There are certain genre films that are so influential that they become templates for a thousand rip-offs. They introduce the plot devices and design elements that subsequent films turn into formulas. After awhile, we tend to forget there was ever a time when these ideas and concepts were original. This results in a sad, ironic legacy for these pivotal works, as only those few possessing a real knowledge of film history can recognize that these, here, are the progenitors of these now overused ideas. I call these influential films Keystone Movies.
Jaws has influenced every ‘big monster’ movie that followed, particularly the underwater menace movies. How many other films stole its ‘greedy capitalists/politicians who won’t close the beach/forest preserve/museum/festival/London Bridge (yes, that’s a real one), etc.,’ subplot? How many movies since Blade Runner have featured industrial fans (with light slanting through) as a design element on their murky ‘futuristic’ sets? How many monsters have ripped off Alien? Has anyone done a ‘soldiers searching for monsters’ scene in the last fifteen plus years that hasn’t reminded audiences of Jim Cameron’s Aliens? How many chase scenes (and costumes) in post-apocalyptic flicks have, uh, referenced the Mad Max movies? How many ‘serial killers back from the grave’ have there been since A Nightmare on Elm Street? And so on, and so on.
Most Keystone Movies are horror and sci-fi movies. This is partly because a great many of these flicks get made. And most of them are made quickly and cheaply, conditions under which originality isn’t often a requirement. But there are other Keystone Movies that fall outside the fantastic genres. Two of the most influential are thematically close enough that their respective cliches have been cross-breeding for years now (Jaws and The Birds have a similar relationship). I speak of Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, which established about every ‘roge cop’ clichÃ© imaginable, and Death Wish, the Charles Bronson starrer that established the Vigilante film. After all, the plots are fairly similar, except one features a cop killing criminals, the other a civilian killing criminals.
Death Wish was the story of Paul Kersey, a successful and politically liberal architect. His life abruptly falls apart when his family is beaten and raped by street thugs (including a very early role for Jeff Goodblum). His wife dies and their daughter ends up in a coma. Kersey loses it and takes to the street, luring muggers into secluded locales and blowing them away. Unsurprisingly, in an era of rampant street crime, he soon becomes a public hero. The cops, on the other hand, resent the competition. In the end, the police uncover Kersey’s identity and offer him a deal: Leave town and his secret is safe.
This sets up the four sequels. Kersey travels from town to town, and inevitably is forced or talked into taking up arms against the scum. As is usually the case, the first film is both stronger and subtler than those that follow. In the original, Kersey is physically and emotional vulnerable. After his first encounter with a mugger, he runs to his bathroom and throws up. As well, he arms himself with a simple revolver, while in the later films he leaned on increasingly outrageous ordnance (as we shall see). The first movie was also as interested in the political and social ramifications of the situation as with the pandering onscreen violence.
However, the series doesn’t follow one general rule of sequels, which tend to get progressively worse with each subsequent flick (see the Jaws and Halloween series). In this case, the third film is by far the worst, so bad that the following pictures almost had to get better. Oddly, the last film in the series, Death Wish 5, is probably the second best of the lot, after the first film. This was disappointing for those of us who expected the horrendous level of the third film to be sustained in later sequels. This included my friend Andrew and me, who eagerly rushed to the theaters to see Death Wish 5. We immediately grasped its relative competence and groused for much of the rest of the picture.
No such worries here.
We open with Paul Kersey returning to New York City, from which he was exiled at the end of the first movie. However, the production of the Death Wish series had been taken over by the small, independent Cannon Group. So in accordance with new economic realities, Kersey comes back not by plane, but by bus. And not just any bus, mind you, but noticeably a Trailways bus. Boy, that probably knocked twenty or thirty bucks off the budget.
This piece of product placement accomplished, we cut inside to see the notably aged Charles Bronson. Chuck was 64 (!) during production of this film. We also can’t help but notice the movie’s, uh, eclectic theme music. It starts out like a generic ’70s blaxploitation theme (although about ten years too late). Then it segues into a jazzier piece, more like the theme from the Alice TV series. As a special kick in the gut to rock fans, it turns out that the film’s laughable score was composed by none other than Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. And unfortunately for us, the song remains the same for the rest of the picture.
In any case, the filmmakers have an entire hour and half to fill up. So they blow nearly four whole minutes with this ‘Trailways bus driving through New York’ footage. Not only does this get us off to, uh, an exciting start, but it helps (sorta) to disguise the fact that the bulk of the film was actually shot in England (!), filling in for New York City. We cut to a barren, burned out portion of ‘New York.’ We immediately see the kind of gang members that one seldom sees outside of comic books and B-Movies: scruffy looking, yet oddly well scrubbed; attired in quaintly generic ‘punk’ clothing, featuring much torn but always new looking leather and denim adorned with the occasional Iron Cross medal; hideously dyed and radically cut hair that is nonetheless immaculately shampooed; and, of course, gang membership of an oddly multiracial composition.
We watch one such hooligan run into a dilapidated building. He begins to beat on an apartment door, luring Charlie, the sixty-ish resident, to poke his head outside. Two more punks then sneak through Charlie’s back window and grab him. In an appearance that rates a solid two (out of ten) on the Embarrassed Actor Scale, we recognize one of the punks, ‘Hermosa,’ to be Alex Winter, ‘Bill’ of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure fame. I considered awarding the blond haired and extremely pale Winter an extra point for playing a ‘Hispanic,’ but didn’t want to start inflating totals.
The thugs proceed to give Charlie what would be considered a savage beating, if it wasn’t so blatantly phony. Just to draw the ‘good guys/bad guys’ line a bit more starkly, an American flag and military service medals are prominently featured as part of Charlie’s decor. Meanwhile, Kersey has arrived at the bus terminal. Just so we ‘get’ that the City is in a state of criminal anarchy, the first thing that happens to him is that miscreants run right into him as he collects his baggage. And they don’t even apologize! I’m telling you, I’d have started blowing away the scum right there.
Back to Charlie’s place. The punks continue to administer his beating in a manner so bogus that it would embarrass members of the World Wrestling Federation. They also take a knife to his meager furnishings, apparently to earn bonus nogoodnik points. Kersey tries to call Charlie’s place from the bus station (ah, it’s all starting to come together!), but the call is disconnected the hard way. Worried, Our Hero jumps into a taxi and heads out. (Although this area is supposed to be a criminal hellhole where even cops fear to tread, people throughout the movie have no problem getting cabs to drive them there.)
On the way over, we watch what is a definite candidate for Lamest Stunt Gag Ever. Seeing that the road is blocked by an auto accident, Kersey offers the cabbie a sawbuck to get them out of there. The director then employs an odd camera placement, shooting up from the curb. This is an obvious attempt to lend some much needed excitement to the scene. But the fact remains that the cab merely drives up onto a low, utterly empty sidewalk and is soon past the obstruction. Also, it’s now evident that there was more than enough road left to bypass the accident anyway, making the ‘stunt’ even lamer.
Back at the apartment complex, we watch a variety of characters listening to the shenanigans going on at Charlie’s place. All of them live in extraordinarily clean and well-lit apartments, but are so afraid of the punks that no one even calls the cops until it’s way too late. The best such moment features an old couple cowering in their apartment. A Menorah fills the foreground of the shot, a symbol (like Charlie’s flag and medals) of these peoples’ basic decency and moral uprightness, as opposed to the nihilistic depravity of the gang members.
The punks run off just as Kersey’s cab arrives out front. He’sâ€¦too late! Entering the apartment, he finds the (none too convincingly) bloody Charlie lying on the floor. Charlie dazedly asks him to watch his stuff “until I gets back,” then immediately dies in exaggerated, eye popping fashion. This tender moment is interrupted by the belated arrival of the cops. Of course, they immediately set to beating on Kersey.
Kersey’s hauled downtown, having been charged with Charlie’s murder. Of course, even the most cursory examination of the crime scene would belie that idea (for instance, Kersey doesn’t have any blood spattered on him). Watching the cops take Kersey out of the building is actor Martin Balsam. Balsam’s appearance here earns a solid four on the Embarrassed Actor Scale. While not a huge star, Balsam gets bonus points for having appeared in classic films like Psycho, as well as having won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for A Thousand Clowns.
In spite of the ludicrous nature of the charges, and again in all defiance of the physical evidence, we see a group of detectives attempting to beat a confession out of Kersey. (So ‘The System’ isn’t merely useless, but rather actively hostile to the ‘honest’ citizens it was designed to protect.) Amazingly, while the filmmakers remember to have one the cops wield a rubber hose (!), they somehow forgot to provide a bright spotlight for shining on Kersey’s face. At least they have him taunted with a tantalizing glass of water.
Chief Shriker enters the room. He’s played by Ed Lauter, one of those instantly recognizable actors who makes a living playing crooks, cops and military officers on pretty much every TV show made in the last twenty years. “Who’s this dude?,” he inquires. (‘Dude’?) He takes one look at Kersey and kicks the others out of the room. (Which appears to be an elementary school classroom, adorned with a few office desks and file cabinets in order to create the ‘illusion’ of a squad room.)
Shriker has recognized Kersey to be the man who terrorized New York’s criminal element a decade earlier. “The last damn thing I need is a vigilante. Dude, you’re in big trouble,” he states. (‘Dude’?) Kersey maintains that he’s retired from the vigilante business, and requests a lawyer. Meanwhile, a cockroach makes a symbolic entrance, and promptly gets stepped on by Shriker. Just in case you don’t ‘get’ what the cockroach might symbolize, don’t worry. They’ll be repeating the image again later.
“Maybe I should have you killed,” Shriker muses. “Who’s gonna complain?” Certainly not the NAFC (National Association of Film Critics). When Kersey asks if he always violates people’s constitutional rights, Shriker punches him in the face. Kersey reacts by kicking him in the groin (strangely, Shriker fails to loudly shriek, “My Balls!!” at this juncture). The other detectives run in and grab Kersey. They also take the opportunity to practice their ventriloquism skills, yelling things like, “Son of a Bitch!,” and “C’mon, tough guy!,” all while noticeably not moving their lips. Shriker orders them to lock Kersey up, and forget that bail stuff.
Kersey is escorted to the holding cell. As he enters, two inmates immediately begin fighting, the film’s subtle way of indicating that we’ve entered Lord of the Flies territory (duh). Seconds later, a fat skinhead attempts to coldcock Kersey. Kersey grabs him and rams his head through the cell bars. We don’t really see this, of course. One second he’s propelling the guy, then a quick cut and the guy’s head is through. Phony looking blood is applied to the guy’s noggin, though, so that we ‘get’ that the process was painful.
This seems a good time to ask an elementary question. In the first movie, Kersey was a dainty liberal professional who took to gunning down scum. This, however, is a far cry from being able to manhandle creeps a third his age. When, and how, did Kersey become such a great hand-to-hand fighter?
The only one not laughing his head off over this incident (other than the disgusted Kersey and his victim) is Fraker, a chilly, evil eyed creep sitting across the way. He and Kersey lock eyes and ominous music plays, movie shorthand that we’ve just been introduced to the picture’s archvillain. We cut to the Chief’s office. Drinking rot gut, he’s watching Kersey over the security system, keeping an eye on how Kersey’s handling himself.
The next morning, Fraker orders some dudes to jump Kersey. (‘Dudes’? Oops, it’s catching.) Again, the two flunkies are a white guy and a black guy, showing that while Fraker’s gang might be evil, at least they’re an equal opportunity employer. The surprised Kersey again manages to toss the duo around for a bit, until they manage to corral him. Then Fraker comes over to administer a personal beating, one that would cripple any normal guy (particularly the kicks to the ribs), much less a guy in his sixties. Of course, the seemingly beaten Kersey manages to get a blow in before the henchman regain their hold. Then the cops run in, breaking things up.
Fraker’s lawyer shows up to arrange for his release. This leads to some gloating to Kersey (and us) about how the law’s there for the bad guys to manipulate. He warns Kersey that he’ll kill him if he sees him again. “Tell you want I’m going to do,” he drawls. “I’m gonna kill a little old lady, just for you. Catch it on the six o’clock news!” Just why Fraker thinks that Kersey would give a flying fig isn’t explicated. Perhaps he can just tell that Kersey’s a ‘good guy.’ Or maybe IITS (It’s in the Script). Fraker ultimately ‘invites’ Kersey to visit his turf, which (who have thunk?!) just happens to be the area where Charlie lived. Wow, it must be destiny (or a really lame script).
Shriker enters the station, and is accosted by Kathryn Davis, Kersey’s suspiciously attractive Public Defender. When apprised that there’s no bail, or even charges levied against Kersey, she erupts (in a mild fashion). “Are you out of your mind?,” she asks. “You’re violating all of his rights!” I believe that that’s an exaggeration, but what do I know? Maybe Kersey will go back to his apartment and find that Shriker has quartered soldiers there. She notes that Kersey has a perfect case for suing the department. Shriker replies that he doesn’t think that that will happen, and warns her to “stay out of this one.” Needless to say, she won’t.
Shriker is running a staff meeting, bitching about the insane level of crime in what happens to be gang leader Fraker’s turf. “This isn’t a neighborhood,” he bellows, “It’s a war!” He demands to know what the shift captain has done about this. The captain replies that police presence in the area has been increased fifteen percent. When pressed for the results of this, he sheepishly admits that “crime’s up eleven percent.” (Personally, I believe that this movie takes place in an Alternate Universe, one where David Dinkins beat Rudy Guiliani and was reelected as Mayor of New York City.)
Aware that the normal resources at his command are ineffective, Shriker pulls Kersey from his cell for a little powwow. It turns out that Shriker is really quite a fan of Kersey’s work. He even waves about a file that he’s kept on him. This seems to hold perhaps three sheets of paper. But then, he never said it was a very extensive file. Despite his earlier statement, it appears that a vigilante is the first damn thing he needs. Shriker wants Kersey to start blowing away all the scum he can manage. “This time,” he notes, “you work for me.”
At this, the camera angle shifts for one of the weirdest shots I’ve ever seen. We cut to a low angle shot of Shriker. From here, we can’t help but notice the prominent shooting trophy, complete with a brass representation of a revolver, sitting in the foreground in front of his crotch. This is obviously (and I mean obviously) meant to be a phallic image, but to what purpose, I can’t begin to imagine. Your first impulse is that the shot is satiric in nature, but nothing else in the film implies a sense of irony. I suppose that, instead of making a dreadfully obvious and inept movie, director Michael Winner may have instead crafted an absolutely brilliant and superbly subtle piece of satire. But I have to say, having seen the film more than once, that it’s easier to buy as the work of an idiot than of a genius.
That night, we see Fraker, fresh out of jail, entering the burned out hovel that houses his gang. A spotlight is centered on his back, so that he casts a ‘cool’ giant shadow as he approaches the building. The fact that this looks totally unnatural, as if to say, “Hey, you! You’re watching a movie, here!,” apparently wasn’t considered relevant. Upstairs, the gang is inventorying the day’s loot on a stained old mattress. Let’s just say that I don’t think that they’ll be relocating to the Trump Tower any time soon. Fraker sneaks up, and sees that gang banger Hector is attempting a power play in his absence. Fraker reasserts his alpha dog status by shoving a gigantic switchblade into Hector’s neck.
Oddly, ‘Hector’ was obviously wearing a panel beneath his shirt. It looks to me like a squib panel. A squib is a small explosive charge, used to blow a hole in clothing and/or rupture a ‘blood’ bag, in order to similate that person being shot. (Squibs are also used to similate bullet holes appearing in walls, car doors, etc.) I’m assuming that a prop or something went wrong on the set, and that they decided to do the easier fake stabbing instead.
Back at the station, Kersey meets Kathryn Davis, his appointed PD (remember?). She asks Kersey if he wishes to file suit against the Police Department, and seems bewildered when he says no. Frankly, you’d think she’d be relieved and go work on one of the other five hundred case files which she’s been assigned. Apparently afraid that he won’t eat up any more of her time, she gives him her card. She also asks where she can reach him, but he just walks off.
Kersey walks back to Charlie’s building, checking out the neighborhood as he goes along. Needless to say, he sees numerous punks and random acts of mayhem as he proceeds. Along the way we meet ‘Giggler’, an extremely fleet of foot purse snatcher known for, yes, giggling while escaping with his swag. Kersey gives chase into a ramshackle parking garage, but it’s no go. Luckily, crimes are like buses in this neighborhood: Miss one, and another’ll come along in a minute. Sure enough, a car soon drives in, being menaced by Hermosa, who’s clinging to the hood. He’s trying to get at the car’s driver, played by Marina Sirtis.
Sirtis went on to play Counselor Deanna Troi for seven years on TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation and in the subsequent films. As a minor celebrity, Sirtis earns a base one point on the Embarrassed Actor Scale. This is adjusted to a five for Star Trek geeks. Also, add three extra points for a) getting her breasts exposed later in the movie [2 pts.], while b) having no lines [1 pt]. Director Michael Winner must have liked her breasts, as they were also featured two years earlier in his movie The Wicked Lady (another candidate for membership here).
It should be noted that her cheastal appearance in that flick also earns a three-point bonus, though for different reasons. In Death Wise 3, we see her boobs during a ‘sexual assault’ scene [-1 pt]. You might think that such distasteful circumstances would result in a greater point total. However, since we end up feeling sorry for her (for having to flash her talents due to such a gross plot device), that diminishes her official Personal Embarrassment Quotient.
Conversely, her exposure in The Wicked Lady occurs during an eminently cheezy and laughable cat fight (with whips, yet!) with star Faye Dunaway. That’s worth two points, plus a further bonus point, because Sirtis’ breasts are exposed by another celebrity with a high cheese quotient (Dunaway). However, Sirtis also has actual lines in that movie, so she fails to earn that point. In total, Sirtis earns an a three on the standard Embarrassed Actor’s Scale, while hitting a mammoth eight on the Adjusted Trekkie Embarrassed Actor Scale. Congratulations, Marina! (Feel free to argue my findings, but all decisions of the judge are final.)
Marina Sirtis EAS: Death Wish 3
Base Point(s) 1 pt.
Shows Breasts 2 pts.
Bonus: Shows breasts, but doesn’t even get any real lines 1 pt.
Mitigating Circ. (Aud. Empathy) – 1 pt.
Total 3 pts
Base Points (Star Trek Geeks Only) 5 pts.
Adjusted Total 7 pts.
Marina Sirtis EAS: The Wicked Lady
Base Point(s) 1 pt.
Shows Breasts 2 pts.
Bonus: Breasts exposed when blouse ripped by Cheezy Celebrity Faye Dunaway 1 pt.
Total 4 pts.
Base Points (Star Trek Geeks Only) 5 pts.
Adjusted Total 8 pts.
Anyway, before I got into all that, we had Kersey standing in the parking garage. The terrified Maria (Sirtis) drives in, with Hermosa, a vicious hood, clinging to the, er, hood. She stomps on the brakes and her would-be assailant is thrown off the car, but rises intent on committing mischief. Kersey, however, intercedes with a convenient tire iron he found (such handy weapons are lying all over, waiting to be picked up like in a video game). Maria drives off, Hermosa runs off, and Kersey continues on towards Charlie’s building.
Kersey is hailed from an upper story window by Bennett (Martin Balsam), who comes down to meet him at the building’s entrance. Bennett, it turns out, was another pal of Charlie’s. Taking Kersey up to his apartment (which, in typical movie fashion, is absolutely gigantic), Bennett shows him a picture of him and Charlie as soldiers during WWII. Kersey himself, it’s revealed, met Charlie in Korea, when Kersey was a Conscientious Objector. (This is supposed to be ‘ironic.’ Or humorous. Or something.) Kersey had received a letter from Charlie, and confides to Bennett, in an astonished tone, “He sounded scared!” I’m not quite so sure why Kersey is so surprised by that. After all, Charlie was found beaten to death a couple of days later.
Bennett informs Kersey that Charlie was killed by the local gang (duh), because he wouldn’t knuckle under to them. Then he points out the window and shows Kersey the exact perpetrators. He had seen them running from the building after the killing (maybe if he had told the cops that, Kersey wouldn’t have spent all that time in jail). Also standing conveniently nearby is Fraker, who Bennett identifies as the gang’s leader. An odd close-up seems to indicate that Fraker notices them watching him, and returns the attention.
This raises one of the film’s sloppy, spatially related continuity problems. When Bennett addressed Kersey from the same apartment window, Kersey was closer than where the gang members are now standing. Yet Bennett’s figure was quite a bit smaller than those of the gang members as now seen out the window. And, of course, Kersey would have looked as small to Bennett as Bennett did to Kersey. So, as the gang members are farther away from Bennett’s window than Kersey was, they should be even teenier. But then, of course, they would have been too small for Kersey to take a good look at. Nor could Fraker have possibly noticed them watching him (if that is, in fact, what the ineptly edited sequence is trying to communicate).
Kersey informs Bennett of Charlie’s dying wish, about “watching his things.” “I’ve got Charlie’s key,” Bennett replies, “and the rent’s paid for the rest of the month.” This is convenient, if nonsensical. Bennett isn’t the landlord, so why would he have Charlie’s keys? Rent paid or not, wouldn’t the owner reclaim the room upon Charlie’s death? Given that the police investigation is but days old, and (at least technically) on-going, why hasn’t the apartment been secured as a crime scene?
Actually, Bennett reveals that, “They’ve [the police] cleaned up, they’ve dusted for prints, and are already through with their investigation.” This represents the only instance in the film in which the police act in an expedient and efficient manner. (More than that, even, since we’re told that they ‘cleaned up’ the place. Do the police really provide maid service after finishing their forensic examinations?) It seems a little opportune that the cops are only useless when it’s necessary to the, eh, plot. I suppose that Shriker might have expedited things, but then why didn’t he tell Kersey? This brings us to Ken’s Rule of Plot Holes (formulated long ago, and with the assistance of Mr. Andrew Muchoney): If it’s left to the audience to invent explanations for the film’s events, then somebody’s not doing their job.
The next morning, Kersey looks out his window as Bennett gives him the run down on the various gang members. Within two seconds we see Giggler doing his thing. Kersey asks for his story. Since Kersey will end up killing him later in the movie (gee, hope I didn’t blow anything there), we’re informed that he murdered a girl just last month, “put a knife in her skull.” This is because even your typical Charles Bronson fan might wonder if purse snatching warrants the death penalty (well, some of them, anyway). “How do you know it was him?,” Kersey asks. “It was him,” replies Bennett. Well, that’s good enough for me. Blow his head off, Kersey!
A Hispanic couple enters the apartment. It’s ‘Rodriguez’ and his wife, Maria. (Apparently, Rodriguez isn’t given a first name because they ran out. They used a lot of ‘Hispanic’ names for gang members, like Hermosa, and Tulio, Hector, Chaco, etc., and they must not have been any left.) Rodriguez thanks Kersey for saving his wife in the parking garage last night. Maria doesn’t say anything, and is generally ignored by the men standing all around her, but whether she’s supposed to be mute or merely ‘shy’ isn’t revealed. However, given the level of film making here, I’d say ‘mute,’ which would award her character extra ‘victim’ points.
Up at Bennett’s, Kersey is getting off the phone. “My friend Wildey’s coming,” he tells Bennett. “He’ll help out.” References to the mysterious Wildey will be a running joke (well, a staggering bore) until ‘his’ eventual appearance. And believe me, when the ‘riddle’ is solved, it’s not worth the build up. Kersey leaves to run some errands. First up, he goes to a store that rents out mail boxes. Then it’s a used car lot, where Kersey buys a car with a big wad of cash. He drives home, and parks it in front of the apartment building. Bennett comes over and points to car (which is already being cased by punks.) “What’s that for?,” he inquires. Uh, transportation? Actually, I’m wrong. Kersey grins. “Bait,” he replies whimsically.
Kersey mentions that he smelled something good in the hall. Bennett replies that it’s probably the Kaprovs cooking dinner. He takes Kersey down to meet the old couple (the Menorah owners we briefly saw earlier), and they invite the men to dinner. Kersey runs upstairs to wash up and grab a stylish but not overstated .38 revolver, perfect for a casual dinner party. Down at dinner, we see them enjoying each other’s company like civilized people. This lasts all of four seconds before the sound of smashing glass is heard.
Kersey excuses himself in order to check out the din. Thanks to some inept Foley work, this sounds like it’s coming from the next room, rather than out in the street. Unsurprisingly, he finds a couple of punks stripping his car. “What’s the problem,” he asks. The punks, unaccustomed to being questioned about their business, reply in rude fashion. “We’ll stealing the f***in’ car! What’s it to you?” (Actually, again, they’re not stealing the car, they’re stripping it.) “It’s my car!,” is the minimalist reply. Apparently, this is the wrong answer. “Now you’re gonna die,” one punk laughs. However, as is often the case in these movies, the punks have brought knives to a gun fight, and are soon exterminated. Kersey then heads back inside to continue dinner. Boy, nothing like a couple of executions to get the ol’ appetite going!
The next morning we see the gang engaged in some typical pursuits. First they chase off a cop car with a fusillade of bottles and bricks. Then, having found a rival gang member on their turf, they indulge in a little recreational homicide. (Although it’s hard not to notice the gang member wielding a toilet plunger.) Then it’s back to the station house, where Shriker is conducting the daily Staff Harangue. He tells the shift commander that he wants some arrests, and a couple of bodies in the morgue. “They can be your guys’ bodies, or some of that trash up there.” Then, having done his bit for staff morale, he takes his leave.
Coming out of the neighborhood grocery store, Rodriguez and Maria are hassled by a couple of scumbags. After demanding five dollars, they do that thing where one squats behind Rodriguez and the other pushes him over (!). At this, Maria starts screaming, “NO!,” the closest thing to dialog that she has in the movie (but at least we know that she’s not mute). Then, as the camera moves off her, we hear a stream of Spanish. The real reason that we never see the ‘Hispanic’ Maria speak while on camera is because actress Marina Sirtis is British, and sports a prominent English accent.
Rodriguez regains his feet, and we contemplate what further horrors await him. Wedgies? Wet Towel Snappings? Indian Burns? Luckily, however, he’s saved from these potential dire fates when the geriatric Kersey runs up and punches one of the punks, causing them to run off. Meanwhile, a young black kid watches these events. “Yeah!,” he yells at Kersey’s triumph, flashing him a power salute. “Right on, Man!” Emil the shopkeeper and his wife come out to meet Kersey, rejoicing that someone’s finally taking out the street trash. This is observed by Fraker, who promises to deal with the situation.
Inside his apartment, we watch Kersey do a couple of push-ups. This helps make it believable that he’s punching out groups of punks a third his age. Then he gets a phone call. It’s Fraker, calling for a little routine menacing. “I’m watching you,” he reveals, and hangs up. Sure enough, Kersey jogs into his bedroom and finds a series of fully rendered footprints, of the type seldom found outside a Scooby Doo cartoon. Particularly odd is that the sets of prints are always side by side, as if the guy hopped around the apartment. Anyway, to comic music, Kersey hammers a bunch of nails through a board and leaves them point up under the window. (Didn’t Macaulay Culkin use that one in Home Alone?)
Out for his evening constitutional, Kersey is attracted by flashing headlights to a parked car. It’s Shriker. He wants a felony bust or two to garner some favorable news headlines, and asks Kersey for some info. Kersey, however, plays dumb. I mean, c’mon, he’s here to kill punks, not to inform on them. “Fraker’s the head creep around here,” Kersey says. “Why don’t you bust him?” “He’s got a cleaner arrest record than you!,” snorts Shriker. “When he does something he does it privately.” Now, not only does the arrest record bit seem a tad unlikely, but everything we’ve seen so far contradicts the second statement. I mean, we’ve seen Fraker’s gang (with Fraker giving the orders) murdering people out on the street in broad daylight, for Pete’s sake. Posting a guy with a video camera in any apartment in the area, for just two or three days, would result in dozens of arrests.
Back inside his apartment, Kersey finds blood on the floor, indicating that his trap worked as planned (cue, again, the comedy music). Back in the remarkably seedy Gang HQ, the victim of Kersey’s little joke bitches about being hurt. Fraker, aware that Kersey is making him look bad, seethes and swears to take him out. The gang decides to step up general harassment of the citizenry, so that they don’t start looking weak. So the next day, we see a punk hassling an old woman. He runs off, though, as Kersey and Rodriguez, apparently on patrol, make an appearance.
Next we see Kersey exiting his building. A taxi pulls up, and out pops Kathryn Davis, the Public Defender chick. Kersey reaffirms that he’s not going to sue the Police Department, but it turns out that Davis came up to ask him out to dinner (!!). Now, first of all, she earlier had met Kersey for all of about two minutes. Second, she’s definitely, and I mean without a doubt, young enough to be his granddaughter. Third, as a PD, you wouldn’t think she’d have the time to track down some elderly client in the hopes of getting a date. These people work like a hundred hours a week. They agree to meet at her place on Friday night, much to the disgust of everyone in the audience (I’m assuming that Woody Allen’s not the sort of guy to watch Death Wish 3).
Next we get one of the film’s funnier scenes. The cops show up and start hassling the elderly Karpovs. It seems that they chased some punks out of their apartment with a gun. The punks then called the police (!), and now the cops are here to seize the gun, which are illegal in New York City (and also in England, where this was filmed). When asked who complained, the cop snarls, “That’s none of your business!” Yeah, that’s some subtly shaded stuff, all right.
Hmm. On the other hand, during the O.J. Simpson Riots in Los Angeles, the police department famously refused to confront the rioters. However, they were known to seize the firearms of storeowners who were attempting to protect their property. This usually resulted in rioters looting and burning down the now defenseless shops. So maybe the movie isn’t so silly after all.
Oh, wait, It is. For, of course, roughly the first moment after the cops have left with the gun, punks break through the bedroom window and resume menacing the couple. Oy vey! Kersey comes down to check out the situation, and has soon rigged a booby trap. This involves a spring loaded board that’ll smash the face of anyone trying to climb through the window. After he demonstrates this device to the Karpovs, they all laugh merrily at the gadget’s near lethal potential. Ahhh! Good times!
That night, Kersey and Bennett are again joining the Karpovs for dinner. Suddenly, a rather Jerry Lewis-esque shriek comes from the back. This portends a moment notable for its stupidity, even in this movie. They all run into the bedroom to investigate. When Kersey pulls back the board, two white and red objects are imbedded in it. “What are those?” Mr. Karpov inquires. “Teeth!” Kersey jovially responds.
Now, let’s examine this concept. You come in a window, and a board springs up from the floor and smacks you flush in the kisser. So how would two teeth end up embedded, crowns first mind you, in the board? This contraption might knock your teeth down your throat. Still, unless you had the most severe overbite in the history of mankind, there’s no way your teeth could possibly end up jutting into the board.
Anyway, the ‘hilarity’ concludes (because the whole ‘teeth’ thing is supposed to be funny) when we hear a Police APB requesting officers to keep an eye out for a suspect, who’s “missing two front teeth.” Just to remain consistent with the rest of the film, there are sloppy mistakes even in this five second bit. The radio describes the suspect as “Latino, about five foot six.” Now, let’s assume that the position of the teeth in the board gave a clue to the guy’s height (which it wouldn’t, as he would have been scrunching in order to enter the window). Even so, how the heck could they possibly be used to infer his ethnic background?!
The next morning, Paul and Rodriguez are on patrol when the Giggler grabs another purse. They give chase, but are soon outdistanced. (We only see Bronson running in very short clips. This helps imply that his character is running the whole distance, without causing Bronson’s heart to explode in his chest.) “This Wildey friend of yours,” the disgusted Rodriguez asks, “can he catch this guy?” Kersey nods yes. Back at the apartment, Bennett asks who Wildey is. “You’ll see!,” the impish Kersey replies. Next we see Kersey accepting a cake box sized parcel at the mail service shop. Laying the package on his table at home, Kersey looks up, and we see that all his neighbors are in attendance. “Wildey’s here!,” he tells them. Oh, boy! Finally, we’re going to meet Wildey. Man, after all that build-up, this is going to be great!
Needless to say, it’s not. Wildey turns out to be a gigantic semi-automatic pistol manufactured by Wildey, Inc. “Real stopping power,” Kersey notes. Then, like some transparent audience shill in an infomercial, Bennett pipes up. “Is that like a .44 magnum?,” he asks. No, Kersey replies. The .44 is a pistol cartridge, the Wildey magnum is, “a shorter version of the African big game cartridge.” (Whatever that means.) You know what that means, right? Kersey’s packin’ bigger than Dirty Harry! You go, Dude! (‘Dude’? I’ve got to stop doing that.) Anyway, it’s reassuring that Kersey will be toting the kind of firepower that you’d use to nail a rhinoceros or elephant.
Now comes the movie’s low point, surprisingly revolting even for a picture like this. Maria is assaulted by Fraker and three more of the gang. Almost immediately, her shirt is ripped opened, as this scene is being used as an excused to bare some breasts. (This is why the almost pathologically modest Maria isn’t wearing a bra; it would get in the way of breast baring.) Frankly, I had thought that the reprehensible practice of using rape scenes to inject some ‘sex’ into a picture had gone by the boards, even in exploitation flicks. Unfortunately, this film proved me wrong. My only advice is to have your remote ready when this scene begins.
We cut to Rodriguez, crying in his apartment. You can tell that it’s his because of the decorative sombreros (!) on the wall. Kersey and Bennett are there to provide comfort. The report has come in: Maria was raped, but her physical injuries are restricted to a broken arm. Kersey orders a taxi and takes Rodriguez to the hospital. Meeting with her doctor, they learn that Maria has in fact died. The arm was badly shattered, resulting in blood clots that broke loose and made their way to the heart.
Back at Kersey’s apartment, he’s lovingly assembling new cartridges for his Wildey. Then, tucking the piece into his waistband, he heads out for the street, grabbing a camera case. (Unsurprisingly, a big logo for Nikon is quite noticeable – this is a classic example of produce placement, even though in this case I suspect it was arranged by the Pentax company.) Kersey walks down the block to the local grocery, and buys himself an ice cream bar. He also tosses one to that kid who gave him the power salute earlier. Back on the street, he spots the Giggler, and lazily hangs the camera case over his shoulder. Sure enough, the Giggler takes the bait. This time, however, Kersey is ready. He pulls out the Wildey and blows him away. This leads to an uproar of applause and celebration from the locals, as ‘triumph’ music plays in the background.
The next morning the rest of the gang is bummed out. “They killed the Giggler!,” one sensitive young hood cries. “They had no business doin’ that,” Fraker agrees. Meanwhile, Shriker shows up to check out the crime scene. A woman, one of the celebrating citizens from the previous evening, runs over to give him her two cents. “I’m glad he’s dead,” she shouts. “He took my pocketbook three weeks ago!” (Wow, talk about a law and order mentality!) Shirker pulls back the sheet to examine the corpse, complete with a neat circular ‘wound’ through his chest. “There’s not much left of this sucker, is there?,” he inquires. Well, yeah, actually. Pretty much all of him, save for the part of his chest through which the bullet passed. I mean, they’re not going to have to collect his remains with a sponge or anything.
Next we go to Kathryn’s apartment, where Kersey is arriving for their date. (Ugh!) Dinner is quickly over, and Kathryn and Kersey trade some small talk. “I don’t know anything about you,” remarks Kathryn. Well, let’s examine the facts here. She had met the guy twice, and talked to him for a grand total of perhaps five minutes, before he arrived for their date this evening. And yet, in so many ways, it’s like they’re still strangers. This scene is as poorly written as the rest of the film, but it’s much more noticeable here, because this is supposed to be the big ‘characterization’ scene. Kersey mentions his wife, dead these ten years or more. “Am I right?” Kathryn replies. “I guess that you’re afraid to be close to someone again.” Yeah, Kersey. I mean, how many tens and twenties of minutes are you going to spend with this young woman before you let her into your heart?
Changing the subject from this, uh, emotionally charged topic, Kersey asks her if she likes her work. Kathryn comes clean, admitting how she’s starting to hate representing the scum of the earth. In fact, she engages in a full fledged tirade on the subject, and about how the people have to start fighting back. Then she apologizes to Kersey, who she believes to be a gentle, harmless soul. Of course, this speech is meant to clue both us and Kersey into the fact that this chick has her head on straight. You go, girl! Satisfied as to her ideological purity, Kersey makes to go home, but not before they kiss goodnight. This is somewhat less offensive than the rape scene, but the ‘Hey, girlie, give grandpa some sugar’ quality of the image is still rather nauseating.
At gang headquarters, we see some kind of ritual taking place. Gang member The Cuban is snorting speed, readying himself for his assigned task of killing Kersey. Fraker then stands outside Kersey’s building, luring their target into the street. Kersey grabs the Wildey and takes the bait. In spite of the fact that Fraker is obviously leading him into a trap (and that he has like thirty or forty guys at his disposal), Kersey nonchalantly follows his lead. Then the trap is sprung, and Kersey is herded via gunfire to The Cuban’s position. Conveniently, for this scene, anyway, Kersey (or an obvious stunt version thereof) trips and loses hold of his pistol. Before he can recover it, more gunfire pushes him on.
Kersey ducks into a building, various thugs on his heels. Again, the creaking Kersey manages to beat up multiple foes forty years younger than he is. One punk, however, manages to stab him in the back with a stiletto before being felled. Luckily, we learn that Kelsey was wearing a bullet proof vest, and thus has escaped injury. There’s only one little problem with this scenario (apart from the fact that the knife obviously went in further than the depth of the vest): It wouldn’t work.
A so-called bullet proof vest is made up of tightly weaved layers of some tough yet energy absorbant material, such as Kevlar. When the bullet strikes the vest, the layers work to somewhat absorb but mostly diffuse the kinetic energy of the bullet. If enough force is diffused, the bullet fails to penetrate the vest, and the wearer is saved. This, of course, means that a more powerful shell, like a .44, is more likely to penetrate a vest than a .22 or .38. This is why, in real life, there are a variety of types and weights of vest. The heavier the vest (i.e., the more layers), the greater the amount of energy it can safely absorb/dissipate.
But again, the energy is diffused, not dissipated. You absorb pretty near the same amount of kinetic energy, only it’s spread over a greater area. So, instead of sustaining a penetration wound, you ‘merely’ feel like you’ve been kicked by a mule, or struck by a guy wielding a sledgehammer. People jumping up after taking a number of high powered shots to the chest, merely because they were wearing a vest, is fantasy. What happens is this scene is even sillier. A knife would sever the weave of fabric of which the vest is composed. In other words, the vest wouldn’t protect Kersey from a stabbing. It’s a ‘bullet’ proof vest, not a ‘knife’ proof vest.
At this point, The Cuban makes his appearance, ready to fulfill his assignment. (Why has one guy been picked to take out Kersey? Because if everyone in the gang were to attack him, there’s no way he could avoid being killed.) Kersey runs off, The Cuban in pursuit. His escape cut off by a ring of gang members, Kersey starts climbing the fire escape of a building. Making it to the roof, Kersey finds a handy tire iron, oddly similar to the one he earlier found in the parking garage. Kersey ambushes The Cuban, beating him so viciously that he changes into a mannequin. This is (needless to say) tossed off the roof, whereupon it plummets to the ground in a mannequin-like fashion. Luckily, the rest of the gang, previously ringed around the building, have apparently left. Kersey walks back home, locating the dropped Wildey pistol, which none of the various gang members had appropriated.
The next day, we see the police investigating the crime scene. Oddly, the building that The Cuban’s body is now next to is roughly twice as tall as the one he fell off. (I guess that they thought we wouldn’t notice.) This result, I believe, is due to a regular law of movie physics. Take one of those movies where the heroes have to jump off a cliff into the water below. The cliff is always like a hundred feet tall, but when they actually jump, they fall about twenty feet. Admittedly, this is often in slow motion, so maybe a slow motion foot equals five regular feet. Oh, another thing we’re not supposed to notice: when it landed, The Cuban’s body was pointed with the head towards the car’s right side. Now, it’s hanging over the opposite side of the car. I’m telling you, something spooky is going on around here.
Shriker shows up at Kersey’s apartment, whereupon he immediately crushes a cockroach. This, again, is symbolic. In case we don’t ‘get’ it, Kersey spells it out when Shriker tells him to lay off for a while. “It’s like killing roaches,” he explains. “You have to kill them all, otherwise what’s the point?” Anyway, why is Shriker calling him off already? Kersey has bumped off a total of four punks, hardly the bloodbath that Shriker promised he could conduct. Admittedly, Kersey has been rather public with his slayings, but no more so than Fraker’s crew.
Next we see the evil Fraker calling Emil the shopkeeper. He informs him that his wife is ill. It’s apparent that Fraker is calling from Emil’s own apartment, and a shift of camera angle reveals Mrs. Emil, complete with slashed throat. (Technically, I don’t believe that this condition qualifies as ‘ill.’) This is payback for Emil tossing one of Fraker’s hoods out of his shop the other day. Frankly, this seems a little disproportionate. Fraker later calls Kersey, blaming him for Mrs. Emil’s death.
Bennett is rather hacked off at this latest atrocity. He alludes to Kersey about some items that Charlie had left in his possession. Opening a cabinet, Bennett reveals a Browning Automatic Machine Gun, the large, belt-fed kind that you’d mount on a tripod. Kersey, however, is considering just leaving. He’s afraid that his continued presence will result in more innocents being killed. He ultimately decides to stay one more day, with the idea of taking Fraker out. Driving to Kathryn’s, he fails to notice Fraker following his car.
At Kathryn’s apartment, Kersey learns that she’s planning to visit her sister for a couple of weeks. She just wanted, ugh, to see him one more time before she left. To our horror, they again kiss. Then, in a scene that absolutely no one ever had to see, we cut to her lying in bed. At least they spared us an actual sex scene (thank goodness!), as it’s obvious that they’ve already done the deed. Or maybe not. This was, after all, in the days before Viagra. (Hey, my first Viagra joke! How’s that for topical!) Hungry from their exertions (which I refuse to even think about), the twosome head out to grab some food. They remain unaware that Fraker is parked nearby, watching their movements. They drive off, with Fraker tailing them.
Kersey drops by his mail service to pick up a few more armaments. Kathryn stays in the car, as romantic music plays in the background. He stops in the doorway, and the (ugh) lovers exchange wet, gooey glances. Suddenly, though, the music changes, warning us that something boring is about to happen. Wait. Not boring. Exciting. Yeah, that’s it. After all, now that Kersey’s slept with her, Kathryn is pretty much expendable. Sure enough, Fraker runs up and punches her out, while his henchguy releases the parking brake. Then they push the car down the inclined street. The car picks up a moderate amount of speed as it rolls (like, maybe twenty miles an hour), and, this being a movie, we all know what that means. Sure enough, Kathryn stirs just in time for the car to strike a squirrel, or something, and explode in improbably gigantic fashion.
Oddly, the filmmakers, throughout the series, felt that it was necessary to kill off Kersey’s love interest in each movie. The exception is the second film, where there’s a catatonic daughter left over from the first film to knock off. What makes the convention weird is that the deaths don’t always serve any plot purpose. In this film, Kersey is already engaged with the villains by the time they kill off Kathryn. In the fourth film, his girlfriend is bumped off in the last few minutes of the film. Among the last three sequels, it’s only in Death Wish 5, the best of the crop except for the original film, that the murder of his paramour results in Kersey’s retaliatory spree. So what’s the point?
Shriker finds the mourning Kersey in Kathryn’s apartment. He warns that his underlings have Kersey’s description from the Giggler killing, and that he should lie low for a while. Shriker is obviously afraid that Kathryn’s death will cause Kersey to go on a full fledged rampage. As he leaves, he orders some nearby cops to arrest Kersey when he comes out and stick him into protective custody. Kersey soon appears, surrendering without an argument.
Back in the ‘hood, Bennett’s repair business has been firebombed. Given the multiple, gigantic explosions that result, he must have been running a propane franchise in the back. An enraged Bennett runs back to the apartment building, looking for Kersey. Since Kersey is unavailable, Bennett decides to take matters into his own hands. He really should know better. After all, a sidekick trying to take action on his own always leads to disaster. Sure enough, Bennett grabs Charlie’s old BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and threatens the massed punks with it. Unfortunately, it jams (or something). The gang members, seeing his predicament, swarm him on the building’s fire escape. They beat him so savagely that he turns into a stuntman and falls over the balcony.
Shriker has Kersey released, because the hospitalized Bennett will only identify his assailants (there were like thirty of them) if Kersey is there. At the hospital, Kersey goes in to talk to Bennett. Bennett tells Kersey that there’s another BAR left in his apartment. As if the police, having found Bennett with a machine gun (not a submachine gun, mind you, but a full scale machine gun), wouldn’t have raided his apartment. In the film’s most tender moment, an emotional Bennett, all teary eyed, asks Kersey to, “Blow the scum away.” Kersey leans over and gently pats his hand. Meanwhile, Shriker has become tired of waiting for Kersey. Entering Bennett’s room, he finds that Kersey has sneaked off via the fire escape. Needless to say, this hardly makes Shriker look like a genius or anything.
Kersey grabs yet another cab, stopping by the mail service shop to pick up some additional goodies. (Can I finally ask: Where’s he getting this stuff?) As he enters his building, a punk goes off to inform Fraker of his presence. Meanwhile, Kersey is grabbing Charlie’s remaining, belt-fed machine gun. This is a classic moment in any action flick, when the hero arms himself to the teeth for the final confrontation. As he exits Bennett’s apartment, a smiling Rodriguez stands ready to help Kersey with his belt. (Uh, of ammo, of course.) Back at Kersey’s place, Our Hero reclaims his Wildey. Opening his packages, he shows Rodriguez a handy-dandy LAWS rocket, along with a couple of self-propelled, explosive rounds.
Over at Gang HQ, Fraker has been informed of Kersey’s return. Sensing that the final battle is at hand, he calls another gang (or something) to borrow some more guys. I wasn’t aware that gangs had a lend/lease program in operation, but hey, you learn something new every day. Meanwhile, back at Kersey’s, we watch in dismay as Rodriguez enters wielding a zip gun (a sort of home-made, single shot weapon, made from a pipe and having an effective range of roughly six inches). Frankly, at this point, anything less than a small nuclear device looks wimpy.
Kersey, meanwhile, natters on about his boffo missile launcher, loads it, then tucks it behind an end table (!). Exactly why he’d go to the trouble of ordering this thing, only to leave it behind in his apartment, isn’t gone into. Still, though, anyone who’s seen his fair share of action flicks knows that it’ll get used eventually, no matter how awkward the set-up turns out to be. Anyway, having donned his bullet proof vest (an extremely light one, by the way), Kersey is ready to go.
Out on the streets, dozens of ‘bikers’ arrive to provide Franker’s gang with backup. The streets are soon (like, in moments) an orgy of violence, as the goons start beating and harassing every citizen they can grab hold of. It’s much like that scene in Blazing Saddles, where a couple of ruffians deliver devastating blows into the torso of an old woman. She eventually looks up into the camera, and asks, “Have you ever seen such cruelty?” Of course, in that movie, it was supposed to be funny.
The tide shifts when Kersey steps onto his building’s fire escape and begins blasting away with the BAR. A nifty camera angle films down the barrel of the weapon, which looks pretty neat. Of course, it also emphasizes the fact that the bullets seem to be hitting elsewhere than where the gun is pointed. Despite this, a batch of scumbags fall (although, given Kersey’s weapon, they should be torn into little pieces), and the rest scatter. At the Karpovs’ apartment, an excited Mrs. Karpov is watching the mayhem. “Eli! It’s Mr. Kersey,” she gleefully informs her husband. “He just shot some of the creeps!” Meanwhile, other citizens, inspired by Kersey’s actions, begin arming themselves and take to the streets. Kersey himself merrily runs around mowing down punks, who are invariably awful shots, without much effort.
Not too surprisingly, we also see many examples of Ken’s First Rule of Rooftops: This axiom stipulates that, no matter what kind of damage a character sustains beforehand, he will still scream when falling from some high surface (a roof, a cliff, whatever). A prime example would be the ending of Robocop. Robocop fires about thirty or forty shells through villain Ronny Cox’s chest, smashing him through an upper story window. Lungs presumably shredded, Cox still manages to yell like a banshee as he plummets to the ground.
Meanwhile, the rest of the goons continue their offensive. Many of the bikers are armed, for some reason, with hand grenades. As you’d suspect, this results in many suspiciously (and repetitively) prodigious explosions. Other punks smash cars with pipes and throw various objects through apartment windows. Kersey, meanwhile, finishes off his BAR ammunition firing into a carfull of hoodlums. Kersey has one of those magic ammo boxes, which continues to hold pretty much the same amount of bullets, no matter how many shots he fires off. Until, of course, it’s at that point where the script says he runs out. Then the box is magically empty.
Now it’s time for the cops to join in on the fun, as a long line of cars enters the area. Meanwhile, the next wave of thuggery commences. Apparently out of grenades, the various punks are now tossing Molatov cocktails around. These, oddly, also result in explosions. Kersey, meanwhile, is reduced to killing people with his pistols. In one of the film’s few realistic moments, Kersey mows down a punk by firing through the trashcan he’s hiding behind. I think we’re to believe that Kersey achieves this feat only because of the mighty Wildey he’s wielding. Obviously, though, what amounts to a double barrier of quarter inch aluminum isn’t going to provide too much protection from gunfire, no matter what caliber. This in spite of the honored movie convention that anything that hides you from sight will also protect you from bullets.
The sharp-eyed viewer will catch another suggestion of defective squib work here. When Kersey shoots the guy, a big round hole appears in the front of the garbage can. The guy rears up, wherein Kersey pumps another shell into him (although you wonder why he’d bother, given the elephant gun he’s using). When he rises, however, we see that there isn’t a corresponding hole in the rear side of the can. However, there’s a noticeable cross shape made of overlapping strips of electrical tape inside the can. This is exactly how a squib might be attached to a trash can. The fact that the X is still there indicates that the squib, for whatever reason, failed to explode on cue.
Kersey pulls up his shirt, revealing spots where his vest supposedly stopped a couple of slugs. Oddly, we never even saw Kersey grimace, or do anything to indicate that he took two mighty blows to the abdomen. Guess he ate his Wheaties that morning. Kersey continues to run around killing scum, and he’s not the only one. The cops are finally in position and begin fighting as well, although not, needless to say, with the same efficiency as Our Hero.
Kersey comes across the film’s second regrettable breast flashing incident. This features a robust, panty-clad young lady who’s dragged by goons into an alley. Seeing that they’re heading up a fire escape, Kersey mounts an opposite escape so as to establish a decent line of fire. (Actually, this is an educated guess, as the editing is so poor that you can’t really tell what’s happening.) Oddly, the first fellow he shoots with his gigantic pistol reacts by falling into the direction the shot was coming from. This is because if he fell backwards, like he should, he wouldn’t tumble off the fire escape, as of course he does. This is, by the way, Ken’s Second Rule of Rooftops: Anyone on a high surface who falls will always do so in such a way as to go over the side. And, yes, the guy does briefly shriek as he falls over.
Aside from the cops and Kersey, the Citizen Rebellion has also begun. Guys string chains across a road, knocking bikers from their motorcycles. As they tumble to the ground, about a dozen guys run into the road and gleefully shoot them down. That’ll learn ’em! This initial victory leads to a group of citizens, including children (!), dancing in the streets in joy.
Meanwhile, other squirmishes continue. Sometimes the bad guys manage to kill off some honest joes, but the tide begins implacably turning against them. One thug, for instance, runs up a stairway, jimmies open a door, and is met by a version of Kersey’s spring loaded board. (Hey, why waste a prop?) This one, however, has a knife embedded in it, and ends up burying its blade right in the middle of the guy’s forehead. (Luckily, the knife is set at exactly the right height in the board to accomplish this.) Oh, by the way, the guy then stumbles backward and topples over the stairwell, screaming as he falls.
In an alleyway, we see a sniper look out a window, aiming to blow away the unsuspecting Kersey. Luckily, Rodriguez has somehow ended up standing in a window opposite the guy (gee, that’s convenient), and improbably (and I mean improbably) manages to hit the guy with that lame zip-gun he’s got. Again, against the very laws of physics, this results in the guy falling into the bullet, so that he pitches (screaming) through the window. Rodriguez then leaves the building and is immediately pinned down by a couple of goons firing from a high balcony. He seeks shelter, yes, behind a couple of trashcans.
Here we get another gross example of the film’s recurring spatial stupidities. Apparently, the director thought that the poor editing would make it too confusing for the audience to actually notice all of these impossibilities. But, of course, noticing such things is my job. Anyway, Kersey is coming to aid the pinned down Rodriguez. The snipers, meanwhile, are situated above and to Rodriguez’s left. As Kersey runs to his assistance, he’s forced to duck a line of shots that strikes the wall above his head. The only problem? Kersey is around the right hand corner from Rodriguez’s position, running towards the action. Thus, for the bullets to hit the wall over his head, they would have to travel in an arc around the corner of the building!
Magical weapons or not, the thugs soon fall prey to Kersey. Amazingly, only one actually falls into the shot (which in this case necessitates that he pitches completely over a balcony railing which is fully armpit high), screaming loudly despite taking a direct hit from Our Hero’s super-gun. Then Kersey swivels slightly and shoots some more punks who are situated, from what the various camera angles and bullet trajectories tell us, in about three different places at once.
Rodriguez leaves to get more shells. Let me draw this next diagram as carefully as I can. This is my favorite impossibility, probably because it’s so evident. Kersey steps forward, and ends up standing about two feet in front of, and two feet to the right of, the corner of the building. Facing Kersey’s left profile, we see Hermosa up on the roof (both sides protected from sight), sighting down a shotgun for a sniper shot. Kersey’s life is saved, yet again, when Hermosa takes a couple of shots to the chest. Kersey spins around, and sees Shriker well behind him. In other words, again, the bullets that killed Hermosa had to travel forward and then arc left a full ninety degrees in order to hit their target as presented. That’s mighty fancy shootin’, pardner. Still, at least we get to hear the classic line, “I owed you that one, dude!” (‘Dude’?)
We are then treated (if that’s the word) to a live-action (if that’s the term) version of the old video game Hogan’s Alley, as Kersey and Shriker run down the street shooting down whatever punks pop up to shoot at them. (And given the level of shooting from the goons here, we must posit that Fraker has a progressive policy in regard to hiring the visually handicapped.) In all, while pretty much standing, walking or squatting right in the middle of the street, the heroic duo manage to cap ten different toughs, all of who are shooting back at them. We also get a particularly egregious case of ‘magic ammo’ syndrome, as Shriker apparently gets off about twenty or thirty shots from his six-shooter without ever reloading.
Kersey and Shriker split up, each blowing away seemingly dozens of faceless creeps. Because, you know, the more guys they shoot, the more exciting it becomes. (Or maybe not.) Finally, like with the Browning Automatic Rifle earlier, we reach the point where the script dictates that Kersey runs out of shells for his Wildey. He jogs home for more ammo, and just happens to get spotted by Fraker. We also see Shriker running around. (By the way, where have all the dozens and dozens of cops that we saw arriving earlier gotten to?)
Inside his apartment, Kersey is reloading his sidearms. Unbeknownst to him, Fraker is climbing through his back window (guess he should have kept that board full of nails under it). He’s about to gun down Kersey when Shriker runs in and opens fire. Kersey spins around and apparently finishes the job, although Fraker manages to tag Shriker in the shoulder. As they lay down their guns, however, the presumably dead Fraker leaps back up. Gloatingly, he tells Kersey that he also is wearing a bullet proof vest. Remember what I wrote earlier about bullet proof vests? Well, Fraker, at close range yet, was hit by seven different shots. Even assuming that none of these shots hit outside the area protected by the vest, he should be suffering from, at the least, multiple broken ribs.
OK, does anybody not know what’s going to happen next? That’s right, Kersey leans behind his end table and grabs the handy dandy rocket launcher that he rather conveniently stuck there earlier. Exit Fraker. Luckily, neither Kersey or Shirker are injured by being in close proximity when an anti-tank missile explodes in an enclosed area. We cut to the street, where we see the explosion rip out the outer wall of Kersey’s apartment. Instantly, one of Fraker’s chicks jumps up and screams, apparently having had a physic vision of what just happened in the apartment down the street.
With Fraker dead, the rest of the gang instantly loses morale and takes off (my theory is that they transmitted awareness of Fraker’s death via pheromones, like ants). The cops finally show up, of course, now that all the work is done. Shriker advises Kersey to take off, and the two share some oddly homoerotic glances. (And I’m not the type to read homoeroticism into everything, but I mean, between this and the earlier scene with Bennett in the hospital, well, criminy!) As the ’70s styled theme music starts up again, we watch Kersey walk into the distance. Who knows where fate will take him next? Actually, I do. Death Wish 4.