Death Wish (1974): It started a genre

A scene from Death Wish – Courtesy of Warner Home Video.

My second child came into the world this past week and I’ve been up with him into the wee hours nightly ever since. While the lack of sleep sucks, this has allowed me to watch a ton of crap I normally wouldn’t have time to during normal hours. Charles Bronson’s 1974 revenge thriller Death Wish is one of those movies. Before continuing I must admit I had never seen Death Wish. It’s been on my must-watch list for years. I believe I’ve seen a few of the sequels too, but never the original. So I bought the whole set and I will start at the beginning.

Death Wish opens with a seriously ridiculous vacation scene in Hawaii where Paul and Joanna Kersey (Bronson and Hope Lange) show the audience how in love they are as they frolic on the beach. Shortly after they return home to New York City (where we learn crime is out of control by a co-worker of Paul’s) a bunch of thugs (one of which is played by a young and goofy Jeff Goldblum) follow Joanna and their adult daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan) home, and then attack them, rape Carol, and leave them both for dead. Joanna dies, Carol becomes a vegetable, and Paul turns into a bloodthirsty vigilante, gunning down every clown who gets into his face.

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Since Death Wish came out we’ve seen similar movies hit theatres at least once a year. Some of them work (recent fare like Taken and I Saw the Devil are great examples), but most of them can’t compete because they don’t have Bronson and his crazy tough guy skin leading the chaos. And without Bronson, Death Wish probably wouldn’t have been such an awesome flick that even a 5-day-old would stop crying to enjoy in the middle of the night.

Even the trailer is intense:

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