SEQUELISED: Death Wish 3 (1985)

Is third time the charm for Charles Bronson’s geriatric vigilante? John hits the mean streets to find out. 

Who made it?: Michael Winner (Director/Co-Producer), Don Jakoby (Writer), Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus (Producers),  The Cannon Group, Inc.

Who’s in it?: Charles Bronson, Deborah Raffin, Ed Lauter, Martin Balsam, Gavan O’Herlihy, Kirk Taylor, Alex Winter.

Tagline: “He’s back to New York bringing justice to the streets…”

IMDb rating: 5.8/10.

Death Wish 3 is 80s exploitation filmmaking at its best. It is a series which spawned five action-packed movies and brought audiences a no-nonsense, hardened character developed in the same macho mould as Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry Callaghan. A normal everyday man turning into a remorseless vigilante, and choosing to defend the innocent from criminal scum, is a scenario that always interests me. Let’s face it, who hasn’t fantasised about taking the law into their own hands, especially if you’ve been a tragic victim of crime?

Architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) returns to Brooklyn to visit his old friend, Bennett, who he served with during the Korean War. When his buddy is violently attacked by a street gang, the famous vigilante decides to clean up the criminal neighbourhood with his own brand of justice.

Produced on a budget of $9 million, Death Wish 3 was directed by the late British filmmaker Michael Winner, who had previously helmed Death Wish (1974) and Death Wish II (1982). The screenplay was written by Don Jakoby who had previously co-written Lifeforce for Cannon with Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Return of the Living Dead). Despite having written the script, Jakoby ended up being credited as Michael Edmonds in the finished movie. This is due to the fact he had objections with the extensive rewrites of his scriptThe screenwriter would later go on to pen creepy-crawly thriller Arachnophobia (1990) and fang-tastic horror John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998).

But the real talking point amongst the credits is the producersMenahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who purchased The Cannon Group in 1979 for just $500,000. Under their gung-ho leadershipthe maverick cousins famously produced a string of low-budget action movies throughout the 80s, including Chuck Norris vehicles Missing in Action (1984), Invasion U.S.A. (1985) and The Delta Force (1986). The studio also branched out with daring “big-budget” ventures, such as Lifeforce, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) and Masters of the Universe (1987). Despite the latter productions proving disappointments at the box office, I’ve always admired Golan and Globus for taking risks with various genres and happily exploiting their target audience. And these guys gave people what they wanted by the bucket full.

Despite Death Wish 3 taking place in New York, a majority of the movie was filmed in London due to production costs. St Thomas’ Hospital in Lambeth was transformed into a police station and Brixton doubled for a grittyrun-down neighbourhood. This is such a remarkable achievement by the production designer; I would have never guessed I was seeing my own capital city on the screen. 

Bronson as Kersey is once again a joy to watch on-screen. To me, he came across as a man’s man, whilst being able to portray tenderness and intrigue. He always seemed comfortable whenever he starred in one of Winner’s movies, with the pair also collaborating on The Mechanic (1972), Chato’s Land (1972) and The Stone Killer (1973)And the fact that Bronson was sixty-three at the time of shooting is a true testament to the actor’s longevity as an action starDeath Wish 3 also has an interesting supporting cast with memorable performances by Martin Balsam (12 Angry Men, Psycho), Ed Lauter (Raw Deal, The Rocketeer), Gavan O’Herlihy (Superman III, Willow), and Marina Sirtis (Star Trek: The Next Generation). There is even an appearance by future Bill & Ted star Alex Winter.

Death Wish 3 was released on 1st November 1985 and managed to gross $16.1 million in a seven-week run at the domestic box officeThe movie was also a modest success worldwide, especially when it was released on video, which was common with many of Cannon’s productions.

Despite the many Death Wish sequels often feeling like mere cash-ins, the franchise always managed to remain entertaining and even somewhat thought-provoking, commenting on social issues of the times. Now, I’m not condoning any acts of self-righteous violence for one moment, and neither do the movies themselves for that matter. Paul Kersey was once a normal, hard-working man as well as a loving husband and father, whose life was suddenly turned upside down by a vicious attack on his family by a group of thugs, resulting in the death of his wife. With the police’s hands tied by rules and regulations, this quiet, easy-going gentleman was forced to take up the mantle of the law, providing a relentless threat to both police and criminals. But these constant acts of vigilantism would come at a cost, leaving him with a great deal of burden to carry on his shoulders as he journeyed along the road to damnation.

Death Wish 3 is clearly a product of its time. It shouldn’t be frowned upon as cheap and tacky nonsense, nor should it be compared to bigger and better action movies of the decade. For all its sins, this movie still manages to pack a punch and satisfy fans of the genre. Plus, any action flick with a score by Jimmy Page can’t be all bad…

Best Scene

Kersey lures a fast-paced thug known as “The Giggler” into mugging him. After taking the bait, the thug soon feels the full force of a .475 Wildey Magnum.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Originally rated “X” by the MPAA, the rating was lowered to “R” upon appeal.
  • This was the first Death Wish movie to be made after the Bernard Goetz vigilante shootings in New York. After this, Charles Bronson publicly stated that he recommended that people not imitate his character Paul Kersey from the movies.
  • As principal photography was mostly filmed in London, the movie featured extras and background artists playing a variety of characters including police officers and gang members. Their audible dialogue, however, was in the British accent. This movie was set in New York and required American accents. As such, during post-production, director Michael Winner enlisted the assistance of the military personnel of the US Air Force stationed in England to dub over these UK accents.
  • In 1987, a video-game tie-in of this movie was made on the ZX Spectrum 48K/128K platform.

John Cowdell

I have been writing and producing short films for over ten years and are now branching out into film reviews.

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