DEATH WISH II (1982) & DEATH WISH 3 (1986)

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Michael Winner’s Death Wish movies have always been contentious, much like most of the late director’s films. The second instalment, made eight years after the blockbusting first, was the most controversial, with cuts demanded to the brutal gang rape scene almost everywhere. The fully uncut version is now available on Blu-ray from Australian company Umbrella, alongside Winner’s vigilante swan song Death Wish 3.

Following his brush with vigilantism in New York, architect Paul Kersey (Bronson) has moved to LA and attempting to live a normal life. His daughter Carol (Robin Sherwood) is still traumatised from the attack that caused the death of her mother and has stopped speaking. While taking her out, Kersey is mugged by a group of thugs. Using his driving licence, they head to his home only to find his housekeeper preparing his evening meal. While they are waiting for him to return, they sickeningly rape and kill her, then kidnap his daughter when they’ve knocked him unconscious. Carol attempts to escape the same ordeal but is impaled on some railings and dies. So Kersey begins avenging once more. 
In Death Wish 3, Kersey returns to New York, only this time to the toughest neighbourhood where an old friend has asked for help. He gets there just as he has been beaten to death by the local gang and his natural instinct kicks in. This time, however, he’s got the backing of both the local chief of police and the aging residents.

As troubling as the subject matter is, and as horrendously disturbing the attack sequence is, there’s a lot to enjoy in Winner’s Death Wish movies. The second film reprises the plot of the first sure enough, but with the added attraction of a marvellous synth score from none other than former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page (some of which is repeated in the third movie even tough Page had nothing to do with it). Seeing the rape scene in its full uncut glory is uncomfortable but it also underlines just how reprehensible these thugs are (one of whom is a young Laurence Fishburne). What’s easy to forget is just how much of a charismatic lead Bronson was; no matter how extreme his measures are, we’re always rooting for him. Particularly in the third film, where the believability factor is at its lowest. Again, the thugs are thoroughly despicable, society has broken down so much at this point in the saga that rather than 1986, you’ll be convinced it’s 2017.

Despite the controversial elements, the films are very enjoyable and, to use a well-worn cliché, they don’t make them like this anymore - which makes the upcoming Bruce Willis-starring remake of the original film all the more redundant.

The HD transfer is adequate with some grain and vivid colours (particularly in Death Wish 3), but nothing to celebrate. The special features on the Blu-ray are mostly transferred from sub-par VHS by the looks of things so are interesting curios but nothing of any archival value. There are a few extended interview outtakes from the Cannon documentary Electric Boogaloo, though. A DVD is provided, too, which contains not one but three different edits of Death Wish II. The R-rated cut is the same quality as previously released, but the TV version and Greek VHS cut (which was the most complete release prior to this Blu-ray) are pretty substandard, particularly the latter. We can imagine they’ll only be watched as a curio or for those who long for the days of pirate copies of uncut movies on VHS.

DEATH WISH II (1982) & DEATH WISH 3 (1986) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL WINNER / SCREENPLAY: DAVID ENGELBACH, DON JAKOBY / STARRING: CHARLES BRONSON, JILL IRELAND, VINCENT GARDENIA, MARTIN BALSAM / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW


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