Death Wish 2


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Eight years after the his first wave of vigilante murders, Chuck Bronson is back as architect-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey, slaughtering more depraved street thugs. The police couldn't figure out who might have been responsible. Should they have? Well, let's see. Right after Kersey's wife was killed and his daughter raped, there was a wave of killings in New York and every person in The Big Apple knew Kersey was the killer. I think they even held a ticker-tape parade for him and presented him with the key to the city. Then, immediately after Kersey's beloved housekeeper was raped and killed, and his daughter died after being raped yet again, another killing spree started. No, I guess there's nothing really suspicious there. After all, the second series of slayings occurred in L.A.

The Death Wish films have often been criticized for treating violence, especially rape, as graphically sensational entertainment. I suppose there is some truth to that. In portraying the rape scenes through the rapists' eyes, the director invites us to share their anger and lust, and the camera dares us to look away from the innocent naked flesh of the victims. Is that good filmmaking or bad? I guess it depends on your point of view. The early Death Wish films succeeded in getting audiences deeply involved. Perhaps they achieved this success with blunt and lurid techniques, and perhaps one may argue that to do so is both dishonest and artless, but one can not deny that it worked. Why was it effective? Because the formula left us no room for doubt, nuance or hesitation. There is no possible sympathy for Bronson's victims, nor condemnation of his disrespect for the law. There are no shades of gray. The one thing you will not see in the Death Wish movies is subtlety.

The baddies have no character development of any kind, and no signs of normal human behavior. They are cartoon characters. They exist only to make us hate them. They grunt maniacally and laugh while they rape innocent women; they make demented faces and nasty comments while they mug fearful oldsters. When we see them commit their crimes, we see every cruel detail, so that we can be convinced that they have no mercy, no human compassion. To picture a typical member of the Death Wish gangs, imagine Mickey Rourke playing Long John Silver in modern dress. Got that picture? Not evil enough. Too subtle. And way too classy.

The innocents, on the other hand, could not be more innocent. In this film there's a sweet Mexican housekeeper who lives to make people smile and to bring beauty of all kinds into her boss's home. And there's Charles Bronson's daughter, who was raped in the first film, and is now a damaged woman, perhaps 30 years old but permanently frozen in mute adolescent innocence, smiling blissfully while she skips blithely and obliviously around in her plaid schoolgirl skirt and her lily-white knee socks, clutching her glass unicorn in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other. I'm not kidding about any of that. She's like a Roman Polanski wet dream.

After acts committed by such evil men against such innocent women, how could Bronson do anything else but hunt the perps down? And how could we have any sympathy for them when he wastes them? By the time the revenge begins, our attitudes have been manipulated and cultivated so bluntly that we have no time to pause and consider the moral reservations that we might normally attach to vigilante justice. We simply enjoy the brutality of his revenge.

The basic Bronson formula, i.e. the decent man taking an eye for an eye against psychotic and degenerate rapists/killers, actually began two years before Death Wish, in a film called Chato's Land, which was directed by Michael Winner, the same man who directed the first three Death Wish films. In that previous incarnation of Paul Kersey, Bronson played a frontier Indian whose wife was brutalized by a bunch of demented former soldiers led by Jack Palance. That film was a Western which took place after the Civil War, but all of the Death Wish films are also really Westerns, aren't they? They just happen to be thinly disguised in modern dress. They are urban westerns, ala the Dirty Harry films.

The Bronson/Winner formula worked for a while, at least in the sense that it was successful at the box office. (The numbers in parens below represent the equivalent in 2010 dollars, as calculated from this chart.)

  • Death Wish            $22m in 1974 ($90m)
  • Death Wish II         $16m in 1982 ($41m)
  • Death Wish 3         $16m in 1985 ($34m)
  • Death Wish 4         $6m in 1987 ($12m)
  • Death Wish V         $2m in 1992 ($4m)

The first one in the series was a hit. Number two was successful enough that audiences still wanted to see number three. Unfortunately, number three betrayed the premise by turning Bronson into a heavily armed professional killer rather than a wronged husband and father. He set elaborate Rube Goldberg booby traps and even fired a missile launcher at one point. At that point, the humble and righteous architect had all but disappeared. That just about snuffed the series, and Winner's departure from the franchise sealed the coffin. There was little enthusiasm for the releases of #4 and #5, and they were such weak films that there was no hope for word-of-mouth success. Death Wish 5 has the dishonor of being Bronson's lowest rated film at IMDb, as well as the last theatrical film he would make.

The quality of the Death Wish films sank just about in tempo with the box office, as reflected in the IMDb ratings shown below:

  1. (7.00) - Death Wish (1974)
  2. (5.71) - Death Wish II (1982)
  3. (5.51) - Death Wish 3 (1985)
  4. (4.64) - Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)
  5. (3.96) - Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994)

I don't recommend any of the DVDs of this film, neither American nor Europran. They have all been severely censored, especially in the Robin Sherwood rape scene.


1 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)








5.7 IMDB summary (of 10)

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  • Silvana Gallardo - the full monty
  • Robin Sherwood - breasts and a flash of lower frontal in the uncensored version.
  • Melody Santangelo and Leslie Graves - brief breasts
  • One of the male rapists shows his butt - but only in the uncensored version.









Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Barely watchable revenge flick