Hit List (1989)

William Lustig famously followed up Maniac with the similarly titled Maniac Cop, cementing himself a reputation among cult movie fans.  While he had a specific style, albeit highly influenced by Larry Cohen and other exploitation directors before him, Lustig appeared destined for a mainstream career after Maniac Cop became a bit of a hit on home video.  In this case he was hired to do an action film to help restore the career of Jan-Michael Vincent, who had previously starred in the television series Airwolf.  

Detective Tom Mitchum (Charles Napier) is trying to put away mob boss Vic Luca (Rip Torn), but all the witnesses keep having accidents.  Their hopes lie in the testimony of Frank DeSalvo (Leo Rossi), an undertaker who was using his business as a way of trafficking heroine.  Luca, concerned that DeSalvo may talk, sends hitman Caleek (Lance Henriksen) to take care of him.  Due to an unfortunate accident Caleek instead invades the house of Jack Collins (Vincent), killing his best friend Brian (Harold Sylvester) and kidnapping Jack's son Kenny (Junior Richard).

In order to get his son back Collins breaks DeSalvo out of police custody, and through him he finds Caleek.  As things progress both DeSalvo and Mitchum begin to take Luca's betrayals and killing more personally, with Frank and Jack eventually teaming up to take care of Caleek and rescue Kenny.

There is a lot to like in Hit List.  Henriksen plays a convincing bad guy and committed to the role even though he took it just to make sure he had enough to make his alimony payments.  Although he is skilled in both his front profession - selling shoes - and his chosen one, it is obvious that Caleek is no genius.  He's just tough and hard to kill, making for an exciting final fight in a Los Angeles parking garage.  Leo Rossi gives a good, humorous performance, Napier was pretty much born to play police officers and Rip Torn hams up yet another bad guy role.

The weak link is Jan-Michael Vincent.  This was supposed to be a way for him to move from the small screen to feature films and, though the plot is about as by-the-books as possible, Lustig includes enough style and memorable set scenes that this should be more well-known.  Problem is Vincent was far gone down the road of alcohol and other substance abuse and could barely be relied on to remain standing while running.  In one instance he was almost killed during a stunt because he fell down in front of the stunt car due to being too intoxicated.  Things got so bad that at one point Lustig was fired from the project after demanding that Vincent be removed, only to be rehired by the end of the day. 

The way the movie suffers is that much of it should have revolved around the Jack Collins character and him bonding with DeSalvo over their sons and, at the end, their mutual hatred of Luca.  Vincent was never a great actor, but neither were many of the major '80s action stars, and most of them could have pulled off a movie like this with no hitch and it would still be making the cable or streaming rounds.  Instead, we get little of Vincent throughout most of the movie until the end, and little of him and Rossi together.  

Hit List failed at the box office, but Lustig still was able to use his salary to help fund Maniac Cop 2, and his next director-for-hire project, Relentless, would fare a bit better.  It's a pity since this has so much going for it and Lustig was still able to salvage an enjoyable film from the project.  Someone just needed to give up on Vincent at the time, as even Michael Pare could have gone a long way toward saving the film. 

Hit List (1989)
Time: 87 minutes
Starring: Jan-Michael Vincent, Leo Rossi, Charles Napier, Lance Henriksen, Rip Torn
Director: William Lustig



  1. "Henriksen plays a convincing bad guy and committed to the role even though he took it just to make sure he had enough to make his alimony payments. "

    Now I see why he played the bad guy in the Brian Bosworth stinker "Stone Cold" a year or two after this. It's funny how often someone in Hollywood takes a role for purely mercenary reasons like the actress playing Jason's mom in the original "Friday the 13th" only did it because she needed money for a new car or I read the other day on IMDB that Liam Neeson only did "Taken" because he could hang out in Paris learning karate for four months. It seems silly but actors are people too.

    Anyway, it's too bad this isn't listed as being on any streaming services or I might watch it. Maybe they'll do a Rifftrax version someday.

    1. The full movie is free on YouTube, but it's not a great transfer. Looks like it is from an old DVD or possibly a VHS transfer. I know it's the only Lustig film that hasn't been reissued on Blu-Ray or 4K. As for "Taken", well...


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