Death Wish (1974)
Michael Winner’s Death Wish is loosely based on the novel of the same name from Brain Garfield. How loosely? Well, Garfield was so incensed by the interpretation of his work, he wrote a sequel to rectify the situation.
Charles Bronson (The Evil That Men Do) plays Paul Kersey, a liberal, pacifist architect. Or as today’s alt-right would call him: a cuck. When his wife and daughter are brutally assaulted – in a scene that truly never needed to be as long as it is and proves that Jeff Goldblum can only ever play Jeff Goldblum – Kersey retreats into himself, impotent with rage at a society that would let the perpetrators escape. This fire and fury is sharpened when our humble architect meets an Arizona gun nut, whose stance on justice encourages Kersey towards gun-ishment.
Sure, the film dips its toe into the debate about vigilantism and Kersey is seen throwing up after his first official kill. However, this is just foreplay before the inevitable shootouts that see Kersey running through the streets taking out mugger after faceless mugger. The fallout of which sees him being carried around New York city on the shoulders of the police, who love his strong defence against muggers. Okay, that’s not exactly what happens, but it’s clear that Death Wish, slickly directed by Michael Winner, is well and truly has its feet planted in the pro-gun lobby. If this doesn’t do it for you, the sequels are going to really bum you out.
Death Wish II (1982)
Eight years after the events of the original, Paul Kersey is now living in LA with his Radio DJ girlfriend, Geri (Jill Nichols) and his daughter from the first Death Wish, Carol (Robin Sherwood). Despite the events of 1974 leaving Carol a shell of a woman who doesn’t talk, life seems idyllic. That is until Laurence Fishbourne and his crew of violent thugs break into Kersey’s house, rape his maid and kidnap Carol. Carol is subsequently sexually assaulted in a warehouse, before jumping to her death to escape her attackers. With his daughter having been metaphorically stuffed into a fridge, Kersey gets the whiff of blood in his nostrils once again.
In a slightly more focussed rampage than last time, Kersey actually tries to track down the men who did him wrong, rather than simply taking pot shots at anyone running with a handbag. The drop in quality between this and its predecessor is staggering. It’s easy to point fingers at Cannon Films, famed for their act first, think later approach to producing, but the blame can also rest with the terrible script, Bronson’s phoned in performance, Michael Winner’s dull as dish water direction and the deep hatred of women that runs throughout the film. Yes, calling films of this calibre misogynistic is a lot like calling fire hot, but holy moly! A lot of sequels play up what made the first so popular, but surely no one was asking for more sexual assault? Surely.
Death Wish 3 (1985)
In 1987’s Batteries Not Included, the tenants of a rundown apartment building in New York find their lives up turned when they’re visited by tiny little alien crafts. These diminutive extra-terrestrials help their tenants stand up to ‘the man’ and everything works out for the best. Death Wish 3 is a lot like Batteries Not Included. The rundown apartment building in New York is a rundown apartment building in New York, ‘the man’ is a group of vicious Hispanic thugs (a number of whom are clearly not Hispanic) and the tiny extra-terrestrials are Charles Bronson returning once again as Paul Kersey.
Death Wish 3 feels like a coked-up executive somewhere said, ‘We should make a Death Wish cartoon! You know, for kids!’ A pilot was written up, dropped and then picked up to form the bulk of this second sequel. Death Wish 3 is utterly ridiculous and, after the despair of the previous film, is actually pretty watchable. What surprises the most is how we hit the ground running. After a friend is killed in their apartment, Kersey is already on the hunt for the killer before the film hits the ten minute mark. From then on, Kersey helps the other tenants to arm themselves like they’re in Home Alone, before finally running through the streets with a Colt Cobra and then a machine gun.
Death Wish 3 is as subtle as a slap from a brick and often makes little sense. It also can’t help itself when it comes to sexual assault, because, obviously, how is Kersey supposed to get really angry if no one is getting assaulted. A scene made ickier by the fact, the actor in question, Sandy Grizzle, would later claim Michael Winner used her as a sex slave.
And if you think I’m grumbling about the violence, I throw you over to Mr Bronson who had this to say about the film: ‘There are men on motorbikes, an element that’s threatening – throwing bottles and that sort of thing – and I machine gun them. That to me is excessive violence and is unnecessary.’
He came back for Part 4 though, didn’t he?