Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, June 8, 2012

Recent Watches: Death Wish 3

If the first “Death Wish” was a mostly serious examination of vigilante justice and the second was the exploitation movie version of the same story, “Death Wish 3” is the video game take on the concept. It is completely divorced from Brian Garfield’s source novel and has more in common with a Punisher comic book. The movie still tries to sell Paul Kersey as a normal man in the beginning but, by the first five minutes when he’s shoved a guy’s head through the bars of a prison cell, it’s no use. Paul Kersey has become an ultra-violent superhero. He doesn’t even design houses anymore.

The movie dispenses of any grey areas and gets right to the point. Literally, in the opening minutes, before we even really know who the characters is, Kersey’s old war buddy Charlie is killed in his home by a group of leather and bandana wearing ‘creeps.’ (The young criminals are never called anything else.) The character exists to die and has no deeper importance then to inspire outrage in Paul and outrage in the audience. Back in New York, Kersey is immediately taken in by the cops, blamed for his buddy’s death. While in jail, he meets Fraker, another psychotic creep with shaved-off eyebrows. Fraker hates Bronson almost indiscriminately and is immediately set up as the film’s super villain. The cop knows who our protagonist is and flat-out give him carte blanche, despite his conviction that he’s retired from vigilant-ing. It doesn’t take a lot to change his mind. He becomes a vigilante sanctioned by the law. Kersey quickly meets up with an apartment building filled with similarly old people, smack-dab in the middle of New York’s most crime infested ghetto. His quest to defend the residents of the apartment complex soon escalates into an all-out war. He becomes a Galaga ship, gunning down an endless army of faceless color-coded enemies. The video game tone is further enforced by the synth heavy main theme. The rest of the movie reuses Jimmy Page’s part 2 score, keeping all the rumbling guitars and animal growls.

Despite taking place in the then modern day, New York as depicted in this film appears post-apocalyptic, overrun with vaguely Mad-Max-ian gangs. In addition to the uniforms of leather, denim, chains, and bandanas, Fraker’s gang all have weird division symbol marks painted on their faces. One of his underlings is a purse-snatcher called The Giggler, who does exactly that. Before the third act, he gets on the phone with Creeps-R-Us and orders an army of thugs who desire nothing more then to wreak havoc. They do cocaine, rape women (I’m beginning to think Michael Winner has issues with women.), ride into town on giant motorcycles, and blow up buildings with grenades. The characters are constantly compared to cockroaches and, like roaches are uncontrollably driven to eat, reproduce, and poop, these creeps are biologically motivated to rob, rape, and create chaos. The police are completely powerless to stop them. The cops spend more time hassling the completely innocent apartment tenants. Only one man can stop this massive wave of petty crime. One man with a mustache. 

There are other clues this film takes place in an alternate universe. Charles Bronson orders massive guns, including a handgun designed to kill elephants but does just fine on people, through the mail. Aside from a young Hispanic couple, three guesses what happens to the wife, the gangs solely threaten middle-age to elderly people. More so then any of the other films, this is a fantasy for Conservative nut jobs terrified by all the youngsters around them. After shooting a ‘creep’ in cold blood in front of a bunch of people, every one cheers and claps in joyous celebration. Before the film is over, all the normal folk, the old black lady, the elderly Jewish couple, the cop, all of them learn to embrace the joys of vigilante justice. Charles Bronson is their violence messiah, come to teach them all that the only good creep is a dead creep. The movie does nothing but celebrate and prop up this frankly psychotic world-view. I love brainless action movies and even this made me a little queasy.

Just a little though. The entire last half-hour of the film is almost nothing but Bronson gunning down creep after creep, many of them with a giant WW2-era belt-fed Browning machine gun. It’s easily the highest body count of his career. While I imagine the people who made the film had no idea how hilarious hipsters would consider it twenty years later, there’s certainly no mistaking it for reality. If you want gloriously over-the-top bloody action, “Death Wish 3” delivers in spades. Its pure carnage that would be unmatched until Rambo went to Burma.

Despite being surrounded by nothing but death and gunfire, Bronson seems in pretty high spirits throughout. I think this is the most he’s smiled during the entire series. He loves hanging out with his new group of friends and the chance to murder creeps completely unopposed by the law seems to be heaven for him. He gets a much younger girlfriend and even a love scene. She has maybe fifteen total minutes of screen time before, guess what?, she gets killed, in maybe the funniest moment in a movie full of unintentional hilarity. It doesn’t slow Bronson down much. He ends the movie smiling, walking away from a city in flames.

Morally reprehensible but irresistible in its absurdity and stupidity, thanks to countless cable showings, “Death Wish 3” has garnered a cult following for exactly those qualities. Any body who takes it seriously is probably insane and I fear for their families. Everyone else feel free to laugh your asses off at it. (7/10)


Alex Winter, future Bill S. Preston and star/director of the deranged-in-a-different-way comedy “Freaked,” plays Fraker’s second-in-command. His introduction involves jumping on a woman’s windshield and demanding to perform violent cunnilingus on her.

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