The Curator of Schlock #6 by Jeffrey Shuster
Death Wish 3 (Mr. Vigilante)
This is the one we’ve all been waiting for. We languished through the earnest sentimentality of Death Wish 1 and the sleazy sleaziness of Death Wish 2. Now we’ve arrived at Death Wish 3, the masterpiece of the vigilante genre. Its influence has been felt far and wide. Well, it’s been felt in video games at least. Anyone who grew up playing beat ‘em ups like Final Fight or Streets of Rage knows full well what I’m talking about: armies of street thugs ravaging urban environments and it’s up to you and a friend to beat them up. Such a preposterous notion had to originate with Death Wish 3.
Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) decides to take a trip to New York City to visit and old Korean War buddy named Charlie. Unfortunately, things aren’t going so well for poor old Charlie. Apparently, the underprivileged muggers and rapist have grown in considerable force since Death Wish 1. I would estimate the little block Charlie lives on contains at least 50,000 street thugs. And they demand protection money. I know this because they say, “It’s collection time, Charlie. Collection time.” When Charlie doesn’t pay up, the gang beats him to death. Kersey arrives just in time to see Charlie breath his last breath before getting arrested by the cops for Charlie’s murder.
The Chief of the New York City Police Department recognizes Kersey as the vigilante killer from years back. Chief Shriker and the other police officers beat Kersey up a bit before locking him in the pen with a collected assortment of underprivileged muggers, rapists, and killers. One of these underprivileged is named Manny Fraker (Gavan O’Herlihy) and he’s the leader of what the Death Wish wikia calls the Street Punk Gang, the same gang responsible for Charlie’s death. Fraker decides to pick a fight with Kersey and when Kersey manages to fend him off, Fraker declares, “Tell you what I’m going do. I’m going to kill a little old lady just for you. Catch it on the 6:00 news.”
Fraker gets released soon after and I have no doubt he kept his promise. Chief Shriker is still determining what to do about Kersey. He doesn’t like what the the Street Punk Gang has done to New York City. We see Chief Shriker yelling at the department, exclaiming, “This isn’t a neighborhood, it’s a war.” After some deliberation with his friend Jack Daniels, Shriker decides to set Paul Kersey loose on the Street Punk Gang, figuring “Mr. Vigilante” can do a better job than the whole NYPD.
Kersey sets about making friends with the good people in the neighborhood, various old folks and immigrants who are constantly being terrorized by the Street Punk Gang. Street punks are easy to spot. They wear ripped blue jeans, studded bracelets, ratty t-shirts, bandanas, and kerchiefs. The kerchiefs are usually tied around their legs. Be on the lookout for these types in your own neighborhood. Heck, if they’re just wearing torn jeans that’s usually a dead giveaway. Anyway, back to the movie.
Kersey starts setting traps for the street punks. He buys a brand new used car as bait. While he’s having dinner a nice Jewish couple, Eli and Erica Kaprov, they hear his car being broken into. Kersey goes out to confront street punks. One of the punks has a switchblade. Kersey has a gun. We know the end of this story.
One of the more notorious members of this gang is The Giggler. He likes to rob women of their purses, giggling as he does it. Sometimes he’ll even bury a knife in the woman’s skull before dashing off like a greyhound. The Giggler is fast, but that doesn’t stop Kersey from trying to take him down. Kersey goes to a local convenience store to buy some ice cream. We know from Death Wish 2 that street thugs hate it when Paul Kersey buys ice cream. He’s also brandishing a fancy camera over his shoulder. It’s around this time that The Giggler’s eyes bug out of his head. The Giggler snatches the camera from Kersey, giggling as he runs away. Unfortunately for The Giggler, Kersey has a Wildey Magnum and uses it to blast a hole in The Giggler’s chest. The good folk of the neighborhood cheer at The Giggler’s bloody corpse. The uplifting music tells us that this is a good thing.
It’s not all work and no play for Paul Kersey. An attractive defense attorney thirty years his junior has the hots for him. She invites him over to her place. They eat sweet chicken and make sweet love. It turns out that she hates the underprivileged despite the fact that she’s a defense attorney. She probably started out wanting to defend the little guy, only to find out the little guy wanted to mug, rape, and murder her. It looks like she and Kersey are destined to be together until Kersey decides to check his mail. While he’s gone for all of two minutes, Fraker and his goons knock the attorney out and send her car rolling down the city street where it hits another car and promptly explodes. Oh well.
Not long after this, we get a shoot out finale where Kersey, Chief Shriker, and the good folk of the neighborhood go to war with the Street Punk Gang. Violence and carnage ensues, culminating with a standoff between Fraker and Kersey. Fraker has a gun. Kersey has a bazooka. We know the end of this story. With Fraker dead, the gang disperses. New York City is safe…for now. But what of Paul Kersey? Is this the end of his story?
Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.