Released by: MGM
Released on: August 14, 2012.
Director: Michael Winner
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia
Year: 1982 Purchase From Amazon
After the raving success of Charles Bronson's 1974 smash hit Death Wish (which supposedly reduced the crime rate slightly in New York City while it was playing!) it seemed inevitable that there would be a sequel. However, it took the producers awhile to get Bronson to agree to it so it wasn't until eight years later, in 1982, that the second film in the series eventually materialized.
Bronson had worked with director Michael Winner a few times before, not only in the original Death Wish but also on Chato's Land, The Stone Killer, and The Mechanic - all of which had done solid box office. But this time the usual violence which Bronson's films were becoming known for was pushed quite a bit further, and the filmmakers had to severely cut the rape scene featured so prominently in the film lest the MPAA slap it with a dreaded X rating.
Death Wish II picks up shortly after the first film in the series ends, with Paul Kersey (Bronson) now living in Los Angeles trying to rebuild his life with his daughter Carol, who still suffers from mental trauma over the death of her mother. One day Kersey and his new girlfriend Geri (Bronson's real life wife, Jill Ireland) take Carol out for some fun and Kersey ends up getting mugged by a gang of punks. He fights back but ultimately they escape. Unfortunately for Kersey though, they know who he is and find out where he lives.
In order to get back at Kersey for foiling their mugging attempt, the gang breaks into his home and brutally rapes his maid, Rosario, then abducts his daughter and brutally rapes her which ultimately causes her to commit suicide. When Kersey learns this, he finds that old habits die hard and he once again takes justice into his own hands, heading out on a one man mission of vengeance to do onto those responsible what has been done to him.
Bronson once again shines as Kersey, putting in an intense performance as the stone faced vigilante, uttering one liners ('Do you believe in Jesus? Now you get to meet him!') before shooting those he would do away with. He's quite believable not only because of his outer tough guy persona but also because with merely a simple look he's able to also portray a great sense of sadness and loss, putting his disheveled and weathered facial features to good use in this role. Despite the sad puppy appearance he’s got going on in the film, however, the movie is not wanting for action or violence. The body count mounts fairly quickly and although he may be starting to show his age at this point in the game, he’s still quick on the draw and merciless in his style.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Jill Ireland is mediocre as the love interest, the norm for most of the films that she made with her husband, and most of the cast who play the punks are a little too hammy for their own good (keep your eyes open for a young Laurence Fishburne as one of the rapist punks!). Vincent Gardenia is enjoyable reprising his role from the first movie as New York City detective Frank Ochoa, sent in to help the LAPD when they find out that circumstances surrounding the recent vigilante activity closely resemble those that occurred in NYC a few years back.
The whole thing is set to a swanky, sleazy sounding rock instrumental score by Led Zeppelin guitar virtuoso Jimmy Page which complements the movie perfectly and gives a bit of an edge to the film that it wouldn't have had with a different score.
MGM's Blu-ray release of Death Wish II mirrors the DVD in that it is the R rated cut of the film and is not the uncut version that has recently been released outside of North America and which has played on the MGM HD Channel. Most of the edits occur during the home invasion scene during the rape of the maid (most of the violence is missing from this scene as is some of the more graphic sex), and then later during the rape of Kersey's daughter (which has also been heavily cut). Additionally, when she jumps to her death, the clip where she is impaled on the fence and then spits out blood is missing. Despite these omissions, the film is still pretty strong stuff and it still packs a pretty heavy punch – but as to why MGM continues to release this particular film in this particular cut for the North American home video market is puzzling indeed.
MGM presents Death Wish II on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 that, generally, looks pretty good. Detail is much improved over the DVD release from a few years ago (which was full frame) and color reproduction feels more natural here even if some scenes look a little flat in that department. The film is as grainy as you’d want it to be but not to the point of detriment and aside from a few tiny white specks here and there, you won’t find much in the way of actual print damage to complain about. Black levels are okay but not reference quality while skin tones look nice and natural, there’s no evidence of any noise reduction having been applied here. If you’ve seen any of the other recent MGM catalogue titles on Blu-ray over the last year or so you’ll know what to expect – a solid film like transfer that hasn’t been given a massive restoration but which still looks quite good and offers a nice upgrade over its standard definition counterpart.
The English DTS-HD Mono track on this disc is also fine. Jimmy Page’s score sounds good, the dialogue is easy to understand the levels are properly balanced. There are no issues with hiss or distortion and everything comes through cleanly and clearly. As this is an older mono mix you obviously can’t really expect much in the way of channel separation or fancy surround action but for what it is, this older single channel tracks sounds just fine. Optional Dolby Digital Mono options are provided in French and Spanish with removable subtitles provided in English SDH and Spanish.
Extras? Not much… we get a pop-up menu that offers chapter selection, subtitle and audio set up, and the film’s theatrical trailer. When you put the disc in, after the standard warnings the movie starts right away, you won’t see the menu unless you hit the menu button on your remote.
The Final Word:
Why exactly MGM chose to release the cut version of this movie is anyone’s guess, but the fact remains that the movie is noticeably trimmed and that’s already pissed off a lot of people. Whether or not that’s a deal breaker or not is obviously up to the individual but as to the quality of the disc, aside from the fact that it’s only got a trailer on it, the transfer is strong and the audio problem free. This is a definite visual upgrade from the DVD release, there’s no question about it – but it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend something when you know it’s cut…
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!