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June 16, 2016

The Death Wish Franchise

I like revenge flicks; especially the late ‘70s ones, but I had never seen Death Wish (1974). This works for a variety of subgenres for me: I’m in love with several rip-offs but I haven’t seen the originals. But I’m on a mission to right this wrong.

The Death Wish franchise is featuring actor Charles Bronson in the role of Paul Kersey who is a vigilante that goes after muggers. I’m a big fan of C’era Una Volta Il West (1968), The Great Escape (1963), Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), Telefon (1977) and St. Ives (1976) and so the idea of watching Charles Bronson shooting bad guys in five more films sounded brilliant! I hope you enjoy reading as much as I did watching and writing.

Death Wish (1974)

Paul Kersey [Charles Bronson; because Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and Frank Sinatra turned down the part] lives in New York where numerous murders take place. He is a liberal who’s against leaving the city because that’s only for people who can afford it (hence undemocratic). Some of his friends are radical and wish that there’ll be concentration camps for the criminals and hate it that the tax payers can’t afford more police on the streets.

When Paul’s at work, three punks break into his apartment, and when they find out that his wife and his daughter - who are present - don’t have any money they brutalize them and the poor girls end in the hospital. Paul and his son-in-law go to the hospital. Paul’s wife dies. His daughter survives but in order to get through the shock she’ll have to stay away from her father, as the psychiatrist suggest, and anything else that would remind her of the traumatic incident.

From then on Paul becomes what the police are calling the Vigilante, an anti-hero who goes on a killing spree with his .32 pistol. He’s after all sorts of criminals. Citizens seem to be on his side, and soon transform fear into revenge. They take the law into their own hands and attack muggers and the crime rate is dropping.

One of the punks that broke into Paul’s apartment was a skinhead and another one painted a swastika with his spray on the wall. The film spoke to ‘70s audiences that were frightened by the increasing crime rate.

The kick-starter of the Death Wish franchise was co-produced and directed by Michael Winner [The Sentinel (1977)], and it was produced by Hal Landers [Damnation Alley (1977)], Bobby Roberts [Death Wish II (1982)] and presenter Dino De Laurentiis [Hannibal (2001)]. In front of the cameras you’ll find known faces such as Hope Lange [Blue Velvet (1986)] and Jeff Goldblum [The Fly (1986)].

Death Wish II (1982)

Paul Kersey [Charles Bronson] now lives in L.A. [which doesn’t work well as a setting; N.Y. was much better in the first film, but bear with me as this is a good flick], where crime rate is going up. He gets robbed by muggers and goes after them. He roughs up one of them. The criminals will break into his apartment and kill the maid [Silvana Gallardo] and kidnap his daughter [Robin Sherwood from Tourist Trap (1979)]. They take the poor girl into a seedy place where they rape her, and when she tries to escape she jumps off a window and she’s landing in spikes that penetrate her young body and kill her. This is when the protagonist snaps and starts killing the bad guys.

Dino De Laurentiis sold the rights of the Death Wish franchise (reportedly for $200,000) to Cannon Films and said production company came up with this film and the sequels bellow. This one was produced by Yoram Globus [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)] and Menahem Golan [Night Of The Living Dead (1990)] and it was directed by Michael Winner. Oh, and there’s a car crash scene; for trailer purposes I guess.

Death Wish 3 (1985)

The only complaint fans must have had from Death Wish Ii (1982) was the L.A. setting, and this changed back to N.Y.C. for Death Wish 3 (1985). This is East New York where full scale riots will take place as a gang is terrorizing citizens with a variety of crimes, from robbery to rape.

Paul Kersey [Charles Bronson] returns to New York City, only to find his friend Charlie dead. He is accused of the murder because he was found at the scene of the crime. He ends up in jail. A cop offers Paul his freedom if he’ll accept going back to the streets and start shooting criminals again. The deal is sealed and Paul is back in action. The duo sees scumbags as cockroaches and wants them all dead.

The box-office success of the first two movies allowed director Michael Winner to go ape-shit with this third instalment in the film series, as the finale is an eye-candy in which on the one hand several cars are crashing and exploding (and so do buildings that are set on fire) and on the other hand Charles Bronson steals the show whilst bearing a machine-gun and kicking ass big time.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

Paul Kersey [Charles Bronson] has a dream that he’s shooting three rapists in a parking lot, and when he pushes one of them to take a look at him, he sees his own face! That’s a great idea, you know, Paul having nightmares about what he has done in all the previous films, how his actions affected him psychologically, and how he’d question the results of his journey, but it is not explored further by writer Gail Morgan Hickman and director J. Lee Thompson [Cape Fear (1962)]. Also, they brought the action back to L.A.

So, we’re in Los Angeles, where Paul Kersey is dating a woman for the last couple of years. Her daughter is going on out with a guy and they smoke pot. One night the girl decides to experiment with cocaine and she ends up in hospital after overdosing and she dies. Her mother is a writer and will focus her career on articles about drug awareness, while Paul kills the pusher responsible for her death. This guy also killed the poor girl’s boyfriend because he threatened that he’d talk to the police.

A rich man is making an appearance saying that he lost his wife in a car accident and his daughter to cocaine and comes to an agreement with Paul. He provides him with information on the two major drug organizations in the city and Paul will do the shooting. Watch out for a young Danny Trejo in a small part, in what has to be the tamest flick of the Death Wish franchise. There are dead bodies (actually, many dead bodies), but there are no tits, and nothing seems as sleazy as things were in the previous entries.

Death Wish V: The Face Of Death (1994)

Olivia Regent [Lesley-Anne Down from From Beyond The Grave (1974)] is a fashion designer, and what do you know, this industry is corrupt. The biggest scumbag of them all is her ex-husband Tommy O'Shea [Michael Parks from Django Unchained (2012)] who is a mobster. Her boyfriend Paul [Charles Bronson] will step in the action and kick some major fashion industry mob ass.

Set in N.Y. (but actually filmed in Toronto), and written & directed by Allan A. Goldstein [because Steve Carver reportedly was considered but couldn’t be afforded], this is the last film in the Death Wish franchise and it’s been 20 years since it hit theatres. There were talks back in the day about a sequel called Death Wish 6: The New Vigilante, but it never happened. We are now waiting for the rumoured reboot.

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