being funded rested entirely on getting Jan-Michael Vincent to play the lead. Also weirdly, according to William Lustig, Jan-Michael Vincent was often drunk on set, Lustig joking that Vincent could barely stand up straight for many shots. The script was rewritten several times, including reworkings by uncredited writers Josh Becker and Scott Spiegel.
I saw Hit List at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in their Bay Area Now 7 program, under the Invasion of the Cinemaniacs! heading, specifically the part curated by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks of Midnite for Maniacs, who hosted two William Lustig triple features (a sextuple feature?) spread across two days. Hit List screened after Maniac and Vigilante, while the next night was all three Maniac Cop films. William Lustig himself was in attendance, and did some entertaining Q and As. Lustig is very charismatic and shared stories about filming and some of the actors/producers of his films. I’ve included some of what he mentioned in the reviews.
The supporting cast and the stunts are the things to focus on for Hit List, because everything else just doesn’t work right. Lance Henriksen is just amazing as the crazed hired assassin Chris Caleek, who also is a women’s shoe salesman (a deadly Al Bundy?) That tidbit makes Harold Sylvester’s appearance more fun, as he was a regular in later seasons on Married With Children as Al’s coworker Griff. Henriksen spends his undercover time wearing gigantic glasses and flirting with old ladies, but quickly switches gears to firing guns and having a mean look on his face. He also sports a huge tattoo across his back.