Alex Winter: Before Bill & Ted, there was Hermosa. A mere kid, caught up in a scene he couldn’t possibly understand. Larger forces were at work, and the lanky lad was destined to die – alone – on some nameless rooftop far from home. His mother, far too young. A prostitute. Unfit to bathe herself, let alone raise a young man in the big city. His father, well, who knows? Any number of walk-throughs in a hovel just right for crushing dreams. Then came Fraker. A mentor. Some stranger who seemed to give a shit. Take this package to that guy, and here’s a piece for protection. Such power! And a few bucks didn’t hurt. Even some pussy for those cold nights. But he still longed for mama. When he last saw her, her eyes betrayed a vacancy he couldn’t handle. She’d seen too much of life and was ready for the grave. Some nights he cried, until Manny slapped him around. He needed men, not mama’s boys. He learned from the best. So why’d he go after Kersey alone? Always take a buddy, always take a buddy. He forgot this time. Just this one time. Wanted to play the hero. Shoot to kill. Make Manny proud. Where’d that other cop come from? Quicker on the trigger. A boy dies. Somewhere, a mother misses her baby.
Booby Traps: With apologies to Wile E. Coyote, ain’t nobody better than Paul Kersey at channeling his inner Rube Goldberg to knock sense into a city’s knuckleheads. Sure, if you can kill a guy with a firearm, let’s do it. Easier, cleaner, and a big time-saver. But when you’ve sent a good 300 souls into the eternal fires of hell, it stands to reason you’d want to have a little fun now and again. A bullet to the head gets the juices flowing, but if there’s room for a little cat-and-mouse, let’s be a little more understanding. So if you’re getting your television stolen time and time again, you could, I suppose, stop buying televisions, but why not set a trap? Teach the dirty thief a lesson. Hurt the kid without killing him outright. At least not now. It’s simple: window opens, creep crawls in, steps down, and SLAM, a plank right to the kisser. And if you can find just the right wood to ensure that a man’s two front teeth are yanked out by the roots, so much the better. And I haven’t even mentioned the nail boards.
Chicken: It’s good, and Charlie likes it.
Dialogue: It might be easier (and faster) to list the lines that aren’t memorable, but at the top of the list, at least for me, is Fraker’s reaction to hearing about the murder of the Giggler: “They had no business doing that. None.” This man has killed hundreds, raped dozens more, and bragged openly about butchering a little old lady. Now he respects the dignity of human life? Well, Hitler did cry when they shot his dog. Shriker’s also around for some world-weary quips, including, “I can’t do anything, I’m a cop.” Kudos to the man who recognizes his own worthlessness. And why not grin in the face of Fraker’s, “Bulletproof, asshole! Just like yours!” right before being reduced to bite-size chunks, thanks to a rocket launcher. Still, there’s always the hysterical black woman, name unknown, who shrieks and roars with the delight of a school girl. Did she win the lottery? Make the final payment on her rent-to-own stereo? No, her joy comes from the death of a fellow human being. The Giggler, to be specific. Piercing the night, she spits, “I’m glad he’s dead! I’m glad he’s dead!” Whooping further, she repeats it one more time. To underscore her delight, she waves her hands in the air like she just don’t care. But she cares all right. Cares like she’s got nothing left to give.
Emil: Is there a more tragic figure in all of 80s Action? So noble, so brave, and yet, so hopeless when his wife needs him most. He couldn’t even be there for his sweetheart’s final moments. Even Bennett knows the score: “Forget Emil. He’s done for. He’ll never be the same again.” But what of Fraker’s justification for the throat slashing? That Emil threw one of Fraker’s gang out of his store? As Emil owns a laundromat, I find it very hard to believe that anyone in Fraker’s gang took time out of his day to wash some underwear. Much more likely, however, is that the dude was breaking into the machines trying to steal quarters before Emil threw his ass out. Let that be a lesson to all of us.
Firearms: Though it’s Wildey we remember, there are guns galore in Death Wish 3. The Colt Cobra is a favorite of Fraker’s gang, as is the Colt New Service. But Fraker himself prefers the Browning Hi-Power number. A cute little Smith & Wesson Model 15 sneaks in near the end, and the Walther P38, well, it’s just about everywhere. There’s an M1911 for a little extra kick, a MAC-10 submachine gun for bigger game, and the Browning M1919 machine gun from Korea for thinning the herd. Thank the stars you can wrap your hand around the barrel without getting burned. And let’s not forget poor Charley’s MG-42 machine gun, even though the fucker jams at the worst possible time. Dear Hermosa dies with a Remington 870 in his greedy little claws, while a police officer does the same with an Ithaca 37. Winchesters fly by our eyes as well, M16’s dance like the wind, Ruger Mini-14’s crack the air, and for the cheap seats, some chick with thunder thighs, tired of the intrusions, dusts off an old reliable double barrel shotgun. And yes, candy asses, we need every last one of them.
Golan-Globus: Amos & Andy? Whatever. Martin & Lewis? Fuck you. The greatest pairing in the history of entertainment begins and ends with G&G. Hollywood, land of dreams. Where else could two nutty Jews buy a film company for pennies on the dollar and let loose with more fascism per square inch than anyone post-Hitler had a right to expect? The world was their oyster; kosher, but decidedly batshit. Israelis by birth, their adopted home became a nation on the brink. The barbarians were at the gates and only a strong man could beat back the horde. Preferably one with a beard. But if a mere mustache would suffice, it would, and with relish. People had to die to stay free, and the more dead they were, the freer they became. Innocence was only a matter of speculation. Here, though, was their ultimate statement. Peace can be at hand, but we’ve got to kill to bring about the great silence. We’ll know the criminals by their actions, yes, but more so by their clothing and hairstyles. GG’s world was a miserable, paranoid place, but it got us through. We needed extra-legal measures, and Kersey would show us how. Again.
Health Care: They say the most dangerous place on earth is a hospital. They also say the most dangerous hospital on earth is anywhere within shouting distance of Paul Kersey. A decade beyond a time when Paul lost his wife to a mere face-slapping, he has once again trusted the medical establishment to handle the broken arm of a neighbor. Yes, the injuries were minor at best, but thankfully, by law, we’re allowed to offer “complications” as an excuse for unparalleled negligence. Point of fact, we really don’t know what the hell we’re doing here. Not a one of us is board certified, and I’m fairly sure a few of us got our degrees through the mail. I know it says “hospital” out front, but that’s only because we don’t have it in the budget to change the sign. A man checks in, and doesn’t check out. So when this hysterical rape victim was wheeled in with a slight break, we lost our shit. There was an operation, but that only made things worse. By the time that one guy tracked down the relevant textbook, bitch was dead. We’re sorry for your loss.
Integration: Had Martin Luther King, Jr. lived, I’d like to think he’d cite Death Wish 3 as a realization of his dream. For if the war zone of the film is anything, it’s a table of brotherhood. Sure, drugs, rape, death, lawlessness, and greed reign unchecked, but racism has completely vanished from everyday life. Black and white are one, united in their march towards criminality. At the center of it all is Manny Fraker’s gang, the least segregated group in the history of American cinema. Blacks, whites, Puerto Ricans – even a Rastafarian – close ranks, snort lines, and steal the community blind without so much as a casual epithet. Truly color blind, Fraker cares only for the content of one’s character, which amounts to little more than the total absence of empathy. He demands loyalty, but his most trusted foot soldiers appear to be from the ranks of the Rainbow Coalition, not some skinhead legion bent on ideological purity. In fact, there’s nothing by way of politics at all – just kill, and kill for gain. Fraker prizes a man’s skill in the streets: can you steal a car? Can you pull a little b&e without attracting notice? Merit, not melanin. A man with big dreams, and a heart without hate.
Junkie: Sure, Fraker’s call to arms – “We’re gonna get high, high, HIGH” – gets all the attention, but what of the sad-eyed lady at the 1:10:13 mark? She’s blond, roots showing, and distinctly forlorn. But looking away from Fraker’s phone call for one second, we see it clearly: the bitch is bruised. Three massive, unmistakable marks on her arm. Heroin? Beatings? Plasma donations so she can eat? Another unsolved mystery, but one that haunts the rest of the movie. She utters not a word, but speaks to us nonetheless. And will she survive Fraker’s eventual murder?
Kaprov’s Cabbage: Paul Kersey rarely talked about anything that made him happy. After losing his wife, daughter, and every last female who basked in the shadow of his penis, he’s understandably reluctant to let his guard down. But when he passes by the Kaprov apartment, he lights up like a kid on Christmas. He smells something wonderful. What could it be? Stuffed cabbage, as only the building’s Jewiest Jews could make. It’s so inviting, in fact, that Kersey has to wash up before diving in. He even wears a sport coat and tie. This is one special dinner. It makes it that much more disheartening when Kersey has to leap up from his meal to murder the fucks who are trying to steal his car. The death penalty? For car theft? Yes, now let me get back to that cabbage.
Lunacy: It’s the nuttiest scene in the movie by far. At 1:19:04, a creep in a jean jacket tries to break in to some house with a crowbar. Let’s stop there. There’s a full scale riot going on, at least 3,000 cops are in the area, explosions outnumber the non-explosions, and some guy is trying to sneak into a house for what, exactly? He’s immediately met with a baseball bat. With that, the punk does a back flip down the stairs. Cut to Fraker. He nods to his boys, who gleefully throw Molotov cocktails through the window. The house booms as if hit by Little Boy, and without pause, two people stagger out, both of whom are NOT the guy wielding the baseball bat, and yes, they’re on fire. Like, covered in flames. After 1.3 seconds of conflagration. As if third-degree burns over 98% of their bodies weren’t enough, they’re machine-gunned to death, if only to stop the screaming. It’s the most joyous twenty-nine seconds of film I’ve ever experienced.
Martin Balsam: Bennett Cross has an Oscar. A Thousand Clowns. He also appeared in All the President’s Men. So the last thing you’d expect of him is to be thrown down a flight of stairs by a gang of lowly extras paid to scale. As if to exact revenge for roles never secured, the no-names beat the living shit out of the elder statesman, reducing the proud thespian to a bloody mess of broken bones and bruises. Still, it’s Balsam’s finest hour. Name one goddamn word from his award-winning monologue if you can, but I’ll bet you’ll never forget his ultimate roar for justice: “My shop! My shop! Ahhhhh, my shop!” And who could forget his impish grin from his hospital bed as he watched Paul murder men and women alike down below? Jobless, single, and aging not at all gracefully, his final act of bloodlust is something straight out of Peckinpah, that is, if Sam the Man had seen fit to arm his Wild Bunch with plungers and reverse-mohawks. No one’s asking how he got that massive piece of equipment through customs, though one can guess it’s the same group that brought Wildey to his long-lost father.
Naked Black Chicks: So there’s only one. Isn’t that enough? Legend has it she was fucking Michael Winner at the time and needed to pay her rent. So there she is, tits flapping like a flag in a hurricane, vulnerable but alive. Absent Kersey, she’d be on the slab next to Marina Sirtis. But she won’t be raped on this day, and her tears are less out of fear than defiance. See, when women went out alone in this neighborhood, they never came home. A trip to the grocery was an invitation to rape, like wearing a tube top at a construction site. Was she a prostitute? With those jugs, she wasn’t counseling the mayor on zoning laws, but who’s to say? It’s implied that she’s asking for it, and really doesn’t deserve Kersey’s heroics, but from where I sit, I’d rather she get back home to her kids. Mouths to feed, and all that.
Opera: It’s boring, and Charlie doesn’t like it.
P.O. Box: It’s 1985. New York City. At least that part of the city that no longer makes the headlines. Hope is dead, anarchy reigns, and Post Office Boxes can still be had for a wink and a smile. Hell, make that a demanding sneer. No money, no problem. An ID? What are we, Communists? You have a need, and I have a key. The rest is a short road to easy street. For if the world has lost anything over the years, it’s trust. And if you want to order illegal weapons without a trace, who am I to interfere? I’ve looked into those eyes, and that’s good enough for this minimum wage part-timer. I’ll even turn my back when you check your mail. Because it really is none of my business. In short, this is one Mail Boxes Etc. that keeps you from having to read Atlas Shrugged. A Randian paradise that doesn’t skimp on the packing peanuts.
Question: At 0:55:46, as Kersey is fleeing a black dude, he crawls through the bedroom window of a Puerto Rican gentleman (that nation’s flag is prominently displayed, along with a massive picture of Jesus), who happens to be reading a newspaper in bed. That the man doesn’t flinch, even after both Kersey and the black dude sprint through his apartment, is astonishing enough, but that’s not my question. Instead, I ask: why is this man, who, I repeat, is in bed, wearing a beret? No one’s talking, and Michael Winner is dead. I’ll understand the final sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey before I figure this shit out.
Rights: Constitutionally speaking, you don’t have any. At least not the kind any mere officer of the law is bound to respect. You will be arrested without cause. Held without charges. Even then, charges have a way of creeping into the same room where you’re being beaten. You’ll be offered a deal, the kind that involves state-sanctioned murder, of course, only you’ll have to check in now and again with a body count. Only you don’t want to check in. So they’ll pay you a visit. At the end of the day, the law itself will walk with you side by side as you murder half the town you swore to protect. A trial by jury? You may as well ask for a basket of kittens with your double rainbow. You can always claim self-defense, as it’s entirely possible that the far away shadowy figure was in fact pointing a gun in your general direction. Who’s to say? He was dead before you could really tell for certain. Let God sort that shit out.
Sex: Per the rules and regulations handed down by Michael Winner himself, there are only two kinds of sex in this world – the kind you have to take by force, and, more appreciably, the kind that leads to death. There was a time, 1974 to be exact, when men made sweet love to fully conscious females who both endorsed and enjoyed the act, but then she died and, well, the world never again played along. Feelings are for suckers, and if you express them, women will die. You try to keep the dames at arm’s length, but brooding, humorless, silent types are the ultimate catnip in the big city, so who can blame an owlish public defender for getting a bit weak in the knees? So you wine, and dine, and even talk a bit about current events, hoping neither of you will get naked. But the wine is strong, and you don’t really care for small talk, so to bed with both of you. But actions have consequences. Once you fuck, the die is cast. Sure, the lonely lawyer had nothing to live for, up to and including one depressing as hell apartment, but to die like that? And when she dies, after her car is hit by an out of control speed demon topping out at 15 MPH, leading to a fireball visible as far away as Jersey, the look on Paul’s face says it all. His erections, few as they are, are more lethal than Zyklon-B. Still, an essential sexual question remains: is rape really rape if you take the time to throw down a mattress?
Turkey Shoot: It just might be the most famous two minutes in film. Some call it the “turkey shoot,” some call it the Kersey/Shriker Tag Team, while others simply speak of “The Showdown.” Regardless, it’s the moment when vigilante and law enforcement become one, and fourteen people finally breathe their last. Technically, four others die during this period, but they are not shot directly by either character. Instead, they are either pushed out of high windows by a broom, or shot by mere civilians. And nothing would be the same had the soundtrack not kicked into high gear. The score, previously unnoticed, now leads with a guitar riff from hell, with jazz-like spurts that all but trivialize the death on display. It’s a celebration, and Shriker’s not above a sly grin to prove his manhood. And when the fireballs rain from above, catching Shriker slightly off guard, the resulting grimace and recovery never fail to elicit roars of laughter. When Kersey runs out of ammo, we’re almost relieved. We’re spent, man, and god help us if we don’t need to catch our breath.
Unconditional Surrender: After Fraker’s band of rebels started a fucking holocaust, for chrissakes, running unchecked for 90 of the film’s 91 minutes, Fraker’s sudden and unexpected death brings about the swiftest turnaround ever seen in the annals of war. As the still edible chunks of the once supreme leader rot smoldering in the earth, flames licking what remains of bone and muscle, the surviving gang members just give the fuck up, as if they suddenly had something better to do than rob, rape, and snort cocaine. Kill the head and the body dies has never been so artfully put. Remember, they still have guns, knives, axes, and chains, but the defiant bystanders are enough to stifle the bloodlust. Those who came through intact were like prostitutes on the lam, learning how to survive without a pimp’s sure hand. They still had the power, but chose not to exercise it. Even Kersey, no fucks left to give and no guns left to shoot, was allowed to walk away without being plugged one last time. What will they do? Where will they go? And who could possibly replace Fraker? My bet is on the fat guy from Kersey’s short prison stint. Sure, he knew little but tearing out toilets, but he was savvy enough to attack a man with his back turned. He’ll do for now.
Vigilantism: Here’s to you, Michael Winner, for making the lawless killing of alleged criminals acceptable once again, as if the desire ever really left our American hearts. But until the third installment, it had always been Kersey’s game. The lone warrior battling a host of demons. Here, the brooding yields to a sense of play, as if he finally made his peace and just acknowledged that killing for sport can bring as much pleasure as sex. Thankfully, other characters joined in the fun, from Bennett to Rodriguez, and they too come to understand Kersey’s many lessons. Yes, they learned it from watching him. While each and every first degree murder tickles the funny bone, it is only when the previously passive residents of this patch of hell learn to kill that the film moves beyond a mere revenge fantasy. It seems we don’t need to lose anyone special to summon the fire down below. The scene where the meek truly inherit the earth, using a long chain to stop motorcycle nitwits in their tracks, might be shocking were it not so triumphant. They kill as if on impulse, firing not only through heads and hearts, but directly into the helpless, never regretting their decisive actions. It’s the new morality writ large, the common man becoming uncommon at last.
Wildey: It’s the weapon of choice for anyone out for a casual stroll to get ice cream, and by far the best option for leaving a large hole in the back, chest, or torso of your choosing. Delivered by a Wide World Air Express van that looks suspiciously like the sort of transportation used to haul pre-teen prostitutes across state lines, the gun delivers a .475 Wildey Magnum and has, it is said, “real stopping power.” It is, frankly, the shorter version of the African big game cartridge. So while it should ideally be used to assassinate elephants and rhinos on the open savannah, Christ himself, in conjunction with the world’s least restrictive gun laws, wills that it be tapped to reduce purse snatchers to liquefied oblivion. As Paul says with barely the hint of a grin, “It makes a real mess.” And messes we like.
X-tras: As in, DVD X-tras. Yeah, there are none. Fucking thing isn’t even in widescreen. By all means, Criterion, ignore this masterpiece while you jizz all over the latest Wes Anderson atrocity.
Yarmulke: Worn by Mr. Kaprov, it’s the most sensible hat in the movie. At least he’s Jewish. As for the rest, I’ve never seen a wider array of headgear in all my life. There are the expected leather, baseball, knit, and skull caps, of course, but feast your eyes on the rest: kerchiefs, bandanas, berets, bike and army helmets, Pickelhaubes, camouflage, pork pies, Tams, Tops, and turbans. Most inexplicably, in the midst of a gang that is brown, black, and only partially white, a man wears, and gets away with, some slab of plastic adorned with a Swastika. Shockingly, I didn’t see a single sombrero.
Zip Gun: What’s a man to do after his beloved wife spends her final moments being raped by a gang of toughs? If you’re Rodriguez, you grab a zip gun, the sort of weapon that won’t win the war, even if it gets you through a battle or two. It’s best when rescuing a clueless Kersey from hidden bad guys, but dammit if the thing doesn’t run out of shells whenever the fighting gets especially thick. Still, one can’t help but admire the mild-mannered little guy. He could predictably overcompensate with some ridiculous Kersey cannon, but he’d prefer to be the only Latino in Christendom who doesn’t need to flex his machismo. He’s shy and retiring, like his Catholicism. He even pounds the table like he’s receiving communion.