Rewind...
Rewind...

Death Wish II

AKA:
 
 
After the traumatic events of the first Death Wish film, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) has relocated to LA and shacked up with radio presenter Geri Nicholls (Bronson’s real-life wife, Jill Ireland). He’s still working as an architect, by the way.

The film starts with Geri interviewing various people on the radio. The Mayor says that the amount of violence in LA is like ‘a war’, which tells us that we’re not going to have a nice fluffy film-viewing experience ahead of us. Although to be fair, with a title like Death Wish II the film wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, right? Right. Anyway, Paul and Geri go to visit Paul’s daughter (who you may remember from the original Death Wish, and who is played this time round by the improbably named Robin Sherwood). She’s been in a mental hospital for the time between sequels after the attack on her that took place in Death Wish 1.

Paul takes them to the fair, where it has been pointed out on the 'imdb' that he is the only man in the world who can be mugged while queuing for an ice cream. He chases after the muggers, catches one, Jiver (played by Stuart K. Robinson) and – after realising that he isn’t the one with his wallet – gives him a bit of a going over (only a bit, mind you) and then wanders back to Geri and his daughter, telling them that he’s ‘forgotten’ his wallet.

Paul and his daughter spend the day together on a boat (whose boat we are never told, although the owner has a speaking part), but meanwhile the muggers have found Kersey’s house from his address in the wallet. They break into the house and, in one of cinema’s most sickening sequences, rape Paul’s housekeeper Rosaria (Silvana Gallardo).

N.B. This sequence was subject to VERY heavy editing in most prints, especially in the UK. Out-takes were used instead of the scenes depicting the rape to make the cuts and resulting time differences less obvious, but it’s still pretty horrible.

Anyway, Paul and his daughter return to find the house broken into and the gang waiting for him. They give him a bit of a kicking, kill Rosaria when she tries to phone the police, then take the daughter because – as gang member ‘Nirvana’ (Thomas Duffy) says (twice, as if he was proud of learning a line in a major motion picture such as this) – “She’s seen us, she can finger us all!”

In another of cinema’s most sickening sequences, the gang then take it in turns to also rape the daughter, who is portrayed as being almost oblivious to it all (due to the trauma suffered in the first Death Wish film). Then she tries to run away, but obviously won’t make it so she decides to throw herself out of a second (or third, I can’t remember) floor window. She lands on some pointy railings, is impaled on impact and spits blood onto the leering camera.

If you haven’t felt nauseous yet then you’ll probably enjoy this film. Or, at least, you'll be able to watch it without turning it off in disgust.

Anyway, after the subtleties of the first 20 minutes, Paul ends up refusing to tell the police who it was that attacked him, raped his housekeeper and daughter and stole his wallet, and ultimately prevented him buying ice-cream, and decides to take the law into his own hands. Which probably doesn’t come as a shock to anyone in the audience. After a brief log-chopping sequence, he rents an apartment in seedy downtown LA, and takes it upon himself to stalk and murder the gang members (which include a very young Laurence Fishburne).
Aside from being all black or long-haired, thus exposing the film-makers' ideas of just who the trouble-makers are in our society, the gang spend their time selling drugs, harassing bus-users, dancing, rather unfortunately, in the style of a certain gay-orientated band from the 1970s, around a ghetto blaster in an abandoned park and buying heavy artillery for reasons unknown.

Paul has to juggle his need for violent revenge with his burgeoning relationship with Geri, and trying to keep the former secret from the latter.

Along the way, we come across one of the greatest kiss-off lines in the history of, well... the Death Wish series I suppose. Bronson corners one of the punks from the gang in an abandoned, rat-infested and Coke-can-booby-trapped cellar. He aims his guns, pauses and notices that the punk is wearing a prominent crucifix. He asks “Do you believe in Jesus?” The punk nods, scared, hoping that somehow this may stop Kersey killing him. “Yes, I do,” he replies. “You’re gonna meet him,” says Kersey, and shoots him. Three times, twice after he was quite obviously dead, just to drive the point home.

We also re-encounter Detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia), who you may remember from the first Death Wish film. He still has a cold, which must be some sort of record bearing in mind the amount of time between the two films. He still has a rather unorthodox approach to police work, but has a fine death-bed line (well, actually, a fine 'lying on the floor inbetween a couple of trees with a big hole in him line', but let's not be picky) - "Get the m-----f-----s for me!"

After a cameo from John Carpenter regular Charles Cyphers, it all ends shockingly (hee hee) and sets up Death Wish 3 nicely.

If you’re watching the edited version, then it’s an enjoyable enough piece of 80s cheese after all this has happened, even though these events are pretty heavily cut. If you watch the unedited version (which is difficult, due to understandable censorship cuts made in almost every international and US print), it’s a different story. Read on...

Verdict?

This is probably the Death Wish instalment that divides fans and audiences the most, it’s entertaining for most of its running time after the first twenty minutes, the section with the horrendous misogyny. After cutting, the early scenes are bad enough, but why they had to include such gruesome and disturbing detail in the first place is baffling.

The overall tone of the film is grubby – the surroundings are so awful it makes you want to scrub your eyeballs with soap. But I suppose that was the intention. It seems to want to be an LA version of Taxi Driver, and although I saw them both within a short space of time (talk about one extreme to the other!) there are several intended similarities (on Michael Winner’s behalf, I hasten to add). The realism of the pimp shaking the prostitute in the foreground of the first street-walking scene was my favourite stylistic touch.

Michael Winner’s direction is interesting, but the editing of the film does him no favours. He may have edited it himself, but the imdb credits the editor as one 'Julian Semilian', who looks like a real person rather than one of Winner's pseudonyms (i.e. Arnold Crust). There are several odd cuts that serve to disorientate rather than entertain, and although the film has some sequences that are very effective the overall impression is of confusion.

Charles Bronson here takes a step down from the excellent performance in Death Wish 1 and turns to autopilot. Can we tell what’s going on in his mind? No, but we don’t really need to. He wanders around, squinting at people, and occasionally shoots them. This is all he needs to do – after all, this isn’t a Steinbeck adaptation.

Judging by the amount of ham in his performance, Vincent Gardenia, as Frank Ochoa, is confused as to whether he is playing a detective or a pig. (Insert joke here.)

Jill Ireland is pretty good though – luckily, she hasn’t got any screaming to do as she is the only female member of the cast not to be raped or attacked or threatened or beaten. In fact, she may be the only female member of the cast in the entire Death Wish series who isn’t raped or attacked or threatened or beaten. This is something to be proud of. (Tragically, Ms. Ireland – or should I say Mrs. Bronson, as her and Charles were married – died of cancer in the 1980s.)

Larry Fishburne makes an early appearance (obviously short of cash after Apocalypse Now), and ends up getting shot in the face while hiding behind a ghetto blaster (?). Still, a better performance from him than Jeff Goldblum in Death Wish 1. Or, for that matter, Alex Winter in Death Wish 3. What is it with the celebrity cameos in the first three Death Wish films?

Anyway, what you think of this film is entirely down to what you make of the first 20 minutes. It’s a rough ride – those of a squeamish or sensitive disposition (or even those that want entertaining rather than bludgeoning) should skip to the much funnier Death Wish 3. If you catch it on terrestrial TV then it's got most of the nasty stuff missing.

As a youngster watching 18-rated films when I wasn’t old enough to do so, or to understand (or even look for) the subtext of the film, this was great. As an adult, I think its morals and stereotypes are pretty objectionable.

But depending what version you see, it can be pretty entertaining in a don't-take-it-seriously kind of way. There is an alarming (but undeniable) enjoyment in watching such horrible baddies get their 'come-uppance', which is why this won't get NO STARS from me. I like brainless action films. There is mindless fun to be had watching people get blown away in interesting ways. After all, this IS only a film. It's not a documentary.

But there is one thing that troubles me - the way in which the film is set up (the crimes that the gang commit are so horrendous that we are FORCED into wanting them to die) is dubious to say the least. But what do I know?

Notice any mistakes? Review

Strengths: Can be an enjoyably trashy film with a grimy feel. Good score, and (unintentionally) funny in certain sequences.

Weaknesses? Some appalling misogyny, and some very uncomfortable scenes. Bloody violence, graphic brutality.

Our rating: 7.5 out of 10


Review Written by Jimmy Green:  Contact  |  More Reviews by Jimmy Green
Death Wish II