Friday, August 5, 2011

DEATH WISH 3 (1985): Charlie Don't Need No Rockin' Chair

Hello, all. The past 9 months have been really hard for me. I won't relay the full details here--who wants to read about others' problems, right? Suffice it to say I'm having a very hard time dealing. It's been hard to write anything. It's been hard to do anything. Just being has been a pretty difficult and unpleasant thing. Creating content for this blog, in particular, has seemed impossible (for reasons I'll spare you). Earlier tonight, I jotted down what became this new article. It's pretty short and I don't know if it's the beginning of a return to form or just a fluke. It has a light-hearted air about it I'm not really feeling but apparently I was able to tap into the memory of when I could feel it. Anyway, it's new; here goes:

With the third entry in the DEATH WISH series, Paul Kersey, Charles Bronson's introspective vigilante from the 1974 original, is finally boiled down to what the Reagan era mistook for his essence, shedding those niggling bits of humanity that made him interesting in the original and going straight one-man-army on yo' ass and, more importantly, on the asses of a gang of no-good punks in what seems to be a ruined city at the end of time. This is the flick that finally answers the question, "What would it be like if Paul Kersey was plunked down in an Italian post-apocalyptic action flick?" Most of the no-doubt legions who contemplated this intriguing question in the early '80s could scarcely have imagined they'd one day see it so prominently answered.

Bronson's Kersey responds to a friend's call for help, returning to a version of New York that looks suspiciously like a version of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK as rendered by an Enzo Castellari or a Sergio Martino. In a burned-out, collapsing ruin of a once-a-neighborhood, the five or six Law-Abiding Citizens, who seem to be the only somewhat normal people who remain, are perpetually menaced by an entire army of '80s gang-bangers, who wear their era on their lack-of-sleeves from their denim vests (the standard-issue '80s Movie Gangbanger fashion) and in their strict multi-ethnicity (in the cinema of the '80s, racial divisions don't extend to subhuman villainy--all bad men are brothers). The simpering victims suffer heaping helpings of rape, murder, arson, and rape and bewail their fate with appropriate drama and melodrama until Charlie shows up intent on cleaning up the town.

Charlie is the God of Bad-Ass-ery among mere mortals in this one. A relentlessly grim man on a mission, our elderly hero don't need no rockin' chair or no Medicare--at a spry 64, he's able to run down and out-fight healthy 19-year-olds who are a lot bigger than he is. He can beat them down, gun them down (with guns that are also bigger than he is) and blow them up all day long then go home at night, hop in the sack and put a big smile on the face of a Token Love Interest young enough to be his granddaughter. By the end, he's racked up a body-count that makes Rambo look like Beetle Bailey and, as the cherry on top of this slaughter souffle, liquidates his nemesis, the reverse-mohawked leader of the villainous gang, with a rocket fired from a few feet away, reducing the sadistic thug to atoms without even mussing his own hair.

The original DEATH WISH earns its status as a gritty classic, in part because it was genuinely Thought Provoking. The team behind DEATH WISH 3 apparently identified this as a problem with that earlier film. And, with DEATH WISH 3, they certainly remedied it. The film does manage an impressive feat of its own though. Aggressively awful and without a single other redeeming characteristic, it still manages to be utterly, relentlessly, even mercilessly entertaining. Sometimes, that's all a movie needs.[1] A poster on one of the IMDb boards this morning reviewed it and rated it 9 out of 10. I don't deal in number ratings, of course, but if I did, I suspect I would probably put it somewhere closer to 12 out of 10.



[1] An alternate interpretation: DEATH WISH 3 is perhaps the only unintentional surrealist masterpiece in the history of cinema. Can there be any doubt that if Buñuel had made an '80s action picture, it would look an awful lot like this? Except maybe Martin Balsam would have been in a dress at some point.


  1. Awesome review! I haven't seen 2 or 3...but it has been on watch list for sometime. :|

    I did really enjoy the the first one, like you said, it really made you think.

  2. I may write about the first DEATH WISH next. As I recall, the second one is more or less a remake of the first--haven't seen it in a long time.

    DW3 can be watched without the others, because it's like something from an entirely different planet. Totally insane.

  3. I've not seen *any* of the Death Wish films, not even the original, but I obviously need to sometime. I just remember one major critic (it may have been Roger Ebert) calling #2 one of the worst films he's ever seen. :)

    Hope things straighten themselves out for you and we get to see more updates. I always enjoy reading your stuff. Take care.

  4. Fun review of a masterpiece of fun, I really need to see this again soon. It truly is hard to believe it's a part of the same series as the original!

  5. I just finished watching this and am glad I took the time to check it out. There was a classic-action movie feel to it, but at the same time it was just as exciting as any other films of this caliber that has come out more recently. The sensational music playing and Paul’s arrival to New York City and into a brutal crime-zone at the beginning did make me think of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. I do love the way these types of films disgust viewers with the deeds of the bad guys, making it more pleasurable when someone like Kersey finally kicks some ass, even if he does seem ridiculously untouchable, or it seems a bit too convenient that the bad guys are always such bad shots. I do like this character though and I am looking forward to checking out the rest of the series.

  6. It's a completely ridiculous movie. The sadism of the bad guys is a riot--a scene in which one of them kicks a puppy is conspicuous by its absence.

    According to the Dumb Action Movies Narrative manual (DAMN), the villains aren't always required to miss the hero, but the damage they're allowed to inflict is of a superficial nature--shots to the shoulder are the most common--or is only intended to injure sufficiently to, later in the picture, invoke the Righteous Vengeance clause of the "Hero" section.

    I haven't seen HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, but I've heard numerous comparisons. DEATH WISH 3 stands entirely apart from the rest of the series. Definitely a one-of-a-kind.

  7. I hope everything gets better for you my friend!

  8. Excellent analysis. I like how you go with the Reagan-era subtext that went thru the film. Bronson was a conservative and he told Winner (did you read Winner's hilarious -- and self-serving -- autobio?) when Winner asked if he'd like to make DW I - "I'd like to kill muggers." So there you have it. DW I was the only "serious" movie - the other are farces with DW III coming in strong as a hilarious black comedy. I saw it in the theaters with a bunch of drunken friends on opening night and we laughed so hard the other patrons had to ask us to "please shut up." I look forward to reading more of your DW reviews.