Death Wish II

Dir: Michael Winner, 1982


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This review refers to the full uncut version

Judge, jury and executioner.

Michael Winner’s sequel to his 1974 hit sees Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey, living in Los Angeles with his mute daughter, Carol (Robin Sherwood). In a new relationship with radio reporter, Geri (Jill Ireland, Bronson’s real life wife), Paul is happy and content.

On a day out with Geri and Carol, a gang of hoodlums steal his wallet. Giving chase, he catches one of them and roughs him up but doesn’t get his wallet back.

Getting revenge, the thugs break into his house and gang rape his maid. Kersey returns home with his daughter, while the attackers are still there, knock him unconscious and kidnap his daughter.

Back at the gang’s hideout, Carol is raped. Trying to escape she jumps out of a window and impales herself on some railings, killing her.

Knowing what he’s got to do, Kersey travels to the where he first encountered the thugs, rents a fleapit of a hotel and administers his own brand of justice.

This is an awesome film. It’s full of action. The baddies get what they deserve. Bronson is cool. It’s perfect.

The focus point of the film is the graphic gang rape of the maid. Brutal and unpleasant (like rape is), the sheer terror and horror of the ordeal that their victim is going through is shown in all its hideousness.

Critics seem to think that the rape is glorified and needless. I don’t agree. Rape should be shown for what it is. Winner does just that.

But the vigilante scenes are what stand out. Kersey is a character you can root for.

There’s no emotion in Bronson’s character. Clearly, the events in the first film have rendered him devoid of any feeling.

 It’s a different film to Death Wish. The original was a character study of a man’s grief. His slow descent into a mental imbalance. It was a social commentary on rising crime rates and the feeling of helplessness in the American public.

Tapping into the darkest fantasies of the human psyche, Death Wish fulfilled the dreams of victims the world over. Bronson shot anybody who got in his way. This time, he’s on a mission. He knows who he wants and he’s going to get them at any cost.

Well, this is pure exploitative action. And all the better for it.

It’s basically a comic book film. The characters have names like Jiver, Stomper, Punkcutter and Nirvana. The dialogue would sit comfortably in a graphic novel.

Upping the ante, and removing the context of the first one, Death Wish II would cause problems with the censors, globally.

The rape scene in this is stronger. Being a sequel everything has to be bigger.

In America, the attack on the maid had to be heavily cut. Softer, alternate footage was used to replace the offending scenes. The rape and death of his daughter had to be shortened, also. The sight of Carol’s breasts being fondled by Stomper was edited to just show you him on top of her. A short close up of Carol’s face, after she is impaled on the railings was omitted. Several music cues are now choppy and sharp. After these cuts were made, the MPAA gave the film an ‘R’ rating.

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US one sheet

In Britain, the film fared even worse. The version submitted was based on the ‘R’ version, but, even then, over three minutes was further cut by the BBFC, infuriating Michael Winner.

The majority of the rape scene was cut, but the impaling on the spikes was allowed to remain. With these cuts made Death Wish II received an ‘X’.

Later submitted on video, the UK theatrical print was used and passed ’18’ without any more cuts.

UK VHS sleeve

Over the years this was the only version available to UK audiences. A brief DVD release saw some of the cuts restored but still had 27 secs censored. The DVD went, quickly, out of print.

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The, less censored, first UK DVD release

In 2011, the US ‘R’ rated print was re-submitted to the board and passed uncut. The only true uncut version is available on the Australian region 4 DVD, twinned with the original, and US blu ray.

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“Uncut” ‘R’ rated version on UK DVD

From an action point of view, this film is superior to the first one. It ticks all the right boxes. The soundtrack by Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin, suits the film, perfectly. Propelled by Page’s signature guitar playing, it has a sleazy feel to it, eliciting a sense of the exploitation that the movie molded by.

The best of the five films in the series, it’s an action packed, sleazefest. It’s brilliant.


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