Earlier this year, Eli Roth ( Cabin Fever, Hostel, Hostel 2, Green Inferno) tackled the Death Wish reboot,starring Bruce WIllis. Originally adapted from the Brian Garfield novel, Death Wish and Death Sentence, Death Wish spiked quite controversy in the 1970’s with it’s focus on vigilantism. Charles Bronson starred as Paul Kersey, a “bleeding-heart liberal” architect who lived in New York City with his wife (Hope Lange) and daughter. Kersey’s wife and daughter are brutally raped by Jeff Goldblum and friends. Kersey’s wife died and his daughter became mute. With no help from the police or legal system, Paul Kersey takes vengeance into his own hands and walks the streets killing muggers, rapists, gangs etc. In the original novel, Paul Kersey was a Jewish man who was extremely faith driven and it isn’t until the end of the book where Paul Kersey goes on a vigilante rampage. In Death Sentence, Paul Kersey faces off against another vigilante in Chicago. The first Death Wish was a lot different from the novel and became a series in its own, powered by industry horse, Michael Winner ( Death Wish, The Mechanic, The Sentinel) as the director of the first three Death Wish movies. I am a huge fan of the Death Wish movies so let us venture into my worst to best Death Wish movies.
5: Death Wish 5 (The Face of Death 1994):
Although not the worst movie I have ever seen, it is definitely the worst in the series. Charles Bronson reprises his role as Paul Kersey in Death Wish 5. Kersey, for the 5th time, has a new life dating a fashion designer, Olivia Regent. Her former ex-husband, Tommy O’Shea (played by the late Michael Parks) threatens their business in New York City’s garment district. O’Shea’s mobster goons kill Olivia causing Paul to turn into Mr. Vigilante one more time . The kills are intense and ridiculous, with one involving an explosive soccer ball. Paul Kersey takes down the mob goons one by one in classic Bronson action. Bronson’s age really shows in this one, as if you could tell he did this for a paycheck. Death Wish 5 was Bronson’s final bow as Paul Kersey, although he should’ve stopped long before. Death Wish 5 was a straight-to-home video filmed in Toronto. This was the death of the Death Wish series.
4: Death Wish 2:
Ok, ok I know people love this movie a lot. Death Wish 2 is the direct sequel to Death Wish. Directed by Michael Winner, Death Wish 2 follows Paul Kersey as he uses his pseudonym, Paul Kimble, to mask the previous events of the first movie. Bronson shares the screen with his actual wife, Jill Ireland, who plays his love interest. Paul Kersey moves to L.A. after his New York City massacre with his daughter, who still suffers the emotional trauma of what happened to her in Death Wish. The movie starts off with Paul Kersey, his daughter, and his love interest going off to a city fair when they are stalked by an L.A. gang, with one of the gang members being Lawrence Fishburne (as Larry Fishburne III). The gang gets a hold of Paul Kersey’s address. They find Kersey’s daughter, rape her, and kill the house maid. When Paul Kersey comes home to find his daughter missing and his house keeper dead, he finds out that his daughter took her own life when she tried to escape her kidnappers. Kersey’s daughter’s death fuels his revenge to seek out and find the gang who killed her. Once again, Paul Kersey attracts attention from the police and word gets back to New York City to the original detective, Frank Ochoa, played by Vincent Gardenia (Moonstruck, Little Shop of Horrors). Ochoa revealed Kersey’s identity before and goes to L.A. to stop Kersey’s killing spree. When Ochoa finds Kersey in a cross hairs against gang members, Ochoa dies from bullet wounds but only before telling Kersey to “kill the mother fuckers”. Kersey kills the rest of the gang who killed his daughter but only before his girlfriend discovers who he is and leaves him. In my opinion, I liked this Death Wish. It was definitely depressing to watch but bittersweet because Bronson does indeed kill everyone who was involved with his daughter’s death. Was it my favorite? Not really. This one is a straight, revenge thriller that will leave you feeling content but not excited. The music was composed by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. In my opinion, it was better than Herbie Hancock‘s score for the first movie. Page’s score sounded more raw and dark than Hancocks jazzy-70’s full orchestra beat making Death Wish sound like a gritty grindhouse feature instead of a 70’s porno.
3: Death Wish 4 The Crackdown:
Death Wish 4 throws Bronson back into the action as his actions begin to haunt him and he has to suppress his ambitions to go out and kill.
This lasts for a good portion of the first half until the daughter of a girl he is dating dies from a drug overdose. Wanting to find out who the dealer was that sold the drugs to his girlfriend’s daughter, Kersey follows the girl’s boyfriend to a drug deal and kills the drug dealer. Kersey is a straight up hitman in this 4th movie with cameos by Danny Trejo (Machete, Desperado), John P. Ryan (Class of 1999), and Soon-Tek-Oh ( Beverly Hills Ninja, Mash TV series). Paul Kersey is then hired by a millionaire playboy (played by John P Ryan) who wants Kersey to take down the rival cartel gangs in L.A. or else he will expose Paul Kersey as the Mr. Vigilante. It isn’t until the end when Paul realizes he is getting played, set up by the millionaire to eliminate the competition so that the only gang selling drugs is the very man Paul is working for. Paul takes down the final gang at a roller-skating rink surrounded by arcade video games in a machine-gun toting shootout. Paul’s girlfriend is executed in front of him by the millionaire. In retaliation, Paul Kersey fires a grenade round into the millionaire’s face and blows him the fuck up. In another bittersweet ending, Paul Kersey’s actions make him alone again, with no one to love him and age catching up to him. Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is really fun and a pretty good 80’s action movie. It is the first of the Death Wish movies not directed by Michael Winner.
2: Death Wish:
This is the one that started it all, folks. Paul Kersey is a family man whose wife was murdered and his daughter was brutally raped and beaten. Paul tries to get information on the group who killed his wife but the police don’t have any leads. This forces Paul Kersey to take vengeance into his own hands, at first swinging a roll of quarters in a sock, to shooting muggers with a six piece revolver like the cowboys did to outlaws in the good ole days. The film boasts a star-studded cast. Hope Lange as Kersey’s wife. Vincent Gardenia as Detective Frank Ochoa who is hot on Paul Kersey’s tail. Jeff Goldblum as one of the rapists who kill Paul Kersey’s wife. In a blink-if-you-miss-it cameo, Denzel Washington stars as one of the muggers Paul Kersey kills during a robbery. Finally, Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap, Best In Show) as a rookie cop who finds the wounded Kersey after his final showdown. After Kersey’s life is torn apart, his job gives him time off to travel to Arizona to sell some real estate to a southern billionaire, Aimes Jainchill played by Stuart Margolin. Surprised to see how Paul can handle a gun at the shooting range, Paul reveals to Aimes that he was in the Korean war and vowed to never kill again. Aimes buys Kersey’s proposition and gives him a present to take as luggage on his way back to New York. Paul opens the present Aimes gave him back at his home in the city and discovers it’s a revolver with some ammo. Paul takes to the streets at night when he is hunted down by a mugger who wants his wallet. In return Paul Kersey shoots the mugger dead. Now that Kersey has the taste of blood, he decides to clean up the streets of New York as a one man vigilante killing machine. Paul creates a name for himself when New York City citizens start looking up to him as an icon and take the law into their hands. The movie tackles gun rights controversy in the 70’s through debates with the people on the streets and how they feel about taking the law into their own hands. I loved this movie as a kid. My biggest upset was that Kersey never found the rapists who killed his wife and how he never finds them again in the entire series. As an adult, I have come to accept that the reason he never found the rapists is because of the realism in Death Wish. In realistic situations, perpetrators are mostly never caught, and when the legal system fails, there really isn’t anything we can do. This was author Brian Garlfield‘s message in his books, Death Wish and Death Sentence. Death Sentence with Kevin Bacon did not follow the book at all.
1: Death Wish 3:
This is the mother of all sequels in any franchise ever…EVER! Now owned by Menachem Golum and Yoram Globus, Death Wish 3 is a Cannon movie. Charles Bronson is back in the best entry of the Death Wish franchise. Death Wish 3 brings back Jimmy Page‘s soundtrack and sets up the pace and tone for the entire movie. After Kersey’s daughter dies and his girlfriend leaves him, Paul Kersey goes back to New York City, where he is no longer being hunted because the only person who knew his name died in Death Wish 2. Paul goes to visit an old Korean War buddy at a low-income housing neighborhood run by gangs. Pauls buddy, just like everyone Paul Kersey knows, gets murdered by a gang of muggers. Of course, this happens right before Paul arrives in a cool Cosby-show intro music cue. Paul gets arrested by the police and thrown into a cell with the leader of the gang, Fraker, played by Gavin O’Herilhy (Twin Peaks, The Descent 2). Fraker tries to kill Paul in the cell but Paul fights back until the police separate the two. The commander of the police force, Richard Skrieker (Ed Lauter), knows Paul Kersey from back when he was a rookie on the NYPD, when Ochoa discovered that Paul Kersey was Mr. Vigilante. Shrieker bribes Paul to go undercover and start killing Fraker’s gang in order to be released from county lockup. Paul befriends the ‘old folks” in the housing neighborhood including Benett, played by Martin Balsam ( Psycho, Silence of the Hams), an older Jewish couple, a young Spanish couple and a plethora of other law abiding citizens. They tell Paul Kersey that they pay Fraker for protection and when people don’t pay, they end up getting killed by Fraker’s gang. Bronson scores himself an attorney lady friend and hides from her that he is secretly killing off Fraker’s gang members one by one. Fraker tries to kill Paul numerous times and fails when Paul kills Fraker’s men throughout the movie. Things really heat up when Paul kills one of Fraker’s lead goons, The Giggler, played by Kirk Taylor (The Last Dragon, Full Metal Jacket) with a Wildey Magnum hand cannon. Fraker and his men start striking back against the innocents living amongst the community by raping and killing people who were well-known and liked. Tension really heats up when Benett is critically injured and Paul Kersey’s love interest is murdered by Fraker. The police commander locks up Paul to make sure that Paul doesn’t start an all out war in the projects. Paul gets away, makes his way back to the projects, and begins to terminate Fraker’s men. Fraker calls in for more backup, and then this is where Death Wish 3 shines like a diamond. The last 30 minutes of Death Wish 3 is an all-out war between the law-abiding citizens/police force and Frakers gang/extended biker gang. Death Wish 3 is a slow burn that fires plasma rounds and creates chaos, making Death Wish 3 the Magnum Opus of the series. For me, it beats out the first Death Wish movie in the number one spot. Make sure you look out for gang member cameos such as Alex Winters (Bill and Ted, Freaked) as one of Fraker’s main guys and Barbie Wilde (Hellraiser, Hellbound) as the lead gang girl. Alex Winter‘s interview talked about Bronson’s hatred for Death Wish 3 claiming it was too violent. Winter’s also claimed that Michael Winner had a cigar-boy on the set every day to reload him with another cigar during shoot days and that more than one cigar boy was fired throughout production. Death Wish 3 was shot in England with the exception of the introduction where Bronson is on a bus. Death Wish 3 is the best and as good as the series gets so please make sure you check this title out last so you don’t feel disappointed.
It looks like a new movie starring Robert Bronzi (named Bronzi after his resemblance to Charles Bronson) called Death Kiss is coming soon, directed by Rene Perez (American Cowboys VS Aliens). Here is the live trailer for Death Kiss which is getting praised as the Unofficial sequel to the original Death Wish Series!