The title is what the guy behind the counter said at the store when I drove twelve miles to claim my new steel book release of the original Death Wish (Yes, I still buy movies from stores, please try not to judge).
“Yeah, you didn’t know that? It’s Bronson man,” I replied. Maybe that is what Hollywood is banking on. I am sure a whole generation thinks Straw Dogs (2011) is an original, which is a real shame.
Since I just saw the remake of Death Wish, I decided to revisit the original film, which was just released in a Steel Book edition on 3/6/2018. The 1974 movie is not even an original in fact, it was based on the novel by Brian Garfield published two years prior.
The new steel book edition is a Blu Ray/DVD two-pack, all it has for bonus features is the trailer so do not get your hopes up on that. It does not look like there were any extras on earlier releases of Death Wish so I will not hold it against them. For collectors this is a good fit at a reasonable price.
In the original Death Wish, Charles Bronson (Once Upon A Time In The West, The Magnificent Seven) is Paul Kersey, a New York Civil Engineer who becomes a one-man death squad after his wife is murdered by street thugs.
This intense home invasion scene happens early on in the movie, not sparing any run time or victims along the way. This violent act also leaves Paul’s daughter-in-law catatonic from a sexual assault.
These scenes do not hold back, reminiscent of The Last House on the Left (1972) and preceding I Spit on Your Grave (1978). It should be noted that one of these street punks is played by a young Jeff Goldblum (Thor:Ragnarok) early in his career. I am not sure if Goldblum kept “Freak #1” on his resume after all these years but it is still interesting to see him on a criminal rampage.
The rape in the opening is one of many ways the original Death Wish differs from the remake. Director Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever) decided to not take things that far in his stab at the franchise.
After all, the murder of a wife should be enough to send I guy on a vigilante killing spree right? That is exactly what happens in both films, Paul Kersey hits the streets and makes news after he kills one mugger after another in the hopes of eventually avenging his wife’s death.
What develops is an interesting social commentary in how the media and police respond to this stranger who is taking the law into his own hands. Both films deal with this element differently while the plot builds in unique ways as well.
In the original, Bronson plays a liberal minded Military Veteran who ends up taking his war out onto the streets, where in the remake, Willis (Once Upon A Time In Venice, RED) plays a Trauma Surgeon with no gun experience at all.
You can see how these details would change the story quite a bit, a story well told in both cases. Of course, in the remake, Kersey is first introduced to the public when a video of his brand of street justice goes viral. Fame does not come instantly like that for the Bronson character, he has to wait a whole night for it to make the newspaper the next morning.
Yes time can change a lot, but what it does not alter is the craft of great storytelling. Both versions of Death Wish feature characters with enough backstory to make them believable and even make us empathetic to their kill crazy actions.
These movies are concise, fast paced and well performed. If you are a fan of the crime or exploitation genre, both Death Wish films are a must. Even if you saw the original back in the day, they will make for one hell of a double feature.
Curt Wiser is the Writer, Director of the Suspense movie Cam-Girl. As a filmmaker and artist he is happy to give praise to other movies and share them with the world.