You could say that a punk wasteland changed Paul Kersey completely. A subway killer-mirroring avatar for naked conservative frenzy, Charles Bronson’s Death Wish series went from somewhat grounded vigilante fantasy to hyper-violent porno for NRA card carrying lifers over the course of twenty years. Granted, it took almost nine of those and a switch to one of the most disreputable motion picture studios of all time (Golan & Globus’ Cannon Films) for this cartoonish transformation to transpire, but once it did the Death Wish sequels became an all or nothing affair. Kersey’s geographic path is somewhat inexplicable – laying waste in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, LA and then back again – as is his ability to somehow stumble upon the most rape and murder-infested neighborhoods of each massive metropolis. This near magnetic attraction to grime addicts acts as fuel for the immortal massacre machine, as Kersey killed ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out. And it all started with a suicide in a graffiti-lined nightmare warehouse, as Kersey’s daughter, Carol (Robin Sherwood), kills herself after learning “punk’s not dead!”
Death Wish II picks up almost a decade after the original, as Kersey tries to play “good father” to Carol out in Los Angeles, far away from his original Big Apple Hellscape. Their bonding lasts for roughly fifteen minutes before a gaggle of maniacs (including Laurence Fishburne) breaks into their home and goes HAM on the housekeeper. Paul and Carol arrive just in the nick of time to catch a beating, and Carol’s kidnapped for the sole purpose of becoming a piece of meat these sleazoids trot out whenever they don’t feel like going outside to commit rape (these movies are super scummy, BTW). The walls of their lair are spray painted with the aforementioned exclamation, along with a handmade advertisement for The Germs. As Jimmy Page’s truly atrocious score roars, Carol tosses herself to a quick death, re-igniting Kersey’s apocalyptic wrath. Kersey tracks these perceived sub-humans down one by one, journeying into a heart of darkness, where the parking lots of Pioneer Chicken joints act as a home to neon-haired miscreants who sneer at the elderly wolf prowling their diseased playground.
It isn’t until Death Wish III that punks actually become the front and center enemy. Manny Fraker (Gavin O’Herlihy) has a mohawk that was seemingly chopped incorrectly, and heads up a wrecking crew of face-painters that seem like they took a wrong turn off the set of an Enzo Castellari biker exploitation picture. Of course this means nothing to Kersey, as he’s already teamed up with The Man (police Chief Ed Lauter, initiating his deal with the steel-haired devil) in order to wield magnum force without any interference from John Q. Law. What results is all-out fucking war, as even a rocket launcher is employed in service of what feels like a triple digit body count (though apparently someone counted and it only gets close to fifty). Much like Jan-Michael Vincent in John Flynn’s Defiance, Kersey similarly inspires local tenement residents to rise up and throw down with their marauding oppressors, eroding his legendary “one man roadshow of carnage” status.
After nearly ending all global suffering in Death Wish III, Kersey high tails it back to California in Death Wish IV: The Crackdown and attempts to settle down with his new lady-friend (Kay Lenz). But we all know that plan’s never going to pan out. Once his fiancé’s daughter (Dana Barron) overdoses on cocaine, the rage-monger in him returns, mowing down misfits without even commenting on how cool the arcade they hang out in is. Kersey again forms an unholy alliance in the service of hunting down his enemies, this time with capitalist Nathan White (John Ryan). Let’s face it; Kersey is an establishment assassin, helping to the clean the streets to help pave the way for future gentrification. There won’t be any room for pushers and the punks who surround them any longer, as these neighborhoods are going to be free and clear of any nefarious elements, as well as the wasteoid mini-moons caught in their orbit.
Paul Kersey doesn’t battle any spiky-haired enemies in Death Wish V, but he still dresses like your grandfather and kills in the name of preserving his Constitutional Rights (digression: can you imagine what Kersey’s Facebook would’ve been like had he lived to see social media and the Obama Administration?). However, his legacy was already cemented. He’s a mumbling protector, blowing holes in those who cause the arenas of urban America to become unlivable for Baby Boomer white folks. Paul Kersey is making this country great again, and removing due process from the idea of justice. There will be no anarchy in his streets. If he catches any of you weirdos acting out of line (or even associating with those who do), there will be absolute hell to pay. Now turn that goddamn racket down.