Death Wish 2 [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Vinegar Syndrome
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (8th May 2022).
The Film

Having moved to his business to Los Angeles after the murder of his wife and escaping capture for the vigilante killings that followed, architect Paul Kersey (Violent City's Charles Bronson) has settled into a new life with his traumatized daughter Carol (Tourist Trap's Robin Sherwood) undergoing treatment in a nearby mental hospital and a new love interest in Geri Nichols (Hard Times' Jill Ireland), a reporter for the radio station for which Paul is designing a new building. When his wallet is stolen by a street gang, he gives chase and beats up Jiver (Rocky II's Stuart K. Robinson) who does not have his wallet but wants revenge for the humiliation. While Paul and Carol are on the water with his pal Elliott (The Anderson Tapes' Michael Prince), Jiver and the other gang members Nirvana (The Abyss's Thomas F. Duffy), Stomper (Sudden Impact's Kevyn Major Howard), Cutter (The Matrix's Laurence Fishburne), and Punkcut (Foxes's E. Lamont Johnson) lie in wait to ambush him at his apartment after raping housekeeper Rosario (Windwalker's Silvana Gallardo). When Paul and Carol return, they knock him out, kill Rosario when she tries to call the police, and kidnap Carol. No sooner do the police start investigating than Paul is called in to identify the Carol's brutalized body. Rather than helping Inspector Mankiewicz (Don't Answer the Phone's Ben Frank) try to identify his attackers, Paul checks into a downtown motel under an assumed name, arms himself with his trusty automatic, and starts hunting down his daughter's killers. Fearing bad publicity and a public panic after declaring his own war on crime, Police Commissioner Herman Baldwin (Tenebrae's Anthony Franciosa) wants this vigilante off the streets before the press gets wind of him and sends word to New York to learn how they stopped their own vigilante killer. Fearing that he will be blamed for not prosecuting Kersey if he is caught, the New York D.A. sends the original case's Detective Frank Ochoa (Moonstruck's Vincent Gardenia) to Los Angeles to misdirect the investigation so that he might silence Kersey himself.

Michael Winner's original hit Death Wish based on the novel by Brian Garfield who hated the film because he felt it glorified the vigilante violence the book ultimately condemned was quite an extreme work for 1974 that it was hard to imagine how a Golan-Globus venture could up the exploitation ante beyond their usual standards; and transcend it they did with Winner reveling in the film's two rape scenes ostensibly to paint the villains as particularly evil and deserving of Kersey's brand of justice. Although the film throws in some additional complications, it is just an eighties retread of the original with the screenplay of David Engelbach much reworked by Winner, basically paying lip service to the idea of rehabilitation an element possibly retained only to give Bronson's wife Ireland something to do in the film doing nothing with prominently-billed Franciosa, and thanklessly carrying over Gardenia to mark time up until the ending (which does at least spring Assault on Precinct 13's Charles Cyphers on us in the last ten minutes). The film's sexualized violence repels but it really may be all that distinguishes his film from a glut of Dirty Harry and Chuck Norris revenge films since the original film since the villains are ultimately too cartoonish and picked off too easily by a sleepwalking Bronson to deliver a visceral thrill. Attributing the film's scoring solely to guitarist Jimmy Page is a bit of a cheat since the film's arrangements were done by David Whitaker (Scream and Scream Again) and the more dramatic moments feature some orchestral music that sounds nothing like the main themes dominated by Page's acoustic twang. The same can be said for Death Wish 3 in which Page gets credit for composition and performing on guitars and synthesizers while the arrangements and additional synthesizer performance is credited to Mike Moran (Time Bandits). While Winner was helming the Agatha Christie adaptation Appointment with Death for Cannon, the studio's other veteran jobbing filmmaker J. Lee Thompson (The Ambassador) would helm the less successful Death Wish 4: The Crackdown while Allan A. Goldstein (Pact with the Devil) would helm Death Wish: The Face of Death at 21st Century Film Corporation (the company producer Menahem Golan took as part of his severance from Cannon).
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Video

Released theatrically by Filmways and on VHS by Warner and then Orion Home Video, DEATH WISH 2 was shorn of three minutes of thrusting, groping, beating, and bloodshed for an R-rating, with the unrated version showing up overseas, most notably a Greek VHS that also had some additional bits of dialogue and scene extensions that Winner had removed from his director's cut but made it to the television version. The R-rated version prevailed on DVD from MGM in a fullscreen transfer and TGG Direct in both a widescreen double feature with the third film and a triple feature with the third and fourth films, as well as international territories where MGM owned the film while territories in which Sony owned it got the unrated version. MGM's barebones Blu-ray edition of the film a three-disc set with the third and fourth films was also the R-rated version, but Shout! Factory followed it up with a special edition that featured both the R-rated and unrated versions, the latter with an audio commentary by author Paul Talbot. Even more exciting was an Australian double feature disc with Death Wish 3 that featured the unrated version on the Blu-ray disc and a bonus DVD featuring the theatrical cut, the Greek VHS cut, and the television cut. While it lacked the commentary, Talbot fully annotated the four versions and the disc also featured interviews conducted by Mark Hartley for his Cannon documentary.

Vinegar Syndrome's UHD/Blu-ray combo disc features the film's unrated cut (91:53) on both the UHD and Blu-ray. The 2160p24 HEVC 1.85:1 widescreen HDR10 image is the way to go if possible, ekeing out shadow detail in both the more controlled lighting of some night exteriors and location interiors as well as the grainier shots of Skid Row with less of a compromise in the grading, making these bit seem less run-and-gun than before (especially after listening to the commentary details about some of the location work). Colors pop, giving the film a slicker look than before (although not quite as much as the third film in which all of the location's grit and grime was meticulously recreated on the other side of the pond), with only the opening credits second unit footage looking softer and flatter due to the optical title overlays. Even the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray offers a fresher view of the film than before.
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Audio

The twang of Jimmy Page's score makes itself known from the start on the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, making it unfortunate that Golan and Globus did not spring for Dolby Stereo on one of their big early Cannon pics. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

Extras

The Blu-ray also features the television cut (95:31) in a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode from a 2K restoration of its 35mm interpositive. Picture quality is comparable to the unrated version on the surface, so it is leaps and bounds over the previous video master. Vinegar Syndrome has not created a composite of the unrated version and the additional scenes as a recreation of the aforementioned Greek release or included the unrated version, but that actually shows restraint on their part (although it might have been nice to also include access to the material not included in the unrated version). The TV version still contains the edits to violence, language, and nudity, so the variant may have less repeat viewing value for casual viewers uninterested in the construction of such versions.
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The unrated version is accompanied by the Shout! Factory audio commentary by author and historian Paul Talbot, author of "Bronson is Loose" and Death Wish series obsessive who packs so much information into a ninety-minute running time. He moves between factoids, production anecdotes, and a comprehensive account of the differences between the versions of the film including shots exclusive to the censored versions. He reveals that producer Golan intended to direct the film himself but could only secure Bronson if Winner was in the director's chair Isaac Hayes was also supposed to score the film before Winner showed the workprint to his neighbor Page and that the film was going to be titled "Death Sentence" if Cannon could not get the rights to the "Death Wish" title even though neither the original script nor Winner's revision bore any resemblance to the novel sequel of the same title. San Francisco was the intended setting for the film but Los Angeles was more affordable; however, remnants of the San Francisco setting remain in the script including true crime statistics read by Geri on her broadcast that pertain to the Bay Area. He also notes continuity errors throughout the film with regard to the film's connection to the first film with a seven year gap between the two films described in one place as only two years and then as five years elsewhere as well as the loss of a major sequence due to budgetary concerns and the absence of Robert F. Lyons (Platoon Leader) in some scenes in which he was intended to appear due to Winner firing him. The multi-racial gang was a requirement of Golan's, and Talbot goes into some detail about each of the Method Actors playing them, as well as six day ordeal of shooting the rape scene in which Gallardo really was screaming and crying and how she and the other actors decompressed each night afterward; regardless of that, the original director of photography Thomas Del Ruth (The Running Man) and was replaced by Richard H. Kline who had already worked with Winner on The Mechanic, Won Ton: The Dog That Saved Hollywood, and Firepower (which was supposed to star Bronson who Talbot suggests bowed out because Sophia Loren was taller than him). Talbot's knowledge of the supporting cast among them bit parts by Roberta Collins (Death Race 2000) and Peter Pan (The Lost Empire) extends to some of the actual derelicts and eccentrics that were fixtures on Skid Row that Winner recruited as extras. He also provides background material on Winner, noting that he was not anti-police in spite of the portrayal of cops as ineffectual in the series, and even founded a society that put up monuments to fallen police officers in England. He also reveals that Winner who edited the film under the pseudonym "Arnold Crust" knew Ireland years before she met Bronson and that she was instrumental in securing the actor for Winner's Chato's Land, and also reveals that Sherwood dated Winner in spite of the difficulty she had with the rape scene and Death Wish 2 being her last film.
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Vinegar Syndrome has not ported over the Hartley interviews, instead conducting new ones with some of the same participants; however, they seem to betray evidence of MGM legal department's extreme vetting of extras. In "Pass" (5:28), screenwriter Engelbach passed on Golan's pitch to do a sequel to Death Wish until the producer offered to bankroll a film for him which would become America 3000. In addition to providing more background on the lost sequence in which Kersey gets away from the city after his daughter's death only to be kidnapped by a militia, Englebach also notes that his intent was to do more of a modern western than a retread of the first film. In "Working with Bronson" (7:24), actor Lyons discusses the impact of the film on his career and his working relationship with Bronson but the aforementioned MGM intervention appears to have steered the discussion (or the editing) away from details of his firing. In "Dark Parts" (8:10), actress Sherwood reveals that she did not see the first film and that her scenes were challenging and painful but that she felt that the lack of dialogue allowed her to communicate her character in more universal non-verbal terms. In "Fights in the Theater" (7:19), Todd Roberts, son of executive producer Bobby Roberts (Monte Walsh) gets closest to saying anything truly critical about the film, noting the changes in society between the first film and the second and describing the result as a "patchwork" or a "raggedy quilt", an excuse to make a film rather than to truly say something. The disc closes out with the film's theatrical trailer (1:57).

Packaging

The cover is reversible and the first 5,000 copies ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome include a special limited edition embossed slipcover designed by Robert Sammelin.

Overall

Whether its a "raggedy quilt" of a retread or a "modern western", Death Wish 2 gets the definitive A/V treatment on Vinegar Syndrome's UHD/Blu-ray combo even if some of the extras feel compromised.

 


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