88 - 95 mins depending on vers
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Death Wish 2 (1982)
4th Apr 11
Warning 1 : If you are in any way related to granite-mushed aging vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) or do a spot of housekeeping at his pad, you should realistically expect to be raped and killed by the time you’ve read the second paragraph of this review. (Regrettably, it’s our third paragraph that contains a full range of hints and tips of how to avoid being raped and killed).
Warning 2 : If you are a “punk” of any description and have recently spotted Michael Winner munching cream horns in his director’s chair, chances are your nostrils will be blown out the back of your head in the next half-hour. Better get in some final rape and pillage before the inevitable!
While the original Death Wish, regardless of how you feel about its “message”, ranks among Michael Winner’s most efficient movies, this contrived, belated sequel reworks that film’s scenario into the format of a heartless 80’s exploitation flick and is tough to defend on any level. Which means it’s pretty much a must see in this overly enlightened PC age.
Welcome to 1982, SleazeVille : glance to your left and you’ll see a bunch of ethnic stereotypes being routinely shady. Coming up on your right is the needless but enthusiastic exposure of boobs (all the female victims in the movie are gratuitously stripped in some way). And straight ahead is Chuck Bronson, who essayed a Normal Guy Turned Mr Vigilante in 1974 but now trudges through the movie very much like a) an actor with a contractual obligation to fulfil and b) a man who just dropped his chips in the gutter right before getting laughed at by some fuck-wit teenager from across the street.
Given the shocking trauma heaped upon his character in this film - on top of what he has already experienced - there’s an astounding lack of emotion on display. This time out, Bronson’s grief is conveyed via shots of the actor looking mildly anguished (more likely the look of a man who senses he may be obligated to commit to Death Wish 3) while Jimmy Page’s score tells us to be sad.
Considering this was a prominent mainstream theatrical release and a star vehicle for one of Hollywood’s popular leading men, the wooden nature of the acting on display is remarkable. Particularly notable is the awkwardness of Bronson and then-wife Jill Ireland (barely convincing as a sentient being) playing an on-screen couple - just be grateful there’s no sex scene, folks. We’d be lying, however, if we said these dopey performances didn’t add to the movie’s peculiar charm.
Even more startling is the extremes to which Death Wish 2 goes with its violence. It’s the most censored of the series by some way : look hard enough and you can find an uncut foreign DVD print that’s several minutes longer than either the truncated BBFC-approved British theatrical version or the heavily edited R-rated cut that played US theatres and was used for recent UK/US disc releases. Hollywood’s latter-day vigilante movies (Death Sentence, Eye For An Eye) are often not short on bloody violence and cruelty, but Winner’s leery staging of part two’s various unpleasantries make it a tougher watch.
At the start of Death Wish II, World’s Unluckiest Architect Bronson is now living in L.A. - so, needless to say, the crime rate is through the roof. If you lived in this version of L.A., you would consider it an exceptionally good day if you got to your bed without having been either arse-raped or generically fucked over with a candle-stick to the face.
Our hero is dating a nice but comically banal radio host (Ireland), the Michael Winner movie equivalent of Anne Diamond. Sadly, the Anne Diamond connection might have you rooting for the muggers after approximately 3 minutes. Bronson’s rape-victim daughter (Robin Sherwood) has what may be 1982’s most patronising movie role : she has learned to smile again but remains child-like and near-mute in outrageously sentimental early scenes. It’s a little like Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” music video but with rape replacing syrupy blindness.
All seems unusually cheery during a nice family day out at the fair that is played so upbeat everybody might as well be wearing T-shirts bearing the legend “Bad Stuff Imminent”. True to form, Bronson gets his wallet stolen by some Generic Early Eighties Creeps. Setting up a home-invasion scenario that’s lazily identical to the first film’s catalytic set piece, said Creeps use the wallet to locate Bronson’s house and break in to horribly assault his Obligatory Foreign Housekeeper (kudos to Silvana Gallardo in what may be the most thankless female role of the series) and kidnap Sherwood.
In contrast to the powerful, brief domestic horror of the previous movie, this sequence lasts a few minutes and, on the Genuinely Unpleasant scale, ranks closer to something like I Spit On Your Grave than what you might expect from a Chuck Bronson movie. Gallardo is stripped and raped by various gang members in different positions before being whacked in the face with a tyre iron while the Creeps cruelly laugh. The subsequent assault on the catatonic Sherwood - heavily cut in most versions - plays alarmingly like a sex scene due to her inability to fight back, coupled with the close-ups of breast groping and (because he doesn’t need to violently force himself on her) the relative “tenderness” of the rapist. Sherwood endures it and, facing the future option of being raped again in part 3, decides to throw herself through a window, winding up impaled on a spiked fence.
The police are as unsympathetic and unhelpful as we expect from this series. The most reassuring phrase in their arsenal is “We do what we can”. Which isn’t very much. Charlie hits the streets in search of Creeps to gun down (Laurence Fishburne among them) and corners them with lines like “Do you believe in Jesus? Well, you’re gonna meet him…”. Anthony Francoisa pops up for one scene as a police commissioner lamenting the public support for the Vigilante. A link is made to the events of 1974 so that Vincent Gardenia, still beset by a cold, can be brought back - his dodgy NYPD superiors want Bronson dead lest his arrest exposes how they let him go.
Gardenia provides this mean-spirited film with its sole moments of humour and humanity, though his subplot is mere padding between mugger-slayings. This film’s unambiguous celebration of Bronson’s actions is reflected by the fact that Gardenia’s dying words, after being gunned down during one of Winner’s western-style shootouts, verbally endorse Mr Vigilante’s ongoing efforts.
Unlike the trim Death Wish and the zesty Death Wish 3, this movie does feel padded and lethargic at times. There’s a fun climactic hospital confrontation with the last of the Creep gang but the script follows a predictable path so that Bronson can walk free as a lone avenger for future adventures. His potential marriage to Ireland is ruined when his alter ego is revealed and Charles Cyphers (Charles Cyphers! The one from John Carpenter movies who isn’t Tom Atkins!) plays the authority figure who gives Chuck the head start he needs to flee a crime scene at the end.
Versions Ironically, the UK and US versions of this are cut, as stated in the review. Look for the Brazilian or Scandinavian editions, or the infamous Greek VHS version, which is apparently an extended workprint. See DVD Compare for more info.