Death Wish 3, Cannon Films and 80s excess

Originally published for Liverpool Small Cinema

Cheap Thrills programmer Christopher Brown explains why Death Wish 3 is a so-bad-it’s-good classic of 80s action.

You could quite easily argue that it’s probably better if you haven’t seen the first two Death Wish films before sitting down to enjoy the second sequel. There is little here to tie them together.

There is something deeply wonderful about a film sequel that swerves so much off the rails as the Death Wish films. The first in the series, admittedly attacked for being pro-vigilantism was, at least, an attempt to talk about communal violence. Even if that conversation was entrenched in the world of exploitation.

By part 3, and with Charles Bronson’s character without a family to actually avenge, the franchise was looking at distilling what people were after in far clearer, but stranger, terms.

Director Michael Winner, under the guidance of legendary B-movie film studio Cannon, decided to create a film that was all action.

But, in these decisions, he created a bizarre and wonderful slice of 80s schlock. First up is the decision to save money by filming a chuck of the movie in London to reduce production costs. At very little points does the city ever actually look like New York. To match the cartoony violence of the story it all looks a little too much like a film-set, admittedly one that features a 65-year-old Bronson playing Paul Kersey, a character whose entire thought process now replicates one of a T-800.

Then there’s the dubbing, some of the extras (both police and gang members) were British. When filming was complete, Michael Winner brought in the help of U.S. Air Force military personnel stationed at High Wycombe Air Station in the UK to provide dubbing with their New York accents. Not professionally trained, this adds to the general feeling of silliness.

The gangs themselves could look like they are out of The Warriors and the fact that the film features an anti-tank rocket launcher in its finale goes some way to show how the movie starts with a daft level of violence and then decides to crank it to extremes.

It’s not a surprise that the film is the way it is though. Produced by Cannon, who brought the world the wonderfully bad American Ninja series and Ninja Trilogy it’s a testament to daft B-movie schlock.

The Cannon Group Inc. was an American group of companies, including Cannon Films, which produced a distinctive line of low budget from 1967 to 1994.

They released everything from uber-daft video nasty Contamination through, to Tobe Hooper’s ridiculous space vampire epic Lifeforce and, of course, the live-action version of He-man starring Dolph Lundgren – Masters of the Universe.

It’s with their ‘80s nonsense that they truly shine, including offering the world the god-awful Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

So, with Death Wish 3, Cheap Thrills will be revelling in the 80s excess of action movies.

Look out for the lad armed with a sink plunger, he’s my favourite.

Cheap Thrills presents Death Wish 3, Thursday February 11, 7.30pm. Tickets £5/4. Cannon VHS trailers and drive-in adverts to start.


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