I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Death Wish 3

Well, L.A. didn’t work out too hot for Paul Kersey. Might as well head home. So Part 3’s opening credits show Kersey taking a bus back into New York City, looking out the window to the tune of the most in-your–face, half cheesy/half cool blast of white-man’s-keyboard-rock meets jazz-fusion-’80s-cop-movie-establishing-shot-of-the-city theme this side of HARD BOILED. Jimmy Page is back in the composer’s chair and comes up with a pretty weird and experimental sound more often than he comes up with the crappy guitar noodling you usually got after LETHAL WEAPON came out. He’s still no Herbie Hancock, but he’ll do.

Director Michael Winner returns for his last at-bat in the DEATH WISH series, but you immediately gotta wonder what the hell’s up because this feels nothing like his other DEATH WISHes. I’m honestly not sure if it’s a deliberate artistic choice or a sudden case of not giving a shit, but he has completely removed whatever traces there were of subtlety, thoughtfulness, ambiguity, class or elegance, not to mention realism. It looks cheaper, plays out more clunky and seems to have been made all in a week or so with no time to prepare or to stop to take a breath. And that’s exactly why it’s the most popular of the sequels. This movie is pretty fuckin nuts.

Death Wish 3The first two took questionable morality and made it go down easier with execution that’s just a little smarter than the material. No time for that in III. The writing and editing both go for a sometimes hilarious bluntness and minimalism. No beating around the bush. No time to set up or explain things, no time to set a mood, to develop an idea, to linger on anything at all. For example a scene will start with some place already on fire – why bother to show how this starts? Let’s just skip to the burning. Maybe the funniest example is the lawyer who Kersey strikes up a relationship with during a few scenes. They start to see each other and before you have time to catch your breathe Kersey has left her in the car for a moment, the bad guys have punched her out, put the car in neutral and rolled it down the hill where it crashed and exploded. And Kersey is pissed but I don’t think he 0ever mentions her again. The movie’s saying, “yeah yeah yeah, revenge, etc. You get the idea, I’m not gonna blow a bunch of smoke up your ass about it.”

In the opening Paul comes to visit a Korean War buddy (who cares why?) moments after a bunch of punks have broken in and killed the poor guy. Then a whole bunch of cops show up and arrest Paul. One cop knows he was The Vigilante so he tells him he can go if he continues killing “creeps.” As a reader named Drew B. pointed out to me, “Eastwood shoots ‘Punks,’ and Bronson shoots ‘Creeps.'” Anyway now the story doesn’t have to deal with much secretiveness or cops trying to catch him. Just him shooting muggers.

The villains are your standard young white guys with chains and vests. Their leader Manny Fraker has a reverse mohawk and they all paint two lines on their foreheads in his honor. He’s a weird looking dude with a good lawyer who, after his first meeting with Kersey, offers to kill a little old lady in his honor. But you can tell underneath the bluster he’s a huge nerd. He sounds like such a weiner when he gets on the phone to call in some biker gang reinforcements. “Manny Fraker here…”

The Jeff Goldblum/Laurence Fishburne slot I guess this time would be filled by Alex Winter as “Hermosa.” I mean he’s mainly known as Bill or Ted (I never remember which one) but I still respect him for directing a movie nobody else knows about called FEVER.

The creeps seem to make up 99% of the neighborhood’s population. There are a handful of elderly people or women who live there but if they go outside they’re always surprised by a purse-snatching or a gang rape. If they stay inside the creeps climb in the window. So Kersey starts setting booby traps such as a bed of nails on the floor by his window or a plank that swings up and takes a guy’s front teeth out. Sadly these traps always go off off screen.

Alot of the movie is Kersey happening to walk around the corner as a crime occurs, then he chases them down and shoots them. He uses a gun designed for African big game hunting, and later a machine gun his late buddy Charlie saved after the war and a rocket launcher he uses to blow Manny Fraker through the side of his apartment. (He ain’t getting his deposit back.) The escalation is justified by the rioting creeps who just start blowing up cars, lighting people on fire and hiding on the roofs shooting at any citizen they spot. (More proof that Kersey’s vigilantism did not lower New York’s crime rate in the long run.)

The battle is painted broadly as a war between old people and young people. About the only time cops ever get involved is when they falsely arrest Kersey or when they come to take guns away from elderly people. (The right wing propaganda is at its all time clumsiest.) It seems like no cops give a shit about the crime at all except the one guy who gives so much of a shit that he secretely authorizes Kersey to execute all criminals on sight. I mean look, Kersey’s a good guy, I trust him. But this brings up some constitional issues, in my opinion. Some due process and what not. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this.

But this is a hell of a movie. You can’t watch it and not get a little giddy. Whether its stripping down of the cliches DEATH WISH created was intentional or not is something that will require further study. Jim Blanton of Fantasmo Cult Cinema Explosion tipped me off to a book called Bronson’s Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films by Paul Talbot. I couldn’t find it at the local book stores so I had to order it. As soon as I get it I’m gonna skip to the chapter on part 3 to find out what the hell was the thinking on this one. It seems like the movie that every violent parody of violent action movies in the ’80s was directly based on. By normal standards of filmatism it’s the worst of the series, but judged by raw force and entertainment value it’s the best after part 1.

If you like your action raw, ridiculous and completely ignorant, DEATH WISH 3 is a must-see.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 4th, 2008 at 3:59 pm and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

34 Responses to “Death Wish 3”

  1. CaseyF*ckinRyback

    December 28th, 2009 at 4:04 am

    Thanxxx for the DW reviews, Vern. For any discussion in Badass Cinema, they are required viewing! I hope you caught Talbot’s ‘Bronson’s Loose’, it’s a pretty awesome read with some cool insights.

    There’s one shot pretty early in the flick that shows, without a doubt, that Winner was in on the joke… When the Police Captain is walking around his office telling Kersey that he’s ‘turning him loose’, he stops behind his desk and dramatically puts his hands on his hips… right behind a gun-shaped trophy positioned in his crotch area! One of many laugh out loud moments in this Mike’s magnum opus.

    For me, this one is almost the Rocky Horror of action flicks, full of hilarious mistakes, quotable dire-log and 80’s C-Movie charm taking place in this weird low-budget urban fantasy world. I get a big goofy grin as soon as the Cannon logo comes up every time I stick this DVD on. Great fun!

  2. Holy shit , I’m catching up with the Death Wish movies , but I think I’ve never seen this one before . It’s something you don’t forget very easily . This movie made me feel a little uncomfortable with his pro-vigilante stance , even if I think it was intended as a little bit on the auto-ironic side. I’m talking about regular citizens shooting happily creeps and then nodding and smiling to each other , and , my favorite scene , a mob of citizens shooting a group of bad guys and then immediately after , a group of children dancing right beside the corpses ! I mean , that’s unbelievable , I was in tears ! And when you add the cartoon-style bad guys , the crazy traps and the fantastic “block-war” finale , well this is one for the ages.

  3. Whatever happened to the Stallone Death Wish Remake? Am I the only one who secretly hopes for him to just say fuck it and remake Death Wish 3 instead? 1) it would probably be better than The Expendables and 2) it would open the floodgates where we could just remake sequels instead of originals. How badass would it be if they remade Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors instead of the remake we got last year?

    Oh and re: Death Wish 3- It really is required viewing if you haven’t seen it. Vern’s new review of Scorpion probably scared off alot of people from watching unseen cheesy 80s action movies, like “oh, this might just be a shitty movie”. I guarantee you if you’re on this site you will love it.

  4. RE: Zod,
    I think it’s pretty clear that EVERYONE HERE has already seen Death Wish 3 like 8 times.

    However, we have seen some remakes of sequels. Friday the 13th was ostensibly a remake of Friday 1-4. Death Sentence was kinda a remake of Death Wish 2 (at least the book).

    I feel like there are others too. Can anyone think of any?

  5. that should be an “also” not a “however”…

  6. Hunter, I figured it out! After racking my brain, I think that movie The Bride (aka the movie that was on HBO all the time when I was a kid that introduced me to PG-13 nudity) was a remake of Bride of Frankenstein.

    And re: Death Wish 3, hey man you never know – I had to force that movie on some action movie fans recently who were expecting to be bored. They were hooked by the “but it’s my car!” scene.

  7. Well, of course there are remakes of DAWN OF THE DEAD and (if you want to even count this remake as an existing movie) DAY OF THE DEAD. I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head.

    As far as DEATH SENTENCE, they do credit the sequel book as the source, but it really isn’t the same plot or characters or anything. I have to respond to that because I don’t get enough chances to share my enthusiasm for DEATH SENTENCE. I’m not into capital punishment, but I’m pro-DEATH SENTENCE.

  8. Yeah, but Dawn of the Dead was made a few years after the remake of Night of the Living Dead. And Day of the Dead was remade specifically because Dawn of the Dead Redux was so successful, so in my mind that’s almost like a new, fractured franchise there.

  9. And while we’re talking Death Wish sequels…did anyone else just give up on part 2? I’ve never seen any of the revenge bits of that film. It got to the rape scene and I watched until I realized this was going to be a full of rape set-piece. So I fast forwarded, but when I stopped the video, the rape scene was still happening. So I fast forwarded again…but the rape scene was STILL happening. It was like the Sisyphus or rape scenes. At this point I just got too depressed and angry to watch the rest of the film.

    Anyone else feel this way?

  10. The forthcoming PLANET OF THE APES film is essentially a remake of CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES apparently

  11. Funny how in retrospect DEATH SENTENCE is starting to look like one of the best meat-and-potatoes action movies of the last decade.

  12. Hunter- the reputation of the rape scene in Death Wish 2 is actually the reason I’m afraid to see it. (Haven’t seen any of the I Spit on Your Graves either). I tend to like my action movies on the fun side, and even though Death Wish 3 does have a rape, the whole movie’s so over-the-top and zany it’s kind of impossible to be really disturbed by it.

    Re: the fast forwarding, I had a similar experience with Harvey Keitel’s full frontal nude scene in Bad Lieutenant: no amount of fast forwarding could get past that damn scene. I’m gonna have to remember “the Sisyphus of…..” from now on.

  13. Retrospect? I was with Death Sentence right in its theatrical release!

  14. FTopel: Don’t get me wrong, I loved it in the theater, too. Took the day off to see it, even, and it was my birthday, so I remember the experience with great fondness. But it was more of a “Wow, that was surprisingly good” thing, not a “That will be on my top ten list in five years” thing. It’s not so much that I hold it in higher esteem now, it’s that its competition in the intervening years has been so slack. Taken on its own terms, it’s a solid, solid little movie, but compared to half the shit I’ve paid good money for recently, it’s a fucking masterpiece.

  15. Glad you liked my Sisyphus joke. One time I wrote a rap song with a great Sisyphus joke in it — “I push that rock like Sisyphus/and all you bastards bitch and cuss/because you wanna get with us/but you just ain’t rich enough.” Nerdcore gangsta shit, yo.

  16. Good explanation of the context, Majestyk. I guess I was a bit forward thinking, realizing, “Wow, this movie totally deconstructs the revenge movie myth. What a profound statement that I know audiences won’t want to hear. I mean, I’m with him but this is not going to go well. And fuck, Kevin Bacon is giving the performance of his life.”

    FWIW: When I got to interview Kevin Bacon for that HBO movie Taking Chance, the first thing I told him was how much I admired his performance in Death Sentence.

    Honestly, that made me want to go revisit some of Bacon’s highlights. I think I saw White Water Summer on TV.

  17. One thing that might be an interesting study is why Paramount, roundly criticized for not giving up on the Friday the 13th series, did give up on Death Wish after the first one. I know there was probably a regime change, but c’mon!

  18. According to IMDB trivia, Golan/Globus bought the rights of the franchise from Dino De Laurentiis (who produced the original) for 200 grand.

  19. For whatever reason, Dino didn’t produce a DEATH WISH sequel, when you think he would’ve after the first one made a profit. Or maybe he just felt too self-respectable for that sort of genre trash and spent money on FLASH GORDON and DUNE instead? If I remember right, DEATH WISH 2 came out many years later like…a decade later? (I’m too lazy to use wikipedia to find out.)

    (Of course FLASH GORDON I quite liked, so I don’t mind that Dino decision.)

  20. For me, DW3 is Winner’s masterpiece: Loud, obnoxious, flashy, a little odd, but you just can’t help liking it – just like the man himself.

    Rest in peace, big fella.

  21. As much as I love trashy 80’s Winner, I really hope that he will be remembered more for his output in the early 70’s; LAWMAN, THE STONE KILLER; CHATO’S LAND etc. Back then the man was good.

  22. I just got DEATH WISH 3 blu ray for x-mas. It was one of only 2 things I specifically requested.

    Oh well, he was 77. Not a bad run, considering all the street creeps who must’ve wanted to ice Winner after all the times he portrayed them being defeated by senior citizens.

  23. THE MECHANIC and CHATOS LAND are my favourite Winners. Real good movies.

  24. Yeah, you guys are right – THE MECHANIC and CHATO’S LAND probably are his best films, really.

    I just love DW3 as it’s so bugnuts.

    Winner was an interesting character, he really was. Shame – in the UK, at least – he will primarily be remembered as a restaurant critic and loudmouth. He came off as a supremely awful person at times but seeing him in interviews he did himself a disservice, I think, by playing up to that image, as he was clearly a thoughtful, sensitive guy.

  25. RIP Ed Lauter. We will miss you.

  26. I was just about to post the same thing. All the great character actors of our youth are dropping like flies, aren’t they? You get used to seeing all these distinctive faces in movie after movie, then they’re gone and it seems like entire style of movie is gone with them. It never really occurs to you that you’ve seen your last Ed Lauter police lieutenant character until it’s already happened.

    If there is an afterlife, it’s got one hell of a supporting cast.

  27. So, would Burt Reynolds placing a game ball inside his coffin be a bit much, or appropriately reverent? Just sayin’…

  28. The first movie I think of when hearing the name Ed Lauter is not DEATH WISH 3, but DOLLAR OF THE DEAD. Weird.

  29. THE LONGEST YARD is both his own and my favorite.

  30. So I finally watched this over Christmas. Um, the end is basically HOME ALONE, right? It also reminded me of the POLICE ACADEMY movies where the was one big action set piece at the end. The rest of the movie is just Kersey shooting people with a single kill shot. Golden age Cannon for sure.

  31. It’s currently available for free and legal on that PARAMOUNT VAULT YouTube channel and it is definitely a fun movie in its ridiculousness. Of course we still have rape scenes (mostly off screen this time) and stuff like an old couple being gunned down while running burning out of their house, but it all plays almost like a cartoon. The only thing missing was Charles Bronson dropping an anvil on a creep’s head!

  32. (Well, the burning couple plays like a cartoon, not the rape scene.)

  33. If my wife ever got gang-raped by five street creeps, I’d want an optimistic friend like Paul Kersey to be there to console me with “Don’t worry, she’ll be okay. They just broke her arm.” (Never mind the decades of emotional and mental trauma to follow.) Total missed opportunity one scene later at the hospital when the doctor says the wife “expired” –

    Kersey – “Don’t worry, she’ll be okay. She’s just out of breath.”

    Yep, crazy fuckin movie.

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