Monday, January 18, 2016

Death Wish II

One of the grimiest, most explicit, and most distasteful films of Charles Bronson’s career, DEATH WISH II faced the MPAA ratings board’s scissors before receiving an R rating instead of an X. Even then, the rape scenes directed by Michael Winner, who guided the original DEATH WISH to major box office in 1974, are ugly and hard to watch.

Of course, rape is an unpleasant experience and should be difficult to watch, but Winner’s handling of the sexual violence shows more degradation than necessary to adequately make the point and falls firmly into exploitation territory. It was even too much for the crew — cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth (THE BREAKFAST CLUB) and his team packed up and went home during the shooting of the rapes (CAMELOT’s Richard Kline came aboard as Del Ruth’s replacement for the rest of the production).

Of course, DEATH WISH II was produced by Cannon’s Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, whose intentions usually leaned toward exploitation rather than the serious thought-provoking drama of DEATH WISH. It would be difficult to argue Golan, Globus, and Winner were wrong, as DEATH WISH II went on to become one of Bronson’s biggest hits of the 1980s, particularly internationally. Released by Filmways in the United States, the sequel opened at number one and eventually earned $16 million at the box office and millions more in overseas theaters and on home video and pay cable. There was no doubt Golan and Globus would commission another sequel.

DEATH WISH II takes place four years after vigilante Paul Kersey (Bronson, who received $1.5 million for the role) laid waste to plenty of street scum in New York City. Now in Los Angeles with his daughter Carol (Robin Sherwood), still catatonic from her rape in New York, Kersey has resumed his career as an architect and is in love with Geri Nichols (Jill Ireland, natch), a reporter (Bronson slips and calls her “Jill” once). But his happiness is shortlived when five punks break into his home, rape and murder his maid (Silvana Gallardo), and kidnap and rape Carol, who is gruesomely killed trying to escape (another example of Winner overkill, no pun intended). Out come Kersey’s twin .22 automatic pistols for another round of punk-hunting, this time on the streets of L.A.

The cops, including investigating detective Mankiewicz (Ben Frank), know about Kersey’s past and begin to suspect him when local lowlives end up dead. So does New York detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia, returning from DEATH WISH), whose bosses send him to L.A. in fear it’ll be discovered that they had Kersey in custody and let him go four years earlier. J.D. Cannon (MCCLOUD) plays the New York district attorney, and Tony Franciosa (ACROSS 110TH STREET) plays the L.A. police commissioner — both men interested in covering up Kersey’s vigilantism.

No comments: