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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Death Wish

February 28, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Death Wish 1974

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #451: Death Wish

The Death Wish Marathon: Week 1

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never wanted to walk the mean city streets at night brandishing a small caliber pistol and blowing away scumbags, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred and fifty one, the Death Wish Marathon begins with the one that started it all, the 1974 Death Wish starring big Chuck hisself, Charles Bronson.

Death Wish

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Death Wish, directed by Michael Winner, is not an action movie. There’s action in it, but it’s not the badass shoot’em up that some of the later sequels turned out to be. Instead, Death Wish is actually more of a horror movie more than anything else. It’s about a man who is consumed by violence and who decides to lash out at the world around him in an ultimately feeble attempt to exact some kind of revenge. And the fact that Bronson’s vigilante character never finds the people directly responsible for destroying his world is a prime example of how Death Wish isn’t quite the reactionary movie its reputation suggests. I don’t know why anyone would want to be Paul Kersey, and I don’t think the movie really makes him out to be a hero.

So Bronson is Kersey, an architect at a somewhat fancy New York City development outfit and devoted family man. One day, his wife and daughter (Joanna Kersey and Carol Toby, as played by Hope Lange and Kathleen Tolan) are attacked in their apartment by a vicious threesome of street thugs (one of the thugs is played by Jeff Goldblum) who break in, posing as delivery boys for the local grocery store. The thugs beat Joanna to death and rape Carol, mostly for kicks (the thugs initially claim they’re there to rob the apartment, but it’s obvious pretty quickly that they’re there for way more than that). When Kersey finds out that his wife is dead and his daughter is severely traumatized, he doesn’t know what to do. How the hell could it have happened in the first place? Why the hell would three random scumbags attack his wife and daughter? What the hell is wrong with the world? Does it have something to do with the rising crime statistics that his friend Sam (William Redfield) rattled off to him the other day? Are the police incompetent? Is there something wrong with society as a whole?

Kersey buries his wife and tries to stay close to Carol and her husband Jack (Steven Keats), but it’s difficult to stay in the right state of mind. Jack doesn’t feel the same way as Kersey does about what happened. Jack seems to be willing to submit to defeat, to cut and run from the big, bad city. Kersey wants to fight back somehow. But how? How can one man fight back against what appear to be insurmountable odds, not to mention rampant apathy? Kersey, angry, doesn’t know what to do. Kersey starts walking the streets at night, armed with a sock filled with rolls of quarters. He doesn’t want to start shit, but at the same time, if someone comes at him, he feels he can defend himself. Maybe he’ll run into the hoodlums he saw break into a car the other night. Kersey ends up using his weaponized sock on a potential mugger. It isn’t a cathartic experience. In fact, Kersey runs back to his apartment, shaking, terrified. What the hell did he do?

So then some stuff happens, Kersey’s boss allows him to travel to Tucson, Arizona, to handle a big job out in the desert. Kersey’s boss figures that Kersey could use a change of scenery. Kersey agrees. So Kersey goes to Tucson and meets his company’s client, local millionaire yahoo Aimes Jainchill (Stuart Margolin). Kersey thinks he can help Aimes with his building issues, and Aimes figures that he can help Kersey out, too. Aimes suspects that something big, bad, and sad is gnawing at Kersey, but he doesn’t know what. Aimes takes Kersey to his local gun club to shoot guns and “work it out” like people in Tucson apparently do. It’s here that Kersey reveals that he was a conscientious objector during the Korean War, that he knows how to use guns, and that the only reason he isn’t a “gun guy” is that he made a promise to his mother to stay away from guns. Kersey’s father was accidentally killed in a hunting accident, and since that day Kersey has stayed away from firearms. But that was then. The world has changed. Kersey picks up a gun and fires it.

Bullseye. And it’s at that moment that something changes inside of Kersey. Kersey doesn’t necessarily recognize the change in himself, but Aimes does. When Kersey finishes the job, Aimes gives him a present, telling him not to open it until he gets back to New York. Kersey goes back to New York and finds out that Carol’s condition has gotten worse. Jack tells Kersey that he’s moving to Long Island and taking Carol to a hospital run by nuns. Carol needs to get away from everything and anything might remind her of the day she was assaulted. Kersey doesn’t buy that, but what he can do?

Kersey decides to open the present Aimes gave him. It’s a gun. And it’s at this point that Kersey decides that he’s had enough of the world and he’s going to go out and make a difference. Kersey starts walking the streets at night again. And he starts shooting street thugs that approach him. The first time Kersey kills, he gets sick and throws up. He took a life! Insanity! But the more he goes out and the more he kills the better he starts to feel.

Kersey, the open minded, liberal conscientious objector enjoys killing people? That shouldn’t be happening. It is, though.

As Kersey’s body count grows, the police and the media start to take notice. The media can’t get enough of the vigilante taking down criminals left and right. The “regular” people are fine with it and actually start to cheer him on a bit. The police, though, aren’t happy about the vigilante at all. No one is supposed to be above the law, and killing people on the street is against the law. The vigilante needs to be stopped. The vigilante also makes the cops look bad. Why can the vigilante do what the cops can’t?

What’s interesting about the way the cops deal with Kersey/the vigilante is that they don’t really deal with him at all. Detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia), the head of the vigilante task force, investigates Kersey’s crimes and try to track him down. When Ochoa figures out that the vigilante is Kersey, he tells his boss the commissioner (Stephen Elliott) what he knows. You’d think everyone would want Kersey arrested and prosecuted. Instead, they basically let him go. The authorities decide that it’s better to claim that Kersey isn’t the vigilante, that the vigilante is still out there, mostly because they don’t want the public freaking out. If the vigilante disappears, other vigilantes might appear, and then it’ll be total chaos. I mean, that’s the thinking. It isn’t a great plan, mostly because, if the vigilante isn’t in the city killing hoodlums, people will eventually figure out that the vigilante is gone, and then won’t the people then just do what the authorities are afraid they’ll do, take up arms and start killing hoodlums? Isn’t this just a scheme to make it easier for the cops to kill anyone they want to?

And Kersey? The public sees him as a hero, an inspiration to “take back the streets.” We see multiple testimonials from “regular” people who are suddenly no longer afraid to fight back because of Kersey’s actions. Is Kersey’s life any better as a result? No, it isn’t. All he does is walk the streets and kill. Carol doesn’t get any better as a result of Kersey’s actions. Joanna doesn’t get to come back. And where the hell are the hoodlums that killed his wife? The cops can’t find them. Kersey can’t find them, either. So what the hell is Kersey really doing?

Like I said, he’s lashing out at the world. He’s made himself into a serial killer of sorts. That’s improvement? That’s something to aspire to? I don’t see how. Who the hell wants to be Paul Kersey? The public may like what he does, the public may want to be him in the abstract, but would they want to go through what he goes through in order to really be him? I doubt it. And when the public realizes that Kersey has no idea who killed his wife and raped his daughter, what are they likely to think then? Is all of this violence still a good idea? Again, I doubt it.

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Bronson does an amazing job as Paul Kersey. While we all know that, because he’s big Chuck Bronson, that Bronson is eventually going to whip out a gun and start shooting people, Bronson still manages to make Kersey a mild mannered, fairly peaceful presence before his family is destroyed. He’s a devoted family, an open minded guy who just wants to live his life. He isn’t interested in violence (remember, he was a conscientious objector back in Korea), When the shit hits the fan and the violent presence starts to show itself in Kersey, Bronson shows off Kersey’s struggle. It takes some time for Kersey to figure out how not to hesitate shooting someone. When that hesitation disappears and Kersey becomes a killing machine, you can tell that Kersey is seriously damaged. There’s no joy in his “work.” What kind of vigilante is that? What kind of revenge seeker isn’t fulfilled by seeking revenge? Who the hell wants to be Paul Kersey?

Bronson’s final scene in the movie is one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. When Kersey turns his hand into a gun and he gestures towards some hoodlums in Chicago, that isn’t a happy smile on Kersey’s face. He’s basically deranged at that moment. We should want to be that guy? Amazing stuff.

Vincent Gardenia does a decent enough job as Detective Ochoa. He doesn’t show up until the midway point, and even then he doesn’t do much beyond showing up at various crime scenes, talking to his task force (one of those task force members is Olympia Dukakis, who played his wife in Moonstruck), and blowing his nose (allergies?). Gardenia is still interesting to watch, though.

Steven Keats, who usually plays sleazy douchebags (remember him in Silent Rage?), is in full on whiny wimp mode here as Kersey’s son-in-law Jack. You can’t really blame him, though, as his life is destroyed, too. I think most people would end up doing what he does in the movie, moving away from the city so he can better take care of his traumatized wife. It’s not in him to walk the streets with a gun looking for what amounts to fruitless revenge.

Hope Lange isn’t in the movie all that long as Kersey’s wife Joanna, but she does have a few nice scenes at the beach while on vacation in Hawaii. Lange also has good couple’s chemistry with Bronson. Kathleen Tolan goes through some incredibly nasty stuff as Carol. She’s manhandled by Goldblum and the other two thugs, and the sequence where her bare ass is spray painted is just disturbing.

Stuart Margolin is hilarious as Aimes Jainchill. He’s a caricature of the gun toting guy living out west, sure, but he makes him a living, breathing person as opposed to just a yahoo. I’m surprised no one wanted to do a weekly TV show featuring his character solving crimes in Arizona. Watch him and ask yourself how he didn’t have a show on CBS in 1976?

And then there’s Jeff Goldblum as Freak #1, the lead thug. He’s terrifying. His “I kill rich cunts!” sequence will send chills down your spine. Death Wish would be a completely different movie if Kersey spent some time looking for him. Goldblum’s Freak #1 could still be out there. That’s terrifying, too.
Death Wish is a terrific movie. Dark, complicated, and sad, it’s not quite the movie you think it is. It’s not an action movie, it’s more of a horror movie than anything else. I don’t see how anyone, in the end, can want to be Paul Kersey. The man is destroyed. Brilliant stuff.

See Death Wish. See it, see it, goddamn see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 11

Explosions: None.

Nudity?: Yes. It’s not appealing at all,

Doobage: The beach in Hawaii, grocery shopping, asshole thugs running through the grocery store for no reason, four nuns, breaking and entering, attempted robbery, a monster ass kicking, rape, ass spray painting, a general sense of indifference, a snowy funeral, a woman screaming about being robbed, random street crime, a weaponized sock, liquor drinking without eating, going to Arizona, a western street performance, gun club bullshit, an attack on liberalism, hugging, pictures from Hawaii, mugger killing, barfing, more mugger killing, a subway killing, newspaper cutting, a press conference, liver and spaghetti (people at that in the 1970’s? Together?), gross hookers, a wallet full of money, wound fixing, a police search, a police dragnet of sorts, a blood transfusion, and a scary ending.

Kim Richards?: None.

Gratuitous: Charles Bronson, Charles Bronson taking pictures of Hope Lange, Charles Bronson in a speedo, Charles Bronson checking his mail, some guy demanding the death of poor people, Charles Bronson going over the figures, grocery delivery, Jeff Goldblum, Jeff Goldblum’s ass, Charles Bronson drinking milk, Charles Bronson weaponizing his sock, a black guy lighting a cigarette, Tucson, Arizona, a land survey montage, a Satchel Paige quote, “guns are just tools” speech, Charles Bronson shooting multiple guns, Charles Bronson killing muggers, Charles Bronson barfing, Vincent Gardenia, a mugger that sort of looks like a young Denzel Washington, Olympia Dukakis, Charles Bronson watching the news, Helen Martin, Harper’s Magazine, construction workers who bet up a hoodlum, a cop smoking a pipe, Charles Bronson at some society party where people are talking about the vigilante, talk about whether or not the vigilante is racist, Charles Bronson walking by a Newsweek billboard, Vincent Gardenia looking at a People Magazine with his picture on the cover, a midget newsstand operator, Charles Bronson wearing a green turtleneck, Christopher Guest, Charles Bronson getting a blood transfusion, and Charles Bronson turning his hand into a gun in Chicago.

Best lines: “Christ, you are such a bleeding heart liberal, Paul!,” “Oh, Paul, how does it feel to be back in the warzone after Hawaii?,” “Hey, I’m gonna do a thing,” “Hey, mother, look at the artiste doing the art!,” “You’re going to get the shit kicked out of you, mother!,” “Goddamn rich cunts! I kill rich cunts!,” “Shit, let’s split!,” “Dad! Dad, we’ve got trouble,” “Jesus God,” “Turn that thing off,” “She’s sleeping too much. It’s not normal,” “How did you know who I was? You looked like a New Yorker,” “Goddamn! Boy, you hit that dead center!,” “You didn’t handle it right, Jack,” “Oh, what a bummer, man! That was one of the worst fucking movies I’ve ever seen!,” “Got any money, man?,” “Tucson agreed with you. You look well,” “Was he a white man or a black man?,” “Yes! Ah, you want to confess to the vigilante murders? Let me put you in touch with Rosenstein, he’s in charge of confessions today,” “Hey, Jack, turn it back up. I can’t hear,” “Here comes the pussy posse!,” “Hey, mister, you got a match? What else you got?,” “I cut that motherfucker!,” “Thirty-twos,” “Scare him off? Ha,” “Eh, up yours!,” “Come on down, motherfucker. We’re gonna kill you,” “Police. I’d like to have him alone,” “Are we connecting, Mr. Kersey?,” and “Inspector. By sundown?”

Rating: 10.0/10.0

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Things to Watch Out For This Week

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Black Eagle Special Edition: This special edition Blu-ray is part of the MVD Rewind Collection from the fine folks at MVD Entertainment Group (they’re going to be doing a The Return of Swamp Thing version soon, too). This 1980’s action flick stars the great Sho Kosugi as a kind of spy character with Jean Claude Van Damme as the villain. This movie was a cable staple back in the day, mostly because of Van Damme (at least that was my experience. It was usually included as part of a double feature with Bloodsport or, at other times,Cyborg). I haven’t seen it since then. I think this particular home video special edition, which has all sorts of special features, is a must have as it has two versions of the movie, the 93 minute theatrical version and a 104 minute uncut version. Anyone else sort of a fan of this movie?

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Spreading Darkness: If you look at the DVD cover for this low budget thriller it looks like your standard direct-to-video low budget action movie. Eric Roberts is on the cover, he has a gun, and there’s a woman with a gun, too. However, if you read the description for the movie over at imdb it’s apparently actually an “avant-garde psychological thriller.” What the hell does that all mean? Could it be that the movie is actually more of a horror movie than a straight up thriller? I’m curious enough to rent this and see what the hell it’s really all about. The movie also apparently has the great Robert Davi in it, too. He’s always welcome.

Hangman

Hangman: This low budget thriller features a top notch cast (Al Pacino, Karl Urban, Sarah Shahi, and Brittany Snow) and received some fairly scathing reviews during its brief theatrical run this past December. I think it looks okay, if kind of generic, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. And while loads of people have a hard time believing that an actor the caliber and pedigree of Al Pacino would want to be in a movie like this one, I think it’s cool that he’s out there making all kinds of stuff. Now if we could just get Pacino to co-star in one of those low budget Nicolas Cage movies that seem to come out every other month That would make for quite the movie.

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Gate II: This special edition from the fine folks at Shout! Factory/Scream Factory and seems to have special features on it. That’s the only reason to get this Scream Factory release. I enjoyed the first The Gate quite a bit, but the sequel left me cold. It has some cool special effects in it, but that’s about it. But then that was over twenty years ago. Maybe my opinion will be different in 2018? Anyone out there a fan of this movie?

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Ash vs. Evil Dead is back!

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 3 2017

Check out my reviews for this season below!

Episode 1: “Family”

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B-Movie News

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Death House theatrical release pushed to this Friday: Due to the mega success of the latest Marvel movie, Black Panther, the theatrical release of the action-horror flick Death House featuring a cast of horror legends, has been pushed back one week (it was supposed to open on a few screens this past Friday). Death House is set to open on some screens this coming Friday, followed by more screens the following week (well, maybe).

Now, when I first heard about the theatrical rollout for Death House it was going to be at least one hundred screens via Regal Cinemas and the Regal Entertainment Group, and up until the last two weeks or so I assumed that that was still the plan. If you check out the movie’s official website or the movie’s Facebook page, that doesn’t seem to be the plan at all. “20 additional markets” are set to get the movie in its second and third week, with additional markets added in the event the movie makes money (will it do that? Who knows?). So what happened to the original theatrical release scheme? I wish I knew.

So what happens now? I doubt I will get a chance to see it on the big screen, like I hoped I would, since the odds of the movie making enough money to expand to where I live are small at best (Black Panther is probably going to have legs for a few more weeks, plus there are other wide release movies opening in the next few weeks). If it ends up playing anywhere near you, though, I encourage you to go see it and bring a friend. It’s the kind of event movie that warrants the big screen experience.

So, again, if it’s actually playing hear you be sure to check it out. If it isn’t, be sure to pick it up on home video or on Video On Demand when that happens. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is involved in the home video release.

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Who is the Douchebag of the Week? Go here and find out!

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Next Issue: The Death Wish Marathon continues with Death Wish II!

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Interviews

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

Death Wish

Charles Bronson– Paul Kersey
Hope Lange– Joanna Kersey
Vincent Gardenia– Inspector Frank Ochoa
Steven Keats– Jack Toby
William Redfield– Sam Kreutzer
Stuart Margolin– Aimes Jainchill
Kathleen Tolan– Carol Toby
Stephen Elliott– Police Commissioner
Jeff Goldblum– Freak #1

Directed by Michael Winner
Screenplay by Wendell Mayes, based on the novel Death Wish by Brian Garfield

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Rated R for violence, language, nudity, and rape.
Runtime– 93 minutes

Buy it here