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Death Wish II (1982)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DEATH WISH II (1982)

Starring: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia, Robin Sherwood, Thomas Duffy

Written By: David Engelbach Directed By: Michael Winner

The Short Version

Eight years and a new set of producers later, Paul Kersey is back to clean up the streets.

Those streets are dirtier and uglier.

Even in the cut version, the assault scenes really go too far.

There is an actual story about consequences hidden in the full on vengeance play here, but…

It’s hard to call Death Wish II entertaining, and of the entire series, it’s the easiest chapter to skip.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

LIMBURGER.

There’s some good in there, but oh, that harsh smell.


Pairs Well With...

SCHLITZ MALT LIQUOR.

“Let’s get smashed!”

Yeah.  Hard and ugly.

“You believe in Jesus?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, you’re gonna meet him.”


There.  Tack on a gunshot for punctuation, and you’ve replicated the cheesy and kinda badass exchange that marks the single best reason to watch Death Wish II.  Now, if you happen to never catch the movie for the rest of your life, you’ve got nothing to regret missing.

I love Charles Bronson flicks, and I think the Paul Kersey character is interesting, but sometimes, there are limits, and those limits can come down to just a few scenes.  If you know anything about this series, I bet you can already guess which scenes they are, too.

In the real world, eight years passed between the time of Death Wish and Death Wish II.  According to the dialogue, it’s been four.  Either way, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson, The Mechanic) now lives in Los Angeles, where he continues to find success as an architect.  His daughter, Carol (Robin Sherwood, Blow Out), is there, too, slowly recovering from the traumatic events of the first film under constant medical supervision.  She’s still not up to talking, but she can spend some days out with her father and his ladyfriend, ace reporter Geri Nichols (Jill Ireland, Assassination).

While the trio is enjoying one of those afternoons, Kersey’s wallet is stolen by a gang of thugs.  He tries and fails to get it back, but he does give one of the creeps a humiliating beating; a beating for which the creep wants some payback.  Guided by the address on Kersey’s stolen driver’s license, the creep and his crew decide to pay a visit to the house, where they gang rape and then murder Kersey’s housekeeper (Silvana Gallardo, Windwalker) to pass the time.  When Kersey comes home, they knock him out, leave him for dead, and kidnap his daughter, who throws herself out a window after she gets through being gang raped.

For Kersey, there’s only one way to get justice, and this time, not just any street thugs will do.  This time, he’s going to track down and kill every one of the creeps directly responsible for the deaths of his daughter and housekeeper.  And he’s not going to let any cops stand in his way…

Death Wish II walks that fine line between “sequel” and “harsh remake” and ends up going with “harsh sequel.”  The basic frame is the same as it was the first time around: the white collar architect’s family is attacked in the worst way possible, and he decides to take the law into his own hands by attacking criminals directly, since the police seem powerless to do so.  But while the original Death Wish took a deep, thoughtful approach that showed its lead character wrestling with inner turmoil, this film is far more visceral and asks no questions along the way.  In Death Wish II, there is no turmoil: just decisively cold eyes full of hate and murder.  And because there is apparently no satisfaction in never finding the thugs who did the initial crime (as was the case before), this time around, Kersey knows exactly who did it, and he deliberately stalks those particular men.  The barely-present cops may call it vigilantism, but it’s not; this is revenge killing, pure and simple.

It’s striking change, bringing the concept of Paul Kersey into the Reagan years.  The fact of violence carries no shock; it’s considered a matter of course in this new world of the 80s, and the emphasis is not on the psychology of it, but rather, the blood and guts of it.  It’s a formula that many a Cannon/Golan-Globus Production would ride to entertaining success throughout the decade, but this film still carries the baggage and the circumstance of its predecessor.  Unlike over the top fare such as Cobra, Death Wish II doesn’t limit itself to taking out the murderous bad guys in spectacular fashion.  For this film, at least, Kersey still needs something deeply personal to set him off, and the depiction of that makes all the difference.

That, of course, is rape.  It’s a crime that was depicted once in the first film, with the very definite point of demonstrating the horror of the crime and the far-reaching, devastating effects on victims and victims’ loved ones, and it didn’t stay on screen one second longer than needed to make that point.  In Death Wish II, however, all bets are off.  The initial gang rape of the housekeeper is horrifying, all right, but this time, the camera treats it like an action sequence, and even in the “cut” version of the film, it goes on for a disturbingly long time, with encores, and with the ultimate death throes of the housekeeper coming across as a macabre excuse for a nude shot.  The second rape – this time of a catatonic victim – is even more disturbing, and even though the camera doesn’t quite treat it as an action sequence, the direction is still shockingly blasé, and when the film’s third rape gets interrupted, it’s treated like nothing more than a flagrant “boob shot.”  (All of this is even more flagrant in the “uncut” version, of course.)  If all of this doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth… frankly, I don’t want to know about it.  For me, it does the movie in as any type of “entertaining,” and Bronson flick fan though I am, I seriously doubt that I will seek this one out again.

Beyond those all-important scenes, Death Wish II is a dark, mediocre vengeance actioner at best.  Charles Bronson does his thing, of course, but his read of this take on Paul Kersey has almost zombie-like overtones.  The subplot that brings the New York cop from the first flick into this one is just plain silly and needlessly distracting.  The love interest subplot is just that, a plot device, removing any of the normal electric advantage of pairing Bronson with his real life wife, Jill Ireland.  (Though it is worth noting that of all of Bronson’s love interests in these films, hers is the only one who makes it out alive.)  It does, however, provide the only genuine point of character drama in the film, simply because it through this subplot that Kersey ultimately suffers the consequences of his actions.

Of course, the fact that he suffers is debatable.  So is his mourning, for that matter.  Of all the films in the Death Wish series, this is one in which Paul Kersey is the least human, and that, too, may be part of the movie’s downfall.

Bottom line, Death Wish II is so dark and so ugly that it’s just impossible to take as entertainment, even in its censored version.  Hardcore Bronson fans may insist on one viewing just for the sake of completeness, but really, one is more than enough, and zero is just fine.  (And if you want to see Laurence Fishburne as an 80s street punk… just hit up Google Images and call it a day.  The movie’s not worth it.)

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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