The Devil's Nightmare

Color, 1987, 99 mins. 49 secs.
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Starring Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Perry Lopez, Soon-Teck Oh, George Dickerson, Dana Barron
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), MGM (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Umbrella (Blu-ray & DVD) (Australia R0 HD/NTSC), NSM Records (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Color, 1994, 95 mins. 3 secs.
Directed by Allan A. Goldstein
Starring Charles Bronson, Lesley-Anne Down, Michael Parks, Chuck Shamata, Robert Joy
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), NSM Records (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Umbrella (Blu-ray & DVD) (Australia R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Trimark (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Laser Paradise (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), Lionsgate (DVD) (Canada R1 NTSC)

After the action apotheosis of the Death Wish IV: The Crackdownjaw-dropping Death Wish 3, you would think architect turned city-hopping vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Death Wish IV: The CrackdownBronson) would have had enough. However, moviegoers apparently said otherwise, and in the second official Cannon entry in the series (but really the third), Death Wish IV: The Crackdown, we swap out the eccentric flamboyance of director Michael Winner for the crisp professionalism of another Cannon stable favorite, J. Lee Thompson. The director and star had a relationship going back to films like Caboblanco, The White Buffalo, St. Ives, The Evil That Men Do, 10 to Midnight, and Murphy's Law, and Bronson would round out Thompson's career with his last two films, Messenger of Death and the outrageous Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects. The Cannon Group was wheezing but still chugging along when the fourth Death Wish film opened in November of '87, coming in the midst of a peculiar stab at prestige projects from Cannon like Barfly, Surrender, Tough Guys Don't Dance, and Godard's King Lear. This one had a visibly lower budget than its predecessors, scaling back the insane action scenes and sleaze quotient but still delivering what moviegoers expected: Charles Bronson running around with a gun blowing away criminals.

Relocated to Los Angeles and back to working as an architect, the nightmare-plagued Paul Kersey now has a girlfriend, Karen (Stripped to Kill's Lenz), whose young daughter, Erica (National Lampoon's Vacation's Barron), falls in with a bad crowd and ends up overdosing on crack. When Erica eventually dies after being hospitalized, Paul follows the trail of clues to a drug dealer and, after a violent encounter, ends up being coerced by tabloid publisher Nathan White (Runaway Train's Ryan) into helping him wipe out the local Death Wish IV: The Crackdowncriminal Death Wish IV: The Crackdownelement. However, there's much more going on than meets the eye as Paul navigates a treacherous maze of cops, gangsters, and a seemingly endless supply of henchmen he can shoot. A little twistier than the average Death Wish film, this one focuses more on the organized crime side of things instead of street criminals or gangs; there is a (comparatively restrained) sexual assault scene thrown in once again to remind you of the series' origins, but for the most part it's just one death gag after another including a priceless bit involving a bottle of wine and a great amusement park execution. Obviously the basic plot is another riff on the whole Yojimbo / A Fistful of Dollars / Red Harvest / Last Man Standing idea of a mercenary pitting two crime organizations against each other, but of course having Bronson here with some trendy "just say no" anti-drug messaging makes all the difference. Amusingly, much of the film is scored with needle drop cues from previous Cannon films which will cause serious deja vu among some viewers, too.

By the time of the last Bronson film in the series, 1994's barely-released Death Wish V: The Face of Death, Cannon had dissolved and the property had been taken over by Menahem Golan for his current (and soon to be bankrupt) company, 21st Century Film Corporation. The trend of escalating Bronson's huge salaries continued with this one, which was shot in Toronto and definitely feels it; Death Wish V: The Face of Deathwhat's surprising is that, despite being even cheaper than the prior film, it's a ton of fun with Michael Parks hamming it up as an Irish mobster Death Wish V: The Face of Deathand a garment district setting with a big vat of potentially lethal lime. This time Paul's back in the Big Apple with another girlfriend, fashion designer Olivia Regent (Down), who gets abused and intimidated by her abusive ex, Tommy O'Shea (Parks). Additional violence from Tommy's lackey, Flakes (Joy), results in Olivia's facial disfigurement, and Paul teams up with the D.A., Hoyle (Rubinek), who's been working for many years to put Tommy behind bars. As the violence continues to escalate, Paul finds out that there are ties to the original crime involving his family that set him on his vigilante path, one the authorities are cautioning him to avoid this time around.

By this point we all know what to expect, as anyone who dates Paul Kersey is bound to meet a nasty fate that will lead to him not only shooting holes in any crook he sees but also come up with the occasional creative kill along the way. This time viewers get more than their fair share, including a standout scene involving Italian cuisine, and Bronson still pulls off the role with aplomb even if he was openly badmouthing these films ever since the third installment. Released theatrically by Trimark, this one pulls back even further on the sleaze quotient (though really, after the second film anything would pale by comparison), and it's been one of this films always available on home video in one way or another ever since without people really talking much about it.

Death Wish V: The Face of DeathAs far as Blu-ray goes, Death Wish IV has had the slightly longer history including a U.S. one from MGM and subsequent releases in Germany Death Wish V: The Face of Deathand Australia, with the latter two applying to the fifth film as well. Both films got separate Blu-ray editions from Kino Lorber in 2023, featuring solid HD scans from what appear to be the same masters used for the overseas releases. As usual the fourth film is presented in DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles (incredibly, Cannon was still cheaping out on the audio for many of its theatrical releases even in '87), and the fifth film has a surprisingly dynamic DTS-HD MA 2.0 English surround track that nicely replicates the very active Ultra Stereo mix (with English subs as well). The fifth film hasn't really had a good home video release until this point, so it's especially welcome to have here properly framed at 1.85:1 and looking great. Of course, these wouldn't be worthwhile Bronson releases without commentary by the mighty Paul Talbot, and he more than obliges with a pair of excellent tracks here. Everything you could possibly want to know is here including the story development, the state of Bronson's career for both films, the stories behind the actors and crew members, the shooting locales (both used and intended), the histories behind the firearms, and the other odd twists and turns taken in the Death Wish series including other concepts that got abandoned along the way. Essential listening as always. The discs also feature trailers for both films along with bonus Bronson-starring trailers for the original Death Wish, Murphy's Law, Assassination, and The White Buffalo.

Reviewed on October 24, 2023