**** Out of 5
Tagline- When Murder and Rape Invade Your Home and the Cops Can’t Stop It. This Man Will. His Way!
Release Date- February 20th, 1982
Running Time- 88-Minutes
Screenplay- David Engelbach
Director- Michael Winner
Starring- Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia, Ben Frank, Thomas F. Duffy
In 1974 when Death Wish was released it became a box office hit and launched the career of Charles Bronson who previously was mostly a supporting actor, but Death Wish made Bronson into a leading man. Besides making a star out of Bronson and also being the film debut of Jeff Goldblum, Death Wish became the holy grail of the vigilante film. Almost every vigilante film since the original Death Wish has pretty much followed its concept even if it was based on a book or movie that was released prior to Death Wish. 8-years after the original Death Wish II was released in 1982, which brings back Bronson as Paul Kersey who is now in Los Angeles rather than New York, but trouble always seems to find Kersey regardless of the city. Death Wish II is basically the same movie as the original only set in a different city and this time Kersey gets the people responsible for the assault of his daughter whereas in the original they were never found. Death Wish II is one of those remake kind of sequels since the structure for the two films are essentially the same. The only thing that keep this from being a complete rehash is as stated this time Kersey gets the bad guys. Outside of that Death Wish II is the same exact film. Death Wish can be seen as an exploitation film and really the only think keeping it from that is Paramount a major studio did the film, but Death Wish II plays up to the exploitation style a bit more and is even a little meaner in tone perhaps and some of the action scenes are a little bigger and a little more graphic to some degree. The original Death Wish is the better overall film, but Death Wish II in my opinion is the more fun to watch. Death Wish II may not go down as one of the all time great films and despite having the basic same structure as the original film Death Wish II is very much a crowd pleaser.
After having some success after Death Wish by this time in his career Charles Bronson was in need of a hit to show he can still carry a film as the star and director Michael Winner also struggled by this point with a lot of his films not making much noise. Michael Winner actually tried to get the directing job on Jaw, but was turned down several times and Winner rejected the Omen, which would end up going to Richard Donner. This was the first Death Wish film made by Cannon films and the first time Bronson would work with Cannon and he would become a regular for the company throughout the 80s and while a lot of the films Bronson made with Cannon may not have had the success of past Bronson films (excluding the Cannon Death Wish films) the 80s is probably the era many fans remember him from despite having bigger hits prior to the 80s and starring in such classics such as Once Upon a Time in the West.
Paul Kersey (Bronson) now living in Los Angeles is out with his girlfriend and his daughter Carol (Sherwood) who since the attack on her a few years back has become a mute. Kersey has his wallet stolen by a bunch of thugs and Kersey gets hold of one of them and roughs him up. The thugs show up at Kersey’s place where they rape and kill his housekeeper and when Kersey arrives home he’s attacked and his daughter abducted and raped. She’s killed while trying to escape and now Kersey walks the streets to find the thugs and deliver vigilante justice.
The screenplay was written by David Engelbach who in 1987 would write Over the Top also by Cannon Films and starred Sylvester Stallone. The script by Engelbach is basically a rewrite of the first film and can be seen as a remake in form of a sequel. Characters are mostly copies of the original and even the thugs are pretty much the same to some degree only difference is here they play a little bigger part. In the original the more Kersey killed the easier it got and that transition continues here as there’s no more inner struggle. Even before he kills one of the bad guys, Kersey has a witty one liner. The writing isn’t exactly great as its hindered by being too much a copy of the original, but with that said the script is highly entertaining and fun. The one area I would like to have seen explored more is the relationship between detective Ochoa (Gardenia) and Kersey. Ochoa is sent to L.A. to see if its the same vigilante from New York and in one scene during a shootout between Kersey and the bad guys, Ochoa assists Kersey and when asked, Ochoa says it was either you or them. I always found that kinda interesting as it shows Ochoa in someways understands why Kersey is doing what he is and doesn’t seem as a bad guy. While I suppose by going into too much detail would take away from what fans wanna see and that’s Kersey killing thugs, but it was still an interesting angle Death Wish II could have taken.
Director Michael Winner follows the structure of the original, but the tone here is a little more sleazy and exploitive and Death Wish II also kind of has a fun tone despite the subject matter. The original had a darker tone even if Bronson’s actions were crows pleasing, but this one seems to have that feel throughout at least to me despite being a little sleazier.The action scenes are a little bigger in spots and spread out nicely, which keeps Death Wish II running at a smooth pace for its brief 88-minute running time. The attack on the housekeeper despite being edited to obtain the R is still rather sadistic and trumps the attack scene in the original and the attack on Kersey’s daughter despite also being heavily edited is still quite disturbing. These scenes have come under fire by critics, but they didn’t phase Michael Winner at all. This isn’t great filmmaking on display, but Michael Winner knows what his audience wants and doesn’t let us down.
Death Wish II is mostly the exact film as the original and while it isn’t nearly as good I would say its more enjoyable. Bronson is terrific, but clearly going through the motions. Though i will say Robin Sherwood as Carol Kersey is the standout. despite having no dialogue and a minor role she actually brings a lot to the film. The score was done by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and he got a Razzie nomination, but the Razzies are a bigger joke than the Oscars. I for one loved the score by Jimmy Page. Regardless of any flaws Death Wish II is highly enjoyable and you can just sit back and cheer on the actions of Charles Bronson.
Death Wish II actually has a terrific cast of notable actors and while some you may not know by name, but you will by face Ben Frank (Don’t Answer the Phone), Anthony Franciosa (Tenebre), Robert F. Lyons (Dark Night of the Scarecrow), J.D. Cannon (McCloud) and of course Jill Ireland the real life wife of Bronson and also in the cast is Charles Cyphers best known for his work on such John Carpenter films as Halloween and the Fog and perhaps the most notable face is Laurence Fishburne as Cutter one of the thugs Kersey is after. Thomas F. Duffy who played Nirvana would guest star on several TV shows as well as having a role in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which also starred Jeff Goldblum and Kevyn Major Howard who played Stomper, the following year would appear in the Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact and would also appear in Full Metal Jacket.
Death Wish II was released on blu-ray by FOX and like many of the MGM titles released on blu-ray by FOX they all seem to look exactly a like so if you’ve seen past releases you’ll know what to expect. The HD presentation while not demo worthy is actually quite strong and made even stronger when compared to the old DVD, which was quite horrendous. If you never saw the DVD before the video on the blu-ray will be good, but nothing great for those like myself who had seen this on DVD the blu-ray is terrific as at times the DVD was so poor it almost looked like it was shot on video in a few scenes. This is the edited R-rated version, which is quite annoying seeing as apparently when aired on MGMHD its uncut and when I watched this on Netflix it was the uncut version so its not like the footage is lost or anything. The uncut footage does add a meaner spirit to Death Wish II and while I still love the film even edited as the cut version still packs a punch its quite frustrating though that FOX didn’t include it. I just don’t understand since its been aired uncut why in this day and age FOX wouldn’t deliver an uncut version. Rant aside, the audio isn’t anything spectacular, but good enough and the only feature is a trailer. Despite my issues Death Wish II, is a strong release in terms of audio and video made even stronger when compared to the DVD. This won’t be among your favorite releases, but flaws and all its a worthy upgrade.