Death Wish 4 & 5 (Blu-ray) (1994)

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Released 2-May-2018

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Audio Commentary-with Author Paul Talbot
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Gallery
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time ?
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By J. Lee Thompson
Allan A. Goldstein
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Charles Bronson
Kay Lenz
John P. Ryan
Perry Lopez
George Dickerson
Soon-Tek Oh
Dana Barron
Lesley-Anne Down
Michael Parks
Saul Rubinek
Ken Welsh
Chuck Shamata
Miguel Sandoval
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $29.95 Music John Bisharat
Paul McCallum
Valentine McCallum


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 1.0
English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown

    It’s risky business getting close to architect-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), whose family and friends all seem to have a drastically reduced life expectancy. 1987’s Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is the third sequel to 1974’s Death Wish, and it is more or less what one would expect from the fourth entry in an ’80s action franchise. Although more watchable than Death Wish II, Death Wish 4 is not a patch on the enormously enjoyable third film or the solid original movie which started it all. Clocking in at a rather beefy 100 minutes (the longest in the series), Death Wish 4 does deliver from an action standpoint, but the franchise’s central conceit has grown both tired and repetitive, and there is no longer any trace of the underlying themes which elevated the first movie above pure exploitation. Nevertheless, while this sequel is too predictable and by-the-numbers to make much of an impact, Bronson fans should enjoy the action sequences and droll humour.

    Now that Kersey’s entire family has been wiped out (with the notable exception of his stepson who curiously disappeared after the original film), each sequel must introduce new loved ones who are lined up and slaughtered to bring out his vigilante instincts. Returning to Los Angeles, Kersey is now dating attractive thirtysomething reporter Karen Sheldon (Kay Lenz), who has a teenage daughter named Erica (Dana Barron). They all live together happily, but this would not be another Death Wish sequel unless solace is shattered. Erica dies of a drug overdose, and, in retaliation, Paul seeks to punish L.A.’s major drug dealers. Kersey receives financial support in the form of the wealthy Nathan White (John P. Ryan), who is likewise determined to avenge the drug-related death of his own daughter. White hires Kersey to kill the key players within two rival drug dealing organisations in order to instigate a war between them. Of course, the police get involved with some reluctance, but are utterly useless in the grand scheme of things.

    The original Death Wish effectively spoke about the urban crime epidemic of the 1970s, but the sequels substituted this thematic relevance with mindless bloodletting and exploitative action. Death Wish 4: The Crackdown continues this tradition; it’s expectedly thin on plot but thick on action. Written by Gail Morgan Hickman (Murphy’s Law), this instalment admittedly attempts timely themes relating to the dangers of drug since Kersey targets drug dealers as opposed to street punks, but it lacks the gritty realism and thoughtfulness required to send home a clear message. It does not help that the drug trade is simplified to just a handful of key players for Kersey to kill. Indeed, the makers of Death Wish 4 were primarily interested in a pure vigilante fantasy, while everything else is just insignificant window dressing. Furthermore, the script is filled with laughable contrivances, unclear motivations and one-dimensional characterisations. Kersey is now more of an assassin as opposed to a straight-up vigilante, and Death Wish 4 consequently feels closer to a sequel to Bronson’s The Mechanic.

    Bronson was reportedly displeased with the experience of shooting Death Wish 3, which led to the end of his creative partnership with director Michael Winner. Replacing him is J. Lee Thompson, whose prior credits include Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone, as well as such Bronson movies as 10 to Midnight and The Evil That Men Do. The series’ production company, Cannon Films, was verging on bankruptcy during the production of Death Wish 4, leading to reduced budgets. Therefore, despite the success of the Death Wish franchise, this entry was produced for a scant $5 million sum, of which $4 million reportedly constituted Bronson’s salary. Thus, Thompson’s work is visibly marred by budgetary restraints and a hastened shooting schedule, with basic camera set-ups as well as obvious technical goofs. A body falling off a building in one scene is clearly a dummy, for example, and an explosion in a bar looks obviously superimposed. The action sequences admittedly remain entertaining despite a lack of nail-biting tension, but one has to overlook certain contrivances to enjoy them. For instance, assailants with a clear shot at Kersey always delay pulling the trigger, giving the protagonist a chance to notice their position and shoot first. Furthermore, Cannon Films apparently could not afford to fund a complete new score, and therefore a bulk of the music was recycled from the Chuck Norris movies Invasion U.S.A. and Missing in Action.

    The aging Charles Bronson is certainly no spring chicken here, but he does deliver some great tough guy dialogue, and fans who enjoy his on-screen persona should have fun watching him playing Kersey again. Despite his age, Bronson is still a believable badass, handling the requirements of the role with ease. Since Bronson was apparently allotted 80% of the budget, none of the other actors manage to make much of an impact, and character names barely stick. Both Danny Trejo (Machete) and Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files) appear in minor roles for all of a few minutes each (in the early days of their respective careers), while Dana Barron is recognisable due to her appearance as Audrey Griswold in the original National Lampoon’s Vacation.

    As long as you disable your brain before viewing and temper your expectations, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is a serviceable instalment in the Death Wish franchise. No matter its flaws, it’s still enjoyable to behold an idiosyncratic product of the 1980s, with blank-firing weapons, real flames and practical blood squibs, before digital effects became so prevalent. Moreover, it’s hard not to get a kick out of Bronson blowing up the villain with a freaking M203 grenade launcher. It’s preposterous, yes, but this is still a fun big-screen cartoon. Death Wish 4 foundered at the box office, but it was a huge hit on home video, selling millions of VHS cassettes. This ensured that one more sequel would come along (seven years later) to round out the franchise: 1994’s Death Wish V: The Face of Death.

Death Wish V: The Face of Death

    1994’s Death Wish V: The Face of Death further confirms that prolific architect-cum-vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is the single unluckiest man on the planet. This fifth and final instalment in the long-running Death Wish franchise hit cinemas on the twentieth anniversary of Kersey’s first attempt to stifle crime on the streets of New York City, and it represents the legendary Charles Bronson’s last theatrical appearance (he would only star in three more made-for-TV films). Death Wish V (randomly reverting back to Roman numerals) drifts even further away from the original Death Wish, playing out as a violent action fantasy rather than providing any thoughtful themes. Indeed, in spite of their entertainment value, the Death Wish sequels unmistakably advocate vigilante justice rather than condoning it, continually reiterating the message that the law system does not work. Nevertheless, as trashy low-grade ’90s action movies go, Death Wish V is perfectly serviceable despite its silliness, and long-time Bronson fans should still have fun with it.

    In this follow-up, Kersey has returned to New York City and again enters a relationship with a woman thirty years his junior. Kersey is dating renowned fashion industry figure Olivia Regent (Lesley-Anne Down), whom he intends to marry. However, Olivia’s mafia ex-husband Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks) wants to get his mitts on her fashion empire. Hoping to put O’Shea behind bars, Olivia agrees to testify against him, but she winds up predictably dead as a result. Kersey is less than pleased about his fiancée’s murder, bringing about a pertinent question from the cops: “You’re not thinking about going back to your old ways, are you?” But of course, this would not be another Death Wish sequel unless Kersey comes out of retirement one last time to punish the perpetrators.

    The problems with Death Wish V primarily stem from the elementary script, credited to director Allan A. Goldstein. Dialogue is unremarkable and clichés are frequent, ranging from corrupt police to a villain with most of the city on his payroll. The set-up preceding Olivia’s death is comparatively extended, implying that Goldstein was trying to establish a genuine emotional connection between Kersey and his fiancée to add impact to her inevitable demise, but the writer-director lacks the dexterity to pull it off, and the relationship instead feels perfunctory. Indeed, Death Wish V is pure formula, never attempting to stray from the franchise’s well-worn idiosyncrasies or story points. In standard Death Wish tradition, there are thankfully plenty of cheesy one-liners which are easy to laugh at, and Kersey delivers ample tough guy dialogue.

    Armed with a scant $5 million budget, the film’s technical presentation is pleasingly competent and the action sequences are assembled with adequate flair despite Goldstein’s inexperience with genre pictures. Produced before digital effects became so prominent, there are real stunts and explosions to be seen throughout Death Wish V, though the seams are visible at times (a person on fire is clearly wearing a protective face mask, for instance). The lack of budget is occasionally evident as well, particularly after Olivia is supposedly disfigured by a broken mirror - the actress only appears to have a few texta marks on her face. In addition, funerals are sparsely attended and Olivia’s entire fashion empire is restricted to a single dingy warehouse, complete with an acidic pool. Filming for Death Wish V took place in Canada to save money, and Goldstein uses stock footage of New York City to create the illusion that the movie takes place in NYC. Frankly, the stock footage comprises at least half of the movie, and it is obvious that the principal actors are never in New York. In 1974’s Death Wish, NYC was a character unto itself, but it’s difficult to get a proper sense of time and place here. Furthermore, Goldstein stages several sequences of torture that go on for too long and lack tact, creating an air of sadism. Death Wish V also ends abruptly - the script reportedly contained additional ending scenes that were not filmed, and the result is jarring.

    Bronson was seventy-two at the time of Death Wish V, necessitating a suspension of disbelief as Kersey continues to indulge his vigilante instincts. Unsurprisingly, Bronson does not display a great deal of athleticism, but he does appear in respectable shape despite his age. As ever, this is not an especially nuanced performance, but those who appreciate his screen persona should get a kick out of his efforts nevertheless. Kersey continues to expand his arsenal here, murdering victims using poison and remote-controlled soccer ball bombs, among other things. Indeed, much like Death Wish 4, this occasionally feels more like a sequel to The Mechanic, given the elaborate assassinations. In the role of O’Shea, late veteran character actor Michael Parks (From Dusk till Dawn, Kill Bill) is reliably effective and scenery-chewing, though the script only asks him to play a simplistic black-and-white bad guy. But despite the character’s one-dimensionality, Parks is one of the better villains in the franchise, and is well-matched against Bronson. Saul Rubinek (True Romance, Unforgiven) also appears in a minor role, while other mildly recognisable performers fill out the supporting cast.

    At its most basic level, Death Wish V: The Face of Death is a watchable 1990s action film, the likes of which Menahem Golan was renowned for producing during his heyday. Those seeking a straightforward revenge actioner with Bronson doing what he does best should be satisfied, but if you want a rumination on the morality of vigilante justice like the original Death Wish, you should not be watching these sequels. Cannon Films dissolved in the early 1990s due to bankruptcy, leading Golan to establish his own production company and spearhead Death Wish V in the hope that it would serve as a sure-fire hit. Alas, the follow-up was an abject failure at the domestic box office, grossing a pathetic $1.7 million against the reported $5 million budget, and receiving a direct-to-video release in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, another sequel was considered without Bronson’s involvement, to be titled Death Wish 6: The New Vigilante. When Golan’s 21st Century Film Corporation went bankrupt, however, the fifth sequel was cancelled. Since the quality could have only declined even further, particularly with Bronson stepping away, it is probably fortunate that the planned fifth sequel was never brought to fruition. Instead, Death Wish was remade in 2018 with Bruce Willis taking up the mantle as Paul Kersey.

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Transfer Quality

Video

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown

    Umbrella brings this third Death Wish sequel to Blu-ray with an AVC-encoded, 1080p high definition presented framed at the movie's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Mastered with an adequate average video bitrate of 25.92 Mbps, it appears that Umbrella have made use of the same HD master prepared by MGM for its release in the United States (and the video bitrate is almost identical). By modern standards, Death Wish 4 will never look great, since it was a low-budget production shot on fast, grainy 35mm film stock, and the optical shots further limit how good the movie can look. With this in mind, it's encouraging to report that, regardless of the source, Death Wish 4 translates to a fine viewing experience on Blu-ray, trumping its DVD counterpart with ease. Both of the movies in this set, as well as the extras, are placed on a single dual-layered BD-50, though there is some unused space and the bitrate for both movies could probably have been enhanced.

    Grain is visible and well-resolved throughout, serving to accentuate the texture of the image, which thankfully never looks smeary or waxy as a result. Grain haters will probably detest this one, but the grain is not intrusive, and its presence is preferable over a smattering of unsightly digital noise reduction. Consequently, detailing is excellent, revealing every skin imperfection and all textures on costumes and sets. You can certainly see all the nuances of Bronson's aging face. Sharpness, too, is terrific, with superb object delineation that only occasionally falters in optical shots or lower-light scenes. It is evident that some effort was undertaken to remaster Death Wish 4 for high definition - although white specks and traces of dirt are sporadically visible, print damage is kept to a minimum. Indeed, I couldn't see any major scratches, hairs or stains, though I did detect some very mild flickering. No major compression issues are visible, such as aliasing or banding, but there is some slight crush in dark scenes.

    The colour palette looks fine, carrying the appearance of a low-grade 1980s production, though contrast could be improved since the image does look a tad too bright at times and blacks aren't exactly inky. In addition, given the limited colour space of 1080p, lower light scenes do struggle from a detail standpoint, and perhaps a higher bitrate could have improved the image to a certain degree. Hell, a 4K release with High Dynamic Range would look better, but that's neither here nor there. For what it is, Death Wish 4 is a pleasing transfer which will make you feel as if you're watching a film print, rather than a digitally-manipulated image. Long-time fans who have been holding onto VHS or DVD copies for years will appreciate the upgrade.

    English subtitles are included. I could see no errors with the subtitles, and they're well-encoded.

Death Wish V: The Face of Death

    This final Death Wish instalment has only seen limited releases around the world, most notably in several expensive Mediabook editions in Germany. I do not own any other releases of Death Wish V and therefore cannot provide any comparisons, but Umbrella's AVC-encoded, 1080p transfer is only mastered with a disappointing average bitrate of 17.99 Mbps, and it's clear that this final sequel was not as meticulously restored for its transition to high definition. Therefore, despite being the most recent Death Wish movie, it looks the roughest, though it is still perfectly watchable, and of course it's better than the DVD. This is my first time watching Death Wish V in high definition, and I'm still pleased with the results for the most part, caveats aside. When the transfer is really on, it's hard to imagine it looking much better.

    Luckily, no unnecessary digital tinkering is evident - grain is left in-tact and there is no distracting edge enhancement, making for an organic HD transfer. To remind you that Death Wish V was shot on film, print damage is continually evident. Print damage is at its heaviest during the opening credits, with visible scratches and flecks, but artefacts do appear sporadically throughout the remainder of the movie as well. Optical effects shots, such as those during the opening titles, tend to look a bit softer and grainer, which is source-related. Gate weave is also apparent, which makes static shots look slightly shaky. Still, none of this is too distracting, and it underscores the movie's grungy origins. With a fine layer of grain throughout, detailing and texturing is pleasing given the budget and grade of film stock. Close-ups often reveal a wealth of textures on faces and clothing. The high definition does no favours to Bronson's haggard face, or the occasionally shonky special effects shots. Indeed, stuntmen and safety equipment is all the more visible in 1080p. Sharpness is also solid for the most part, allowing you to count the hairs which comprise Bronson's moustache. Still, the compression does yield noticeable image imperfections. I detected some mild banding during the climax, and the image is certainly not as refined as a more competent encode might have allowed (grain looks blocky during the opening title sequence in particular).

    Similar to Death Wish 4, the colour palette looks true to the source, carrying the appearance of a low-budget movie from the early 1990s shot on low-grade 35mm film stock. Colours are by no means rich or vibrant, skin tones take on a pale complexion, blacks aren't inky enough, and contrast is not as deep as it probably could be, leading to a lack of image depth. There are issues with image balance and brightness, which could be source-related given the budget of the movie. In darker moments - for instance the shootout in Olivia's house - the video looks understandably rough, which again traces back to shooting conditions. Of course, the movie could look better with High Dynamic Range, but at this point, we're lucky enough to receive Death Wish V on regular Blu-ray, especially given Umbrella's ostensible reluctance to release this in the first place. (I enquired about a Blu-ray of Death Wish 4 & 5 some time ago, but was informed that there were no plans to release such a set.) A more meticulous restoration, coupled with a higher video bitrate, could have resulted in an improved image, but with the movie's reputation and budget in mind, I'll take Umbrella's Blu-ray over nothing.

    Thankfully, English subtitles are available. Whereas the subtitles on Death Wish 4 appear to have been supplied by the rights holder, it's apparent that this track was created specifically for Umbrella's release (the font is different). I didn't detect any errors, though the subtitles do obscure the opening titles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown

    The Blu-ray's sole audio option (aside from the commentary) is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono track (reflecting the cheap nature of the production), which is identical to the track provided on MGM's U.S. release. Since this is a mono mix, do not expect any surround activity such as panning or placement, as the audio is solely restricted to the front channels. Of course, audiophiles may bemoan the lack of a remix since the Death Wish movies would probably sound terrific in 5.1, but this is true to the source and one cannot reasonably expect cheap '80s actioners like this to warrant a remix. For what it is, this audio track does its job well enough. The gunshots do sound understandably canned since they were likely pulled from an archive, but there is still sufficient impact and loudness to them. Bullets hitting bodies also have an impact, though explosions are tinny and hollow since they were most likely archival sound effects. Flames sound clearer than the explosions. Luckily, dialogue is easy to comprehend within the soundscape despite a lack of separation and dynamicity. All things considered, this is a serviceable mix which does not suffer from any bothersome encoding flaws, and is only limited by the source. Again, it's a huge step up compared to the DVD.

Death Wish V: The Face of Death

    Slightly upping the ante compared to its immediate predecessor, Death Wish V is presented on Blu-ray with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track. Although the track exhibits no signs of separation or panning effects, the rear channels are still subtly engaged, which makes the audio feel fuller compared to the mono track of Death Wish 4. With lossless encoding, the movie sounds about as good as can be expected, though the audio is 16-bit as opposed to 24-bit. Similar to the Death Wish 4 audio track, there isn't much dynamicity, and therefore no separation between the dialogue, the sound effects, or the music. Nevertheless, gunshots and explosions are effectively loud despite sounding archival, and the dialogue is easy to hear and comprehend. The music, too, comes through nicely. Much like the video, however, it's clear the audio wasn't as meticulously restored as its predecessors - there is a slight hiss to certain scenes, and minor pops and clicks can be heard as well. The audio is still limited by the technology of its era, too, sounding a bit tinny as a result. Death Wish V looks and sounds fine on Blu-ray despite the presentation's shortcomings.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    A selection of archival material plus two new audio commentaries are included. The main menu continues Umbrella's tradition of playing an extended film clip.

Death Wish 4 Audio Commentary by Paul Talbot

    Author Paul Talbot sits down to deliver a full-length audio commentary. Talbot, who also recorded a commentary track for Death Wish II for Shout! Factory, was not involved in the production of any of the Death Wish movies - rather, he wrote several books about Bronson, and has conducted extensive research into the movies as well as the cast and crew. The track, therefore, plays out like a grab-bag of anecdotes and facts, including the most trivial of details. It's very clinical to boot. At various times, he literally just starts stating various facts one after the other, or he describes the on-screen action ("Bauggs puts a bullet in the chamber"). Hell, the firearms are also described in great detail. Most interesting is hearing about rejected treatments and ideas for Death Wish sequels, one of which was quashed for being too thoughtful for the movie's target audience. His knowledge about filming locations, changes to the script, and cost-cutting are also fascinating. I guess there isn't much that could be done given that most of the key cast and crew have passed, but this isn't essential listening by any stretch.

Death Wish 5 Audio Commentary by Paul Talbot

    Bronson enthusiast Talbot returns to share his vast knowledge of the production of the Death Wish movies. Much like his previous commentary, Talbot is very clinical, reeling off facts like a robot. There are interesting production-related tidbits relating to locations, budgeting and script changes, but it is bizarre to hear Talbot specifying firearms or describing the on-screen action. Reviews are also quoted, and actors are discussed - including a cameo by director Goldstein. Again, Talbot does what he can and this is a nice inclusion, but it is not as inherently fascinating as a commentary track from somebody who was actually involved in the production and has fleshed-out memories to share.

Death Wish 4 Theatrical Trailer (HD; 1:33)

    Presented in 720p but visibly minted from an unremastered SD source, here's the gung-go 1987 theatrical trailer for Death Wish 4: The Crackdown. This is a fun inclusion, especially if you like classic trailers.

Death Wish 5 Theatrical Trailer (HD; 1:38)

    Presented in 1080p high definition but taken from a rough 1.33:1 full-frame source (probably a VHS), here's the fun, cheesy Death Wish V: The Face of Death trailer. Again, a fun inclusion.

Death Wish 4 TV Spot (HD; 00:30)

    A TV spot. Again, this is encoded in HD but was taken from a terrible (full-frame) source.

Death Wish 4 TV Broadcast Promo (HD; 00:30)

    A brief full-frame broadcast promo that's encoded in HD but is taken from a poor quality source.

Death Wish 4 VHS Preview (HD; 00:20)

    Another extra encoded in 720p but taken from a full-frame SD source.

Death Wish 5 VHS Preview (HD; 00:56)

    Encoded in 1080i (29.970 fps) but again taken from an SD source, this is a full-frame VHS preview that's similar to the trailer.

Image Gallery (HD; 62:01)

    About sixty images are presented here, which you can navigate by using the forward and back buttons on your remote, but can also be watched as a static slideshow. The gallery contains posters, VHS cover art (from around the world), Laserdisc cover art, promotional materials, stills, and publicity notes. I enjoyed looking over these, but your mileage may vary.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    MGM's U.S. release of Death Wish 4 only contains a trailer. No other releases worldwide feature any supplemental material. Death Wish V was never released in the U.S. on Blu-ray - only in Germany and a few other countries. These releases contain no extras. Umbrella's double pack earns the win.

Summary

    I was vocal in hoping that Umbrella would release a double pack of Death Wish 4 & 5 to complete my collection, sitting alongside their double pack of the second and third movies, as well as the U.S. release of the first. The timing is fitting too, given the release of the remake.

    Umbrella's technical presentations are adequate (though the low video bitrate for Death Wish V is a bit disappointing), and they have sourced some extras to boot. For those who enjoy the Death Wish movies with Bronson, this set is a must-buy.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Review Equipment
DVDLG UP970 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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