Hilarious trash – one of the best bad movies ever made!
Paul Kersey is back! Charles Bronson is back! Michael Winner is back! Golan and Globus are back!
Three films into the Death Wish series, and Michael Winner has finally succeeded in creating an entirely fantastic world of magic unrealism, avant-garde logic and outrageous madness. Nothing here resembles reality. Of course the first film remains the best, but nothing else in the series matches Death Wish 3 for sheer hilarity. It is so far beyond mere rubbish, occupying a realm of wonderful badness that makes it one of the all-time best worst films. After this, Winner bailed on the series and it became just another shit low-rent franchise, but for one glorious moment, everything clicked. Unlike the leering grotesqurie of the second film, which took the grimly effective horror of the first film and ramped it up to hideously exploitative levels, Death Wish 3 is so silly, so funny and so over the top that it doesn’t leave that same nasty taste in the mouth that #2 did. Oh, of course there’s an obligatory rape scene (why, Winner, why?) but luckily it’s over before we know it and everything else is just flat-out, unrelentingly, wonderfully awful.
Well, I say everything else…. I’ll be honest, the first hour or so is decidedly patchy – there are lots of amazingly awful moments, but lots of bits that are just dull. Let me pick out the best bits of the first two thirds before we concentrate properly on the unparalleled, extended brilliance of the final twenty minutes. The first hour or so is essentially just a random mish-mash of scenes depicting the anarchy of the tenements, Kersey taking out the odd bad guy and chief criminal Fraker getting more and more infuriated with the whole thing.
The opening beating/murder of Charley, Paul’s old war buddy. Obviously I don’t condone violence towards the elderly, or anyone for that matter, but the line ‘It’s collection time…CHARLEY! Collection…TIME!’ is the first indication that this film’s going to be something special. Plus, like Jeff Goldblum and Laurence Fishburne before him, we get to see poor Alex Winter become the third actor in a row to tarnish his early CV with a misguided appearance in a grimy vigilante exploitation flick. He’s one of a few hilariously camp looking ‘gang members’ in this opening, one of whom is The Giggler – more of him later. By the way, this scene follows an opening credit sequence that boasts the most horrible jazz funk bollox music score imaginable. The credits say that the music was composed by Jimmy Page. Yes, that genius from Led Zeppelin. A lot of the music is simply recycled from the second one, including Page’s awesome ‘growling’ theme, which as I mentioned in my old review of DW2, was the only legitimately excellent thing in that film.
More violence towards the elderly, this time merely hinted at – when total wrong ‘un Manny Fraker (Gavan O’ Herlihy, son of The Old Man from RoboCop!) is prevented from killing Kersey in prison during a punch-up, yet he parts with these words – ‘I’m gonna kill a little old lady, just for you. Catch it on the six o’ clock news!’ We never do get to see that all-important bulletin. Additionally, Fraker’s absolutely horrendous haircut has often been referred to as a ‘reverse Mohawk’, and it’s difficult to better that description. He later has some painted stripes on his forehead – you know, because he’s in a gang, and they’re a kind of tribe, I suppose.
Kersey takes on two hoodlums outside the tenement. He’s a little bit narked off to begin with, his dinner having already been interrupted by the sound of them trashing a car. He goes out to see what all the fuss is about. What’s going on, he asks? With what, they respond? With the car! What does it fuckin’ look like they’re doing? They’re stealing the fuckin’ car, so get out of their fuckin’ faces! ‘BUT IT’S MY CAR!’ Kersey delightfully reveals with all the sleight of hand of a peak-form magician. The two hoodlums laugh. ‘Now you gonna die!’ one of them says. All of a sudden Kersey produces a CANNON of a gun and blows them both away. Now I’m not saying that Kersey’s racist (the film certainly isn’t – all races are capable of being scumbag criminals if the diversity of the gang are anything to go by), but he does kill the unarmed black guy before he kills the white one with the knife. Just sayin’.
Poor Mr and Mrs. Rodriguez (the latter played by future Deanna Troi, Martina Sirtis) are just trying to get home with their shopping. But this total dickhead gang member is on their case asking for five dollars. To be fair, he does say ‘lend’, so for all intents and purposes he is going to pay them back. Still, his approach is very aggressive, especially when he shouts ‘LEND ME FIVE DOLLARS…. SUCKA!!!’, whilst winking at one of his dickhead gang member buddies. When the verbal thing doesn’t work, Mr. Rodriguez is knocked over, but just like magic, Kersey appears out of nowhere (he does this a fair bit whenever a random crime is occurring) and punches the dickhead slam in the face. Instead of taking on this 70 year old, the dickhead simply runs away. Some young lad watching the event is well impressed with this, shouting his approval and giving Kersey the thumbs up. Kersey responds in kind, and it’s here that we know that Charlie is truly down with the kids.
After the rotten and box-ticking ugliness of the rape scene (inflicted upon poor Mrs. Rodriguez), her husband and Kersey learn of the attack over the phone, after which they head on over to the hospital. However, events have spiralled further downwards far more rapidly than anyone expected, as the doctor breaks the news that ‘Mrs. Rodriguez has expired’, which makes her sound like a bottle of milk! I know expired and death are the same kind of thing, but come ON, you do not break that kind of news with that kind of terminology. Kersey’s protestation of ‘but she only had a broken arm!’ is more icing on this spectacularly misjudged cake of a scene.
The death of The Giggler, a thief who can outrun anyone and has a tendency to break out in fits of amusement, is a most welcome moment. Kersey acts as bait, draping a very expensive looking camera over his shoulder (and eating an ice cream for extra innocuousness), the sight of which The Giggler can’t believe. He snatches the camera and runs off, giggling, but there’s no way he can outrun Kersey’s speeding bullet, which gets him right in the back, killing him. The crowd start cheering. After which, we cut to Fraker and his gang. ‘They killed The Giggler man… THEY KILLED THE GIGGLER!’ protests a lackey. ‘They had no business doing that. None’, Fraker insists. Er, what? Was there a verbal contract going on here? Looks like the good people have crossed the line with that act, I suppose.
Again, not a very nice scene, but utterly hilarious in the scheme of things. Kersey has just had sex (off screen, but still – bleurgh) with the token love interest (after having chicken for dinner, which Kersey likes), but in Death Wish world, this act of outrageous transgression means she’s marked for death, and what do you know, not long after she’s punched out cold at the wheel of her car, which is left to career down a hill and blow up! Kersey, like he did with his family before, looks only mildly inconvenienced by this turn of events. At least it means he can get on with the ending (his preferred kind of climax, to be fair) without distraction.
So now we’re at the final 20 minutes, which are as gloriously awful as you could hope a closing, extended orgy of violence could be. Only Commando rivals it for sheer glee, but Commando is ultimately a much, much better film than this. Which makes this ending all the more hilarious. I think. Kersey’s woman is dead. Some of the poor tenants have been murdered. Then there’s no-bullshit police chief Shriker, played by 80’s mainstay Ed Lauter (no one does grump better than him, except Paul Gleason), who doesn’t give a shit how many bodies are wasted on the road to peace, serenity and peaceful serenity, just so long as they get there, and he’s secretly backing Kersey’s destructive vengeance mission.
So here we go: Kersey gets some serious lethal firepower (through the mail!), which includes an anti-tank/anti-personnel rocket launcher! He loads up with bullets, gets the bereaved (but strangely upbeat, considering) Mr. Rodriguez to tag along, and word of this reaches Fraker, who calls up what I suppose must be some kind of local criminal loan agency – he requests ‘more guys, as many as you can spare me’.
Before you know it, there’s a small country’s worth of cannon fodder in town, and they’re kicking the townspeople around (quite literally – one poor sap gets a boot right on the bum), stealing their groceries (paper, not plastic), dancing on their cars, cleaning their own teeth with loaded guns (idiots) and trashing the buildings, but Kersey wastes no time in producing a massive automatic gun and, with Rodriguez providing bullets, kills about thirty people in as many seconds! Cue much OTT death throes, which I have to give the actors proper credit for given they’ve not been given any blood squibs to work with. Look, you can clearly see there are no impact wounds – I hate this in films, it just takes you out of the film immediately. You can tell it’s just a bunch of actors camping it up, giving it their best Hamlet. Why Winner would hold back on the violence in this bit is a mystery, given that it seems to be what’s getting him off. The squibs come back later on though.
Also, the word ‘motherfucker’ is heard a lot during these scenes – I’m sure it’s even the same vocal snippet of the word repeated over and over again. By the way, look at Rodriguez’s facial expressions compared to Kersey’s. One of them is trying to act. One of them isn’t.
The outside carnage provides much amusement for those trapped in the tenements – one of the neighbours is delighted that someone’s taking out ‘the creeps’. Later on they watch the carnage on the telly with great amusement, as though they’re watching You’ve Been Framed or something. Former good actor Martin Balsam, who plays one of the neighbours, even yelps ‘oh boy!’ like an excited schoolboy upon witnessing one of many explosions. Some of the residents are this close to breaking out into an impromptu street party after successfully killing a bunch of bikers with one of those chains tied between two lampposts. Seriously, they start dancing!
Before those bits though, a nearby car load of hoodlums are blasted to bits by Kersey and Rodriguez, and at last we get some much needed realism in the form of impact shots, which brings the grittiness back to proceedings and then some.
More bad guys/target practice show up, blow up some more buildings. The carnage here is definitely depicted as fun – we don’t know these people, or these random buildings, so let’s just get off on all the chaos! Blow up that car! Blow up that shop! Smash those windows! Set that guy on fire! Okay, that last one’s not very nice, but there you go. The shaky camerawork and wonky zooms only add to the all-over-the-place approach. One in every five deaths depicted here is accompanied by a hilariously graceless rapid camera zoom, and it’s these deaths that are the best. Not to mention the deaths that send the victim through whatever window or door they’re standing in front of. Or the ones that send them off buildings or stairwells. Kersey is soon introduced in one shot with his gun protruding from around a corner, and if that isn’t the most blatant cock-metaphor in cinema history, then I haven’t seen the one that is. Kersey gets shot a few times in the gut without realising, because you know, he’s wearing a bullet proof vest! That’s how those things work – you don’t feel a thing! The police and local fire services are on the scene to try and control some of this madness, but the bad guys are everywhere – a tasteless bit follows where a woman is dragged out half naked by a bunch of scumbags just to we can get some nudity in on the scene, but thankfully this bit is cut short as Kersey shows up and blows them away. Such is the power of his gun that when he shoots one of the would-be rapists, the guy actually is sent flying forwards. Fraker’s not present at that moment though, he’s too busy having a whale of a time killing the good guys. I mean, look at that grin. It’s so oily you could fry bacon with it.
I shouldn’t laugh at the scene that I’m about to describe but I can’t help it. An elderly couple are in their house, but they’re forced out when Fraker and Co. throw a bunch of molotov cocktails through the window, which leads to them running outside – on fire – after which Fraker kills them with a machine gun. God, that doesn’t sound funny at all, does it? I guess it’s the way you tell it, in which case Winner is a master comedian. What is definitely, no-two-ways-about -it funny are the few scenes where various hapless goons try to break into some houses and suffer the consequences. One guy falls victim to a plank with a knife in it which hits him right in the face (think an X-rated Home Alone), resulting in him falling backwards and off the stairwell (natch), and another guy gets far more than he bargained for when, after climbing in through the window, a panicked woman blasts him out of the house with a shotgun, screaming as she does so!
More deaths, more priceless Rodriguez reactions, more appalling attempts to kill Kersey and more smashing through windows follow, and the film has hit a shit hot streak (emphasis on shit) that should have you as gleeful as one of the tenement residents. I have rarely laughed so much at people getting killed on screen. Bill from Bill and Ted gets killed when Shriker deus ex machinas his way into the scene when neither Bill or Kersey are looking. After this bit, the soundtrack goes all ‘Edge of Seventeen’/’Bootylicious’ for just a few seconds, and the film almost becomes cool. But then it doesn’t. With Rodriguez off to get some more ammo, we get a proper Wild West bit where Kersey and Shriker walk down the streets killing people left, right and centre.
The final confrontation between Kersey and Fraker turns me into The Giggler just thinking about it. First of all the music keeps going back to this silly little melody that sounds like someone tapping on a Xylophone randomly. Kersey briefly decamps to one of the flats to get some ammo, only for Fraker to sneak in through the window, but before he can do any killing, Shriker shows up and and shoots him, but not before taking a hit in the arm himself. Kersey gets a few bullets in Fraker too, for good measure. Of course, Fraker isn’t really dead, for that would be an appalling waste of celluloid for Winner, so he has him open his eyes whilst Kersey and Shriker talk shop.
Fraker lurches up and reveals that he was wearing a protective vest (‘Bulletproof! Just like yours, asshole!’) which, like Kersey’s recent experience, seems to have not affected him in the slightest. So, Fraker has the gun, but like Shriker says, he can’t take on both of them; they’re too far apart for him to shoot them together. ‘Bet me!’, Fraker dares, moving the gun from Kersey to Shriker – there’s actually a good shot (the first and last in the film), where the camera is at Fraker’s hip and travels with the gun as it is aimed from one person to another. However, in that split second, Kersey produces THE ROCKET LAUNCHER and FUCKIN’ EXPLODES Fraker right there in the room, blowing out the wall in the process. Before his death, Fraker gets a wonderful zoom right into his horrified face, an expression that should be burned into the retinas of all self-respecting cineastes. It’s something (well, it’s exactly) like this.
Oddly, when Fraker’s girlfriend sees the explosion, she screams – it’s as though she just knows he’s been killed, even though there was no way for her to know this. But fuck it, she knows somehow. With him dead, the gang admit defeat in an instant, doing a pouty retreat that’s so mannered it’s almost like a music video. With that, Kersey plans to walk the earth once more until Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, which wasn’t directed by Winner and is therefore a Loser in the franchise. There is a funny bit in that film where a table full of crooks blow up but before they do they are quickly replaced with a bunch of distinctly un-human looking dummies that linger just a little too long on screen for us to believe that the characters really died. If you can believe it, the guy on the left is meant to represent Danny Trejo.