• Cannon Classics Double Feature: Death Wish II / Death Wish 3

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: August 29th, 2017.
    Director: Michael Winner
    Cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia, Deborah Raffin, Ed Lauter, Martin Balsam
    Year: 1982/1985
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    The Movies:

    How much Bronson-heavy badassery can you handle? Umbrella Entertainment unleashes Death Wish 2 and Death Wish 3 on a double feature Blu-ray loaded with extras and a pretty great bonus DVD – but more on that in a bit. First, the movies…

    Death Wish II:

    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 that Bronson's films were becoming known for was pushed quite a bit further. For this reason, 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. She still suffers from mental trauma relating to 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. Of course, Kersey ends up getting mugged by a gang of punks. He fights back but ultimately they escape. Unfortunately for Kersey though, they get his wallet and now know who he is and 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. After that, they abduct his daughter and brutally rape 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. It isn’t long before he heads out on a one man mission of vengeance to do onto those responsible for these transgressions what has been done to him.

    Bronson once again shines as Kersey, putting in an intense performance as the stone faced vigilante and uttering one liners ('Do you believe in Jesus? Now you get to meet him!') with impressive conviction 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. Bronson is constantly 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. This was the norm for most of the films that she made with her husband. Most of the cast members that 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. He’s 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. This complements the movie perfectly and gives a bit of an edge to the film that it wouldn't have had with a different score. The music here has actually aged quite nicely and it works very well on its own even when listened to outside the context of the film which it was composed to accompany.

    MGM's original Blu-ray release of Death Wish II mirrored the DVD in that it was the R rated cut of the film and was not the uncut version. Most of the edits to that version occured 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 was also heavily cut). Additionally, when she jumps to her death, the clip where she is impaled on the fence and then spits out blood was missing. Despite these omissions, the film was still pretty strong stuff. A few years later Shout! Factory released in North America the proper unrated version of the movie that reinstated this footage and thankfully that same cut is what has been used for Umbrella’s Blu-ray release.

    Death Wish 3:

    As Michael Winner had directed Charles Bronson in the first two Death Wish films to great success it would go without saying that if Golan Globus, those legendary producers of some of the finest movies of the eighties, could team them up for a third and milk the franchise name for all it was worth they'd make it happen. And so they did just that. Bronson, with his career starting to head downhill at this point, begrudgingly agreed and this would prove to be his last team up with the accomplished English director.

    Death Wish 3 finds Paul Kersey back in New York City, this time to visit his old friend Charlie. But when Kersey arrives at Charlie's apartment he finds his friend laying on the floor dying, the victim of a sadistic gang of hoodlums who rule the area. The police show up shortly after Kersey arrives on the scene. They take him down to the station and lock him up, assuming he had something to do with the murder.

    After kicking the snot out of some of his fellow prisoners, Kersey is taken in to talk to the chief who recognizes him as the vigilante who had been operating in the city years ago. He decides to let him go, no questions asked, and to turn a blind eye to his special brand of justice if Kersey can help clean up the neighborhood. It seems that despite the fact that the police have upped patrols by fifteen percent that crime continues to escalate. The chief figures Kersey can have an impact on the gang that's responsible for the trouble in a way that the police cannot.

    Kersey heads back to the apartment where Charlie was murdered and takes up residence there. He befriends the seniors and immigrants that live in the building and strikes up a romance with the lovely public defense attorney (Deborah Raffin) who follows him around. But when one of Kersey's new friends dies from a brutal rape inflicted on her by the gang - and then his new girlfriend is blown up and killed!! - he takes off the kid gloves. It’s time to start using those guns that he's been building out of mail order parts to get his revenge against the no good punks who have gone way, way too far.

    Despite the fact that the movie is full of technical goof ups (raining outside in one shot, not raining the next shot, visible squibs, technical flaws in regards to the rocket launcher, etc.) Death Wish 3 is still a lot of fun. Cameo appearances by a pre-Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure Alex Winter, a blink and you'll miss it walk on by Barbie Wilde (the female Cenobite Hellraiser II – Hellbound), and a pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation appearance from Marina Sirtis make the movie interesting from a celebrity spotting stand point. Bronson once again does a fine job in the lead here, bringing the same qualities that made him perfect for the part in the first two films to this third entry. Supporting efforts from the likes of Ed Lauter and Martin Balsam certainly don’t hurt things at all. Balsam in particular steals a few scenes once he decides to help Kersey take out the neighborhood trash.

    But really, when it's all boiled down, the real star of the show (aside from Bronson, of course) is the unreal amount of violence that the filmmakers were able to cram into the last half hour of the movie. You’ll literally lose count of all the people who are shot, blown up, stabbed, beaten, pushed off of rooftops and just generally maimed during the film’s finale. The last sequence was so out of control that the film was actually hit with an X rating by the MPAA when it was first subjected to classification (though this was later successfully appealed). The storyline may basically amount to ‘Bronson teams up with other old people to shoot punks’ and not much more than that but when a movie goes as far over the top as this one does, you can’t help but love it.


    Both films are presented on a 50GB Blu-ray disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Both films are framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Death Wish II takes up roughly 14.6GBs of space and Death Wish 3 takes up 21.5GBs of space. Compression artifacts and even occasional macroblocking (see screen cap #13) are not uncommon in the transfer for DWII, but otherwise the transfer is decent in terms of detail and color reproduction. Death Wish 3 looks better, those compression issues aren’t a problem here, and again we get good color and detail. Skin tones look fine, black levels are solid and there’s a reasonable amount of depth to the image.

    Note that although the packaging touts this as Region B encoded, the disc worked fine on my Samsung Region A player indicating that it is in fact a region free release.

    Unfortunately, while the packaging for this release touts DTS-HD tracks, what we actually get on the disc are lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, both in English with optional English subtitles. This is irritating as lossless tracks for both films do exist and were included on the US Blu-ray releases that came out through MGM as well (and in the case of Death Wish 2, also on the Shout! Factory reissue).

    Special features for this release are more than plentiful starting with a fifty-three minute long documentary entitled Action II: The Making Of Death Wish 3, Runaway Train & House. This made for TV feature from 1985, presented in standard definition but looking just fine, offers a rare glimpse behind the scenes of the three films noted and for that reason it’s quite interesting even if it is tape sourced. The fullframe picture is watchable enough, just keep expectations in check. Lots of great footage here not just of the cast and the directors but various other participants like technical advisors, stunt men and quite a bit more. The behind the scenes footage from Death Wish 3 in this piece is worth the price of admission alone!

    Additionally, Umbrella has included an hour and forty minutes of cast and crew interviews taken from the recent Cannon Films documentary Electric Boogaloo. Here we get screenwriter David Engelbach talking for twelve minutes about writing the follow up to the original and the significance of the film’s infamous rape scene. From there, actress Robin Sherwood speaks for twenty-six minutes about her role in the film and her experiences on set during the production. After that, Todd Roberts, the son of Cannon Films’ producer Bobby Roberts speaking for thirty-five minutes about his father’s work producing the first Death Wish film and then, of course, the second film as well. Last but not least we get actor Alex Winters for twenty-seven minutes talking about what it was like working on Death Wish 3.

    Aside from that we get theatrical trailers for both movies, two TV spots for Death Wish 2, a single TV spot for Death Wish 3, menus and chapter selection.

    And then there’s the bonus DVD included inside the case, wherein we get the three alternate versions of Death Wish 2 in standard definition.

    -Death Wish 2 Theatrical Cut: this version runs 88:48 and it represents the R-rated theatrical cut of the film. It’s presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer framed at 1.78.1 and it looks quite good aside from some very obvious compression issues. It contains the cuts mentioned earlier in this review. Audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0 format, no alternate language or subtitles are provided.

    -Death Wish 2 Greek VHS Cut: this version runs 94:33 and it is presented from a seriously ropey looking VHS source which would appear to be the only surviving source for this interesting variant. This version is worth checking out because it is essentially the unrated cut of the movie with some of the additional material from the television cut spliced into it. The 1.33.1 transfer is also heavily compressed and it features burned in Greek subtitles in white overtop of some black borders. Audio chores are again handled by a Dolby Digital 2.0 track.

    -Death Wish 2 Television Cut: this version clocks in at 93:57 and it’s in fairly decent shape looking to have been taken from a good quality analogue master. As it was prepared for television broadcast it’s devoid of any profanity and almost all of the stronger violence has either been heavily edited or completely removed. It does, however, contain some extensions to certain scenes, mostly just additional dialogue, that is exclusive to this cut. Also presented in 1.33.1 this version still shows some compression issues but it is much more watchable than the Greek VHS cut. Again, we get Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

    The Unrated, Theatrical and the much discussed amongst die hard Death Wish fans Greek VHS cut are all also prefaced by Bronson biographer and author Paul Talbot. Unfortunately the commentary track that Talbot recorded for the Shout! Factory release of Death Wish 2 remains exclusive to that release.

    If that weren’t enough, we also get some nice reversible cover art!

    The Final Word:

    It’s a shame that the transfer on Death Wish II isn’t stronger and that there aren’t any lossless audio options provided for either feature as this is otherwise a seriously stacked release. Even with those issues, diehard fans will still want to check this out just for the sheer volume of supplemental material included on the two discs in the set. As to the movies themselves, Death Wish II is a grim, gritty and worthy sequel to the original classic and Death Wish 3 is an over the top masterpiece of eighties action excess!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Thanks for the detailed review, Ian. I'm on the fence with this one as I already possess the Greek cut of DW2 on a VHS-DVD transfer and the lossy audio on this release means that if I bought it, I'd hang on to keep the Shout! BD release of DW2 and the US BD release of DW3; and in fact, those releases, with their lossless audio, would be my 'go to' presentations of the films. So all I'd be buying this for would be the 100 minutes of interviews, really. If the audio on the new Australian double-bill was lossless, I wouldn't have to think twice about getting it.