Death Wish 3 (1985)
Michael Winner’s Death Wish (1974) was a gritty urban vigilante tale about how every-man Paul Kersey, took on the rising tide of crime that swept New York at the time. Despite its sensationalist style the film struck a topical nerve upon release and fared well at the box office. Featuring a strong central performance by Charles Bronson, Death Wish improved the standing of both its director and star. Death Wish II (1982) was a far more exploitative sequel, choosing to dwell on the violence rather than ponder the nature of vigilanteism. Its lurid rape scenes remain controversial to this day.
In 1985 Director Michael Winner returned to the franchise for a third outing. This time round any semblance of credibility was abandoned and replaced with mindless, near cartoon style action. The third instalment sees an ageing Bronson eliminating an entire New York street gang with an array of weapons and booby traps. It is by far the least plausible of the series, yet it in some ways the most enjoyable. The film’s modest budget meant that only a minimal amount of footage was shot on location in New York. The majority of the film along with the second unit direction was filmed in the UK around Lambeth and Brixton. Allegedly one tenth of the films entire budget was spent of Charles Bronson’s fee.
I recently revisited Death Wish 3 on Blu-ray and reacquainted myself with this high octane eighties action movie with its stereotypical and stylised street gang. This time round I noticed far more of the footage that was shot in the UK for budgetary reasons. The set designs and props, as well as Mr. Winners love of the zoom lens means that it's quite well disguised most of the time but the British architecture and street layouts betray the change in location. Yet this is just one of the factors that makes this movie so entertaining. Then there's Gavin O'Herlihy's reverse Mohican and early performances by Alex Winter and Marina Sirtis. Death Wish 3 also features a ridiculously high bodycount as well as the amusing plot device of pensioners with stock piles of WWII weapons. Plus it should be remembered that Charles Bronson was 64 at the time. Death Wish 3 is a bit of a dog’s dinner, yet somehow it still has a curious charm about it. It’s a quality that many Cannon movies have for some reason.
The improved picture quality of the Blu-ray release allows for a closer examination of the movie and affords some interesting details. For example, I noticed the following immediately after the Cuban (Ricco Ross) kills a rival gang member for being off his turf. As the crowd of gang members disperses, they can be seen carrying an array of weapons from knives, chains to baseball bats. One enterprising individual stoops and picks up a sink plunger and strides off sporting it in a threatening manner. With such deadly weapons falling into criminals hands, it’s hardly surprising that Mr. Bronson is forced to break out the .30 caliber M1919 Browning machine gun.
It is very easy to look at a movie such as Death Wish 3 with scathing, postmodern sensibilities. Yet to do so is rather foolish, as it misses the whole point of the film, which is to simply entertain. Death Wish 3 is not supposed to be an accurate portrayal of New York street crime in the mid-eighties. Nor is it supposed to be a cerebral critique of the judicial system. Michael Winner simply aimed to create a piece of escapist entertainment with its tongue firmly in its cheek. If the ever increasing bodycount of the films denouement along with the use of deadly sink plungers doesn’t convince you then you’re probably not the films target audience.