TO WATCH IT IS A DEATH WISH.
About a month ago, Edgar Wright (director of the fabulously inventive Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz) was the curator of the Curzon Soho Midnight Movies night. Midnight Movies, since way back in the 1970’s have been the perfect space for the obscure and the ludicrous outer reaches of film have gathered, from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo (nuts) to the rather unique charms of Wright’s choice. Death Wish 3. While I had to miss out on the big screening, I took the opportunity to take in this classic of the 80’s B-Movie scene and boy was it worth it. Death Wish is really all about two people, Charles Bronson, as the anti-hero, architect turned vigilante Paul Kesey and the director of the films (1-3) Michael Winner (nee of the esure car adverts) After the surprise success of the first Death Wish (one of the biggest grossing films of 1974 if you can believe that!) Winner and Bronson came back for two more sequels together. (+ a number of other risible films, The Stone Killer stands out in this regard) With Death Wish II (1982) Winner and Bronson ditched some of the qualities and semi plausibilities of the first film and headed straight for exploitationville. It is a risible, depressing experience. No such problem exists with Death Wish III simply because it is so amazingly bad, so ridiculous it is now regarded as a satire on vigilante justice.
The reason’s for the films epic badness are based primarily on the people who green-lighted it. Cannon Films, a huge (now defunct) studio dedicated to churning out action/horror/sci-fi films on shoestring budgets when low rent action was in it’s boom time in the 1980’s. Cannon was in many respects a natural successor to Roger Corman’s AIP (American International Pictures), while AIP begat the careers of Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Warren Beatty and many other iconic actors and actresses of the 70’s, Cannon gave us the delights of Chuck Norris in Delta Force, Dolph Lundgren with Masters Of The Universe and even Christopher Reeve with the pathetic Superman IV. But Bronson was the star of all stars for the studio in the 80’s.
So why is Death Wish III so bad, but so brilliant? Fundamentally, it’s more of less than the sum of it’s parts. Serious, yet hilarious, technically pathetic yet somehow charming with it. The editing for examples, was completed by someone who was obviously smoking crack. The locations are ludicrous in the extreme. (Set in New York, it was shot entirely on location in East London and in particular Hackney, which last time I looked, doesn’t exactly resemble East Brooklyn all that much) Paul Kesey’s love interest is so five minutes of bad acting and brilliant demises. The gangs (that Bronson is waging war against) might as well be an amalgamation of a Broadway chorus line with their moves and their costumes that Mad Max might want back, the acting and dialogue are so supremely bad that you just sit agog at the whole enterprise, and the entire set-up of the movie is almost too laughable to be true. While the climatic face off (including stunningly poor shooting from both Bronson and the gang members that has to be seen to be believed) is a Western gone into overdrive. It looks, acts and feels like a bunch of people doing it for the paycheck. The plot holes are numerous and maybe it’s one artistic saving grace is a modern synth heavy soundtrack from one Jimmy Page.
You might think that with these ‘unique’ set of qualities sitting through Death Wish III might be the most useless 83 minutes of your life, well if you are a big fan of art-house films, and see film through a very narrow artistic lens then you’d probably be right. However, if you at all fascinated by the smelly badly acted and poorly directed underbelly of film, a world away from the platitudes and glamour of Cannes, or Oscar Night, or the BAFTA’s then there probably isn’t a better place to start. Simply put ‘They don’t make ’em like they used to’ but amen they did.
Here’s the trailer…