Friday, August 11, 2017

DEATH WISH II (1982)/DEATH WISH III (1985) (Umbrella Blu-ray Review)

A Cannon Classics Double Feature 

Label: Umbrella Entertainment

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: R/18+
Duration: 91 Minutes/92 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Michael Winner 
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Laurence Fishburne, Vincent Gardenia, Martin Balsam, E. Lamont Johnson, Silvana Gallardo,Kevyn Major Howard, Thomas E. Duffy, Stuart K. Robinson, Robin Sherwood

DEATH WISH II (1982) (92 min) 

Eight years after the original Death Wish (1974) Charles Bronson (The White Buffalo) returned to the role of NYC vigilante Paul Kersey, and as you might expect, producers Golan and Globus along with director Michael Winner (The Mechanic), gave the film a trashy 80s sheen, making it a right slice of 80s era Cannon-fodder, turning the sequel to the vigilante classic into an over-the-top slice of violence and sleaze, amping up the misogyny to the nth degree and laying on the violence with a thick and bloody brush. 

The film picks up with Kersey (Bronson) having relocated from NYC to to sunny Los Angeles after the event of the first film, beginning life anew with his daughter Carol (Robin Sherwood, Tourist Trap) who is now confined to a mental institution following the traumatic events of the first movie, she having watched her mother killed and then raped by her killers scarred her deeply. Paul is still working as an architect, he has a new girlfriend named Jeri, played by his real wife Jill Ireland, who is a radio news reporter. Together they attend a street fair along with his fragile-minded daughter, who they've checked out of the asylum for a day of fun. 

While waiting in line to buy some ice cream Paul is targeted by a group of punks who lift his wallet, he chases them down and beats a thug named Jiver (Stuart K. Robinson, Better Off Dead) pretty badly, but ends up letting him go when it turns out he doesn't have the wallet. However, the other thugs now have his wallet with his home address and they head to his home for some sweet revenge. There they encounter his housekeeper Rosario (Silvana Gallardo) home alone, they assault and rape her, and as this is the unrated director's cut of the film it goes on for a bit, it's vile, humiliating and overstays it's welcome by a few minutes, managing to get pretty sleazy, with the men squealing with delight as they run a train on the helpless woman, the assault ends with her getting a crowbar to the skull, killing her. 

Paul arrives home later that night with his daughter and walks into the horrific scene, he's attacked by the thugs who've been waiting for him, he's knocked unconscious and the thugs make off with his daughter, taking her back to their lair where they rape her. The scene is weird, if it had different music the sex would almost seem consensual, that Winner was a creep, but she fights back and runs away, leaping out a window only to be impaled on a spiked iron fence, dying immediately. 

Of course her death inspires the grieving, but always stone-faced, Kersey to go resort to his vigilante ways, going after the gang with a vengeance, taking out the cartoonish gang in a series of bloody and violent vignettes, complete with the requisite one-liners that Bronson delivers with cold menace, my favorite being when he catches up the thug named Stomper (Kevyn Major Howard, Full Metal Jacket), holding him at gunpoint Kersey aks "Do you believe in Jesus?", responding that he does, Kersey says "Well then, you're going to be with him." before blasting him. One of the gang members named Nirvana (Thomas F. Duffy, Super 8)is later apprehended while high on PCP, found unfit to go to jail they send him to the asylum, Kersey disguises himself as a doc and tracks Nirvana down at the asylum where he has his vengeance, electrocuting the killer with the implicit help of an orderly, played by Charles Cyphers (Assault on Precinct 13). 

The movie is a fairly straight-forward rehash of the original film and as such is predictable and none too enthralling, just amped up with violence and more skin-crawling rape, but if you're a fan of badass Bronson and love cheap, exploitative violence there's plenty here to enjoy, also be on the lookout for a very young Laurence Fishburne (Event Horizon) as one of the gang members named Cutter, wearing pink new wave glasses, who gets shot in the face right through his 80s boom box. Horror fans will also get a hoot spotting Anthony Franciosa of Argento's Tenebre (1982) in the film as the L.A. police commisioner! 

As this is the unrated director's cut it runs about a few minutes longer than the U.S. R-rated theatrical cut, with some extended rape scenes, which don't amount to much in the grand scheme of things but it's here for your pervy eyes to view in all its trashy glory. Also noteworthy is a screaming guitar and synth driven score from Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page - it's not his best work but it's just fine for this slice of street-cleaning trash.    

DEATH WISH III (1985) (91 min) 

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) arrives back in New York City to visit an old Korean war buddy named Charlie (Francis Drake), only to find his friend has just been attacked by some neighborhood punks, his friend dies in front of his very eyes, which furthers my belief that Paul Kersey is perhaps one of the most cursed men in all of cinema, to just know his name seems to take years off your life expectancy! Once more the stone-faced avenger must face off against a gang of ridiculous looking punkers, but not before he is detained after Charlie's death by the cops, where the police chief Richard Shriker (Ed Lauter, Cujo) recognizes him as the vigilante from the first film, only to release him back into the wilds of the Bronx, with the edict that he works for him, hoping to get an assist from the vigilante to clean-up the violent streets of the Bronx.  

Paul moves into Charlie's apartment and helps the immigrant and senior citizen who live in the slum fight against the horde of violent criminals that infest the neighborhood like cockroaches.  He is befriended by WWII vet Bennet Cross (Martin Balsam, Psycho), and there's also a doomed love interest, a public defender named Kathryn Davis (Deborah Raffin, The Sentinel) who winds up dying in a fiery car explosion, further fueling Kersey's desire for vengeance. 

This one takes up the cartoonish violence a notch while toning down the rape just a tad, but it's a Michael winner film so yeah there's a rape. The gang is lead by ginger nut job Manny (Gavin O'Herlihy, The Descent: Part 2) who proves to be the worst of the scumbags, and he gets an appropriately explosive and utterly overkill demise in the film, the final thirty-minutes of this one is an all-out war zone with the gangs going up against the well-armed citizens of the neighborhood, it's hard not to love it, even though it is nutso.  

By this point in his career Bronson was waning in enthusiasm and his star had fallen quite a bit, hence the work with Cannon Films, and he seems more detached than the first sequel, the driving force of the film seems to be his increasingly cartoonish arsenal, with a new weaponry like an enormous .475 Wildey Magnum hand cannon, a Browning M1919 .30-caliber machine gun and a rocket launcher which conveniently arrives just in the nick of time through mail-order! Super silly stuff, but if you're a fan of badass Bronson and cartoonish urban vigilantism there's plenty of fun to be had with Death wish III. 

Audio/Video: Both films arrive on Blu-ray from Australia's Umbrella Entertainment with 1080p HD presentations framed in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1). These are solid looking HD transfers with excellent color reproduction and skin tones, the grain can be a bit chunky on Death Wish 2 at times but overall these are pleasing, they're not reference quality, but they're pleasing and a nice upgrade from my DVD versions.  Both film share space on a region-free BD50 disc along with a host of extras, plus a bonus DVD with three versions of Death wish 2; the theatrical cut in anamorphic widescreen and the TV cut and the Greek VHS version, both in poor VHS quality full frame presentations. Audio is advertised as DTS-HD MA Mono but we only get a lossy Dolby Digital mono 2.0 track for both films, they're clean and well-mixed, but a lossless option would have been nice, optional English subtitles are provided.  

As for the extras we get quite a few beginning with as assortment of trailers and TV spots for each film, a nearly hour-long archival making-of featurette with behind the scenes footage of Death Wish 3, Runaway Train and House, there are a lot of cool behind-the-scenes stuff and interviews, narrated by actor Katt Williams (House, Carrie), it's a nice Cannon Films focused extra. 

There are also a whopping 100 minutes of extended interviews from Mark Hartley's Cannon doc Electric Boogaloo with actors Alex Winter, Robin Sherwood, screenwriter David Engelbach, and Todd Roberts, son of producer Bobby Roberts. The Winters interview is particularly fun and scathing, calling the film a "dog pile of shit", how he got out of filming a rape scene, pointing out what an unlikable guy Winner was, and commenting on Bronson and what a class act he was, though clearly just doing the picture for money.  There's also an Easter Egg on the Blu-ray disc, a collection of scenes from the Australian VHS version not found on the theatrical cut of the film, a lot of these are scenes between Kersey and Inspector Richard Shriker (Ed Lauter) at the police station and some extended shootout sequences. Notably, while the rest of the disc seems to be region-free this extras would only play on my region-free player and not on the region-A player. There's also a DVD disc featuring three versions of Death Wish 2, the theatrical cut and the Greek VHS and TV cut of the film, each with additional scenes not in the unrated director's cut. All the versions of Death Wish 2 feature notes by Paul Talbot, author of 'Bronson's Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films', speaking to the various incarnations of the film and what's exclusive or unique about each.

Reversible Artwork

This release comes from Umbrella Entertainment in a thick-style Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, the main option is a new custom artwork from the folks at Umbrella, on the reverse is a wrap featuring the original one-sheets for both films. The Blu-ray disc sports the Death wish 2/Death wish 3 artwork, while the bonus DVD disc features the Death Wish III one-sheet artwork. 

Special Features: 

DISC 1 (Blu-ray) 
- Notes on the uncut version of Death Wish 2 by Paul Talbot, author of 'Bronson's Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films' (Text Only) 
- DEATH WISH 3 (1985) (92 min) HD 
- Death Wish 2 Trailer (2 min) HD 
- Death Wish 2 TV Spot version 1 (28 sec) 
- Death Wish 2 TV Spot Version 2 (23 sec) 
- Death Wish 3 Trailer (2 min) HD 
- Death Wish 3 TV spot (29 sec) 
- Interviews with cast members Alex Winter, Robin Sherwood, screenwriter David Engelbach - and Todd Roberts, son of producer Bobby Roberts. (Extended interviews from Mark Hartley's ELECTRIC BOOGALOO)(100 min) HD 
- ACTION II: Making-of featurette with Behind the Scenes footage of Death Wish 3, Runaway Train and House (52 min) 
- Easter Egg: Death Wish III Extended and Deleted Scenes (6 min) 


- DEATH WISH 2: ORIGINAL THEATRICAL CUT (89 min) (Anamorphic Widescreen) 
-  Notes on the R-Rated version of Death Wish 2 by Paul Talbot, author of 'Bronson's Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films' (Text Only) 
- DEATH WISH 2: TV CUT (94 min) (Full Frame) 
- Notes on the TV cut of Death Wish 2 by Paul Talbot, author of 'Bronson's Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films' (Text Only) 
- DEATH WISH 2: GREEK VHS CUT (95 min) (Full Frame) 
- Notes on the Greek VHS release of Death Wish 2 by Paul Talbot, author of 'Bronson's Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films' (Text Only)

Great to have the unrated version of the these Death Wish sequels on Blu-ray, the U.S. versions have been R-rated threadbare of extras, Umbrella rectify that this fantastic region-free double-feature of 80's badassery, loaded with extras and no less than four versions of the second entry. If you're a fan of the movies this is the one to own.