Wednesday, June 20, 2018

CANNON CLASSICS DOUBLE FEATURE: DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN (1987) & DEATH WISH 5: THE FACE OF DEATH (1994) (Umbrella Blu-ray Review)

CANNON CLASSICS DOUBLE FEATURE:
 DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN (1987)/ 
DEATH WISH 5: THE FACE OF DEATH (1994)  

Label: Umbrella Entertainment

Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: R
Duration: 100 Minutes/95 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono, English DTS-HD MA Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Director: J. Lee Thompson / Allan A. Goldstein
Cast: Charles Bronson, Dana Barton, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Lesley-Anne Down, Michael Parks, Chuck Shamata, Saul Rubinek 


DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN (1987)(100 min) 
Now living in Los Angeles after the New York set third film, the infamous vigilante Paul Kersey (Bronson, Hard Times) is once again working as an architect, having settled down with a newfound love interest, TV report Kay Sheldon (Kay Lenz, House), but when her teenage daughter Erica (Dana Barron, the original Audrey from National Lampoon's Vacation!) suddenly dies of a crack overdose Paul returns to his perennial vigilante lifestyle, seeking out the dealer who dealt her the toxic drugs, and then aligning himself with mysterious newspaper magnate Nathan White (John P. Ryan, It's Alive) in an effort to turn rival drug pushers against each other to rid the city of crack cocaine.


Now in his late-sixties Bronson was pretty tired looking at this point, but he returned for this J. Lee Thompson (Happy Birthday To Me) directed sequel, cashing a probably large-sized payout for the role and offering his usual tough-guy persona. The action in this one is a bit on the anemic side when compared to previous entries but it still manages to turn a smile with Bronson's character  dispatches bad guys in a series of fun and somewhat corny ways. The film opens with a strange parking garage sequence wherein a woman is being stalked by three stocking-masked thugs who look to be about to rape her when they're interrupted by Bronson, who dispatches of them in the usual point a gun in their direction and pull the trigger sort of way. Without Michael Winner directing this sequel gone is the formerly prerequisite misogynist rape scene the series is known for, making this a bit less seedier than previous entries, but what it lacks in sex-crimes it makes up for in ridiculous action set-pieces. One of my favorite scenes has Bronson going undercover as a wine rep, infiltrating a mobbed-up diner and offering a table of gangsters (including an early appearance from Danny Trejo, Machete) a bottle of explosive wine, the superimposed fiery explosion is so damn cheap looking, but the split-second we see of a mannequin used in the explosion alone is worth the price of admission for me, this is the sort of bad movie stuff that makes bad movies fun.  


The film is a definite drop down in quality for the series, though it is a better looking production than the third entry thanks to the capable direction of J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear), and I love John P. Ryan here in a sinister dual-role, he goes right off the rails towards the end, chewing up scenery in a roller rink with an explosive finale, also featuring another cheap-ass mannequin that goes up in flames. Death Wish 4 is pretty cheesy stuff but this is still tasty cheese, the mold hasn't fully engulfed the 80's action flick and Bronson still caries himself well-enough to make this an entertaining Death Wish film.  



DEATH WISH 5: THE FACE OF DEATH (1994)(95 min)
Having had his revenge against the drug dealers who killed his girlfriend's daughter in L.A. in the last film we catch up to Paul Kersey (Bronson) a few years later, returning to where it all began, New York City. Now in his seventies the vigilante is inexplicably living in the witness protection program and is a professor of architecture at a local university. Again we have a doomed love interest by way of the much younger fashion designer Olivia (Lesley-Anne Down, From Beyond the Grave), and her young daughter Chelsea (Erica Lancaster). Unfortunately for everyone Olivia's ex is vicious gangster Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks, Tusk) who is using her fashion house to launder dirty money, when she tries to break free of his tyrannical influence the Irish thug sends cross-dressing hit-man Freddie "Flakes" Garrity (Robert Joy, Land of the Dead) to disfigure her as a warning, later going so far as to kill her, continuing a streak of doomed women that Kersey has left in his wake going all the way back to the original film.  


When the mobster gains custody of his estranged daughter following the death of his ex Kersey begins to hunt down O'Shea and his henchmen, with the violence in this one getting even sillier and more cartoonish than the last with Kersey taking out the mobster and his henchmen via a cornucopia of oddball ways, including a cyanide-laced cannoli, an R/C controlled soccer-ball bomb and an ill-advisedly placed vat of acid!


Death Wish 5: The Face of Death (1994) is more of the same for the franchise, but even cheaper than the last. Bronson is considerably older than even the last film, so don't expect a lot from him, thankfully we again have a notable villain by way of Michael Parks (From Dusk Till Dawn), he's venomous fun as the over-the-top Irish mobster, and while he doesn't completely redeem this mostly flat action-less film I think if you made it through the first four films I don't expect you'll walk away from this one too disappointed. 


Audio/Video: Death Wish 4 and 5 arrives on single-disc Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment in 1080p HD, framed in 1.85:1 widescreen and sourced from a good looking element, whatever that may be. Grain is decently managed, with darker scenes showing more visible grain. There doesn't look to be any egregious DNR applied to it, looking very filmic and natural. Colors are also good, skin tones look natural and the black levels are adequate, I wouldn't say inky through and through, but looking alright overall. Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA Mono on the first film and stereo for the second with optional English subtitles, no issues with hiss or distortion, well-balanced with score and dialogue coming through without issue. 

Extras are not quite as plentiful as the Umbrella release for Death wish II (1982)/Death Wish III (1985) but are decent, we get two audio commentaries from Film Historian and Bronson expert Paul Talbot - this guy knows his stuff and goes in-depth with a wealth of trivia, anecdotes, and behind the scenes info about each film, getting into the nitty gritty, even minutia like how Bronson played cards with the women in the film but no men were allowed to join in, he even details the various weapons used in the film, including which other film they were used in during that time period. The rest of the extras are relegated to trailers, tv spots, promos and an image gallery with posters, lobby cards, press releases, and various home video releases. 


Special Features: 

- Audio Commentaries  for both film by Film Historian Paul Talbot, Author of Bronson's Loose!
- Death Wish 4 Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Death Wish 5 Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Death wish 4 TV Spot (30 sec) 
- Death wish 4 Broadcast Promo Spot (30 sec) 
- Death Wish 4 VHS Preview (20 sec) 
- Death Wish 5 VHS Preview (1 min) 
- Image Gallery (63 Images) 


Death Wish 4 and 5 are both cheesy fun if you're in the right frame of mind, Bronson is not in top-form here but if you're a fan of the series (or of Bronson) it's a fun re-visit on Blu-ray. Notably this double-feature marks the HD debut of the fifth film, and Umbrella's Blu-ray looks and sounds very good with two great audio commentaries from a serious Bronson fanatic, both of which I would argue are nearly as entertaining as the films themselves.  

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