Before Michael Douglas fell down, and Travis Bickle went full mohawk, shot up a brothel and was hailed a hero, Charles Bronson was the key player in punk-slaying vigilantism. C is for Vendetta.
52 years old in 1974, with a toned physique, yet not to Arnie or Sly proportions when he starred in the first Death Wish movie, Charles’ architect lead was hardly a conventional action superhero.
Still, somehow it all worked out; Paul Kersey went on to become one of the most notorious and effective unofficial law enforcers the world of architecture has ever known. An ordinary Manhattan family man tipped over the edge by the murder of his wife Carol, and daughter Joanna’s rape, it doesn’t demand Holmesian levels of detective work to pin down his motivations.
By 1986 director Michael Winner had honed the art of tormenting the anti-gun lobby, part 3 was on the big screen, and Paul was no longer an amateur have-a-go assassin. Unhindered by frivolous emotions Paul is fearless, his unflinching constitution easily matched by military-grade artillery.
Minding his own business, making plans to visit his Korean War friend Charley, Paul’s host is savagely attacked in his own New York apartment, resulting in a terminal heart attack. Gun cocked, arriving on the scene at just the wrong moment Paul is assumed to be the perpetrator. Arrested for murder, he’s thrown in a jail cell with an assortment of lowlife scum to await interrogation. If he survives long enough.
Fraker: (to Kersey on being released from jail) See… I got a lawyer. But I gotta tell yah, if they hadn’t broken us up I would’ve killed you. Next time, you won’t even see me coming. Tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna kill a little old lady, just for you. Catch it on the six o’clock news.
With the serious crime rate soaring – NYPD unable to control the escalating violence – inspector Richard Shriker and Paul strike up a mutually beneficial deal. Shriker, fully aware of Kersey’s reputation, offers him the keys to the kingdom… of squalor, fear, and casual brutality. To “thin the herd”, generating positive news headlines that reflect well on the police as Shriker agrees to turn a blind eye.
Kersey needs little persuasion, wasting no time mail ordering heavy ordnance, and rigging Home Alone style self-defence traps to maim any uninvited invaders. He is ‘The Crackdown’, ‘The Face of Death’.
Mrs Kaprov: (inspecting a booby-trap, Kersey notices something) What is it?
Paul Kersey: Teeth.
Surprisingly enough, tit for tat violence leads to more of the same until Kersey finds himself at the nucleus of an all-out war against gang leader, Manny Fraker; the reverse mohawked hoodlum who killed Charley. Between them, they rack up a body count of 83, not even sparing Alex ‘Bill S. Preston, Esq.’ Winter. Death Wish 3 was his first feature-length movie… such a tragic loss.
Let me introduce you to my knuckles. Certainly, most definitely, NOT excellent, dude! No air guitar for you.
As the knives fly, lead pipes swing and bullets swoosh by the residents’ ears, we’re introduced to characters we can be certain won’t survive long enough to warrant a second day’s shooting. Filming that is, you know, with a camera. Throats are slit, women gang-raped, driverless cars sent careering into busy crossroads. Hell on earth.
Doctor at hospital: Mrs Rodriguez has expired.
Paul Kersey: But you told me over the phone she only had a broken arm?
Meet the neighbours. Not the most conventional army, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Luckily Kersey and his Magnum 475 Wildey have seen it all before.
Paul Kersey: A .475 Wildey magnum is a shorter version of the African big game cartridge. It makes a real mess.
Ideal source material inspiration for an 18-rated, millennial, GTA spin-off title, though not the first movie to (Thing on a) Spring to mind when you consider Gremlin and their typical 8-bit output. And still, it happened, I’ve got the evidence.
I wonder how Crash reported the news of its upcoming translation to the Amstrad, Commodore 64 and Spectrum in issue 43 (August 1987). What a startling coincidence…
“Gremlin, after playing around with cute characters such as Bounder, Thing and Monty Mole have now gone hard and mean three times over in Death Wish III, their big summer release. Licensed from the ubiquitous film starring Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, New York’s vigilante de-worms the Big Apple.
By the fact that he’s armed with a 475 Wildey Magnum, pump-action shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher and a mean mouth you can tell he’s no wimp and means trouble. Gangster style shootings mount as he wanders the streets, but shooting at the local cops isn’t wise, they start having wishes for death for him.
Kersey’s greatest ally is his unshakable belief that the fate of decent, clean-living, Twinky-buying Americans is in his hands – but so’s the multitude of weapons with which he executes his death wish.”
What emerged follows the movie’s plot as accurately as a game can pay homage to a movie with almost no plot. In fact, Zzap!64 concluding their 64% review felt that it “mirrors the pointlessness of the films a little too well” (September 1987).
We’re a one-man army with massacre on our mind, and the artillery to make it happen. Playing as Kersey – obviously – our aim is to kill anyone who isn’t a handbag-waving granny, prostitute or copper.
Paul Kersey: It’s like killing roaches – you have to kill ’em all. Otherwise, what’s the use?
I’ll let the manual take care of all that scene-setting malarky…
“For far too long, ruthless and merciless gangs have terrorised the streets. Muggings and robberies have become commonplace and the police seem powerless against the underworld. So, when the Chief of Police turns a blind eye, you take over where the law left off…
You play Charles Bronson’s leading role of street vigilante Paul Kersey, New York’s own unique brand of Justice Fighter, and you are out to rid the city of the punks and creeps who infest the streets.
Having received a distress call from an old friend, you venture to New York, scouring the streets and buildings for the villains and the vermin, eliminating them as you go. The police help out where they can, but your driving force is the belief that the safety of decent New York citizens is in your hands.”
As in the movie, the police are happy to let us do their job for them as long as we don’t cause too much commotion, attracting unwanted attention.
Richard Shriker: I don’t like creeps any more than you do. But I can’t do anything about them. See, I’m a cop. But you, you shoot ’em.
As long as you can get a clear shot that is, without mowing down civilians or police officers who rather inconveniently intermingle with the crooks. They have ‘collateral damage’ written all over them.
Shoot either group of innocent bystanders and the police soon change their ‘hands-off’ tune, turning on Kersey like a common criminal. Bit of a cheek knowing that our personal brand of murder is the righteous, benign type!
To redress the balance we must slay more perps, causing our score to raise out of negative status. It’s all about scoring, although you should probably leave any white powder to the pondlife. We’ve got to keep a clear head.
“Gremlin have made a good job in creating an amusing action-packed game from a rather limited film licence. Though the violence is relentless and gratuitous, nobody’s going to take it seriously. Are they? The lasting appeal of the game is doubtful, but it’s worth checking out if only for its gory and colourful graphics.”
ACE (C64, score 739, October 1987)
“It’s not going to be easy – locals can get caught up in the action, but luckily medics are on hand to tend to the wounded.”
I’m not sure ‘medics’ is the right word; they’re more like grim reapers. I’d like to see a first aider stitch back together a punk outlaw who has been obliterated with a Browning .30 calibre machine gun. A nice touch all the same – it’s refreshing to see bodies being dragged off screen rather than simply disappearing to prevent slowdown. These extra animations add resource overheads here so are not likely serving the same purpose. Being a flick-screen affair must really help to keep it all manageable in any case.
“I’ve no doubts that Death Wish III will sell like the proverbial hotcakes because it promises lots of violence, but I’m not sure that that is going to prove as absorbing as Gremlin seem to think. And the game, ultimately, is neither state-of-the-art nor hugely original.”
Sinclair User (70%, September 1987)
“Remember too that the cops are on your side – shoot too many by mistake and you will find them far less than friendly.”
Hey, I’ve already said that, stop trying to steal my thunder.
“Punks and creeps are easily identified, but the notorious gang leaders, lolling around behind their desks are your prime targets.”
That’s how Fraker remains untouchable for so long in the movie – he lets his goons get their hands dirty while he barks orders from the sidelines (well, erm, mostly, unless he’s in a dimly lit back alley… or his pride is hurt… oh forget I said anything).
When Fraker finally gets blown away at almost point-blank range with a rocket launcher his underlings meekly slink away with their tails between their legs as though they’ve suddenly lost their appetite for violence. Sentiments I suspect Steve Jarrett of Zzap!64 fame may have shared…
“Gremlin might well have gone to the Board of Censors with Death Wish III, as it contains several bloodthirsty death scenes – not least of which is the total blowing away of someone with a rocket launcher… gruesome!”
I’d quote Paul Sumner’s opinion except he was a fictional Zzap!64 reviewer devised by Jaz Rignall and Gary Penn. Journalistic integrity at its finest!
Rodriguez: (to Kersey, about the package just arrived in the mail) What is it?
Paul Kersey: A LAWS missile launcher. Anti-tank, anti-personnel. These rounds are self-propelling, armour piercing. The round arms three feet out of the barrel. Won’t do me much good though, unless I can get them bunched…
Rodriguez: All I got is a zip gun.
Paul Kersey: Well, we should get a few of them…
Gremlin – mostly Sean Hollingworth and Peter Harrap – had clearly done their homework since this is reflected in the game. Eliminate the head of the organisation and the riot they’re responsible for ceases.
“I remember this game! I helped write all the code, along with Pete Harrap…
I also remember the furore when it was released… However, it did no harm just as modern games do no harm. Yes, I admit there could have been a bit more to the gameplay… But in those days things were pretty primitive, and many people just wanted to blow things up, and not to have to think too hard…”
Shaun Hollingworth (14th August 2004, Lemon64 comment)
“Death Wish III has a realistic three-dimensional scenario. You may turn around to look in any direction – the view you have is always geographically correct, the streets and buildings forming a logical map. A compass in the lower part of the screen will help you find your way around the city and shows your direction of view – north, south, east or west.”
It does help to make our New York environment seem more expansive, despite the backdrops repeating so often. If it all seems a bit disorienting you’ll know how the movie production team felt what with shoots mostly taking place in Brixton, London for budgetary reasons. London is very New Yorky… to a blind and deaf tourist.
Oh, and it’s Death Wish 3, not III. After it became apparent following a survey that nearly half of the American population couldn’t decipher Roman numerals they were switched in the title. Makes you proud to be part of the human race, doesn’t it?
“Your location in the city is shown on the map alongside your compass, and is always orientated in the direction of view. The map can also be toggled to inform you of either the whereabouts of gang leaders or the location of replacement weapons.
You have four types of weapon at your disposal: your famous 475 Wildey Magnum, a pump-action shotgun, a machine gun and a rocket launcher. Each weapon has its own distinctive devastating effect, but ammunition is not limitless. The weapon currently being used and its remaining ammunition is shown at the bottom of the screen. When a weapon runs out of ammunition, it is automatically discarded until another can be found. Kersey will inform you if he has no weapon!”
By looking towards the camera and shrugging as if to say, “what do you expect me to do now?”. Kersey doesn’t get involved in hand to hand combat in the movie so it makes sense that he’s lost without his guns.
RoboCop found himself in a similar predicament when he made the l… well, not leap, to the gaming medium. He can punch, yet his fists are so ineffective Murphy may as well give up.
In Kersey’s case, it’s worth becoming a sitting duck to witness his impeccable Fonsy impression… “Heeeeyyyy!!!”
We’ll learn not to waste so much ammo next time. Maybe give shooting tables, chairs, and TVs a miss too. A fun way to boost our score, that’s all.
“The lower part of the screen also contains all the information you’ll need in your fight to free the streets of New York. A printout from the police HQ computer warns you of where riots are breaking out.
Gangs from the outlying regions will fight for control of the city centre, so you can be sure that this is the most dangerous place to be. The condition of your bulletproof vest and your state of health are shown. Too many holes or a direct hit to the heart is fatal.”
Again, top marks Gremlin for implementing a life-force system beyond the stereotypical energy bar. Very sensibly Kersey wears a bulletproof vest in the movie – it saves his bacon on a number of occasions. Here it works in conjunction with an injury metre that fills rather than a dwindling vitality gauge. If it’s looking likely to hit a dangerous peak you’d be best advised to withdraw to a quiet empty room where no-one is likely to club or shoot you to death. Linger awhile twiddling your thumbs and any injuries slowly ebb away.
“Despite the violent nature of Death Wish III, the game is technically excellent with brilliant graphics and a three-channel soundtrack from the film’s title music. Some of the screens show graphic gore and lewdness, particularly on the Commodore version, but no doubt others will pass judgement on this Gremlin title – probably without seeing it first. So, all I will say is that it’s an excellent game which is shockingly realistic!”
C&VG (C64 92.5%, Spectrum 85%, October 1987)
“The top part of the screen contains all the action. Buildings may be entered and searched for extra weapons or gang leaders. You may approach windows and look through them, a gunsight will appear and allow you to fire into the street outside. Higher points are given for shooting from windows, but watch out for creeps attacking from behind!!”
Probably not a very practical compromise, turning your back on enemies who are a threat to target distant ones who aren’t, just to earn some extra points. Nevertheless, you have to appreciate the effort made to introduce another genre angle. Constant 2D blasting quickly becomes repetitive and tiresome otherwise, especially since the game has no conclusion.
“The programmers have obviously made the best they could out of a pretty limited film, but it just hasn’t got enough depth or variety.”
Julian Rignall, Zzap!64 (64%, September 1987)
Do do do. Come on and do the conga. Choo-choo-choo, that train across the floor. You-you-you. Come on and join the conga.
This, unfortunately, remains its major drawback. Once you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor after witnessing its “outrageously violent” visuals (as Sinclair User put it), there’s not much more going on to keep us entertained.
Ted is seriously NOT amused.
Despite Death Wish 3 the game being banned in Germany, counterproductively stirring up further controversy and intrigue, plenty of people would rather listen to Ben Dalglish’s superb (C64) soundtrack, skipping the game entirely.
Yes, the German authorities – arbitrators hailing from the country that brought us two world wars – got their knickers in a knot over a bit of pixelated 8-bit blood splatter. As they did with anything and everything that looked like it might involve representations of people being a tad aggressive.
Stop tumble-drying your t-shirts. I won’t tell you again!
Washing Lines 4 U’s head of PR approves.
It’s not clear how they felt about all the ‘ladies of the night’ flaunting their wares. Most of the people frothing at the mouth over Death Wish 3 raising “computer-screen gore to new heights” (ACE, October 1987) were too preoccupied with guns and guts to notice any other morally dubious content.
Piggybacking the movie’s notoriety, Death Wish 3 the game required little in the way of dedicated marketing. Cliched headlines and ranting detractors took care of the rest, allowing Gremlin founder and MD, Ian Stewart, to take a backseat…
Mel Croucher: Bronson, Deathwish 3, Hungerford, sick.
Ian: Oh. I see. Sex is okay, but violence is out.
Mel: Sure. I believe that, that’s fine with me. People can have a bonk after watching bonking films, but what about Bernard Getz who gunned down people in the subway after watching Bronson do it on screen, or Michael Ryan who dressed up as Rambo and killed 16 people at random?
Ian: (long pause) I had every opportunity to maximise the coverage I could have got from the Hungerford massacre. We didn’t speak to anybody. Nobody at all. Not even you.
Mel: And that’s the way it stands at the moment.
Mel: Presumably you’ve been approached personally to comment.
Ian: It would have been ideal as a promotion, but there is no way I’m going to use or abuse anything as tragic as that.
Mel: Will you be withdrawing Deathwish 3?
Ian: It’s still in the shops, and as with any software product, it really hasn’t got that much of a long life.
The Games Machine (December 1987)
Death Wish 3 isn’t all bad – grannies defending themselves with weaponised handbags is surely a self-affirming, positive message to instil in kids?
Michael Winner’s movie is largely a scurrilous, morally bankrupt celebration of wanton violence and rape, exploited to the fullest for entertainment value. That said it does have the decency to explore the virtues of community cohesion, showing a glimmer of hope for the New York society depicted, if not for the director’s career or reputation as an alleged abuser of women.
Well, he did arrange for this to happen to public defender Kathryn Davis. Whilst sitting in her car, Manny punches the lawyer unconscious, lifts the handbrake and pushes her downhill into oncoming traffic.
While the gaming critics of the day noted that the violence had been stepped up a gear compared to what had gone before, Julian Rignall exhorting “computer games don’t get much gorier than this!”, they weren’t overly concerned by it. Some praised the game in spite of the carnage, or perhaps because of it, awarding exceptionally high scores. It entered the sales charts at no. 11 in November 1987 (see Sinclair User).
Others – particularly representatives of the church – were less enamoured with what they deemed a worrying downward spiral…
Mel Croucher: You’re reviewing Deathwish 3 here, joystick in hand. What do you reckon?
Monsignor Bruce Kent: I’m a Christian. Christmas is a time of reconciliation, peacemaking. If this is bought as a Christmas present I think it is outrageous. As a game, I think it is a very, very dangerous perversion. It puts the idea into kid’s minds that they can ignore the law, and sort people out by murdering them. We try to build a world of law, justice and judicial procedures, and this bypasses all of that. It turns a killer into a hero. Why aren’t heroes champions of non-violence?
Mel: Mild-mannered Bruce Kent from the planet Krypton?
Bruce: Seriously. I feel quite ill looking at this, I think it’s dreadful. I think that the difference between this illusion and the reality of people going out on a killing spree is getting thinner and thinner all the time.
Mel: Give me evidence of that.
Bruce: Nobody pays for the personal advertising poster I’ve got here unless it has results. I don’t have any personal evidence. I certainly know of kids who have hung themselves after seeing it on TV. I read the papers… casual violence on our street, I just can’t believe these games DO NOT affect people’s behaviour!
Mel: This sort of game is about ‘winning’ about being aggressive, a world of male dominance. How can this stereotype be broken?
Bruce: Produce games on a non-sexual basis, where your skill is about getting people out of danger, not murdering them.
Mel: Mild-mannered Lucy Kent from the planet Krypton?
Bruce: Rescuing a crashed aircraft, stop the assassination of Martin Luther King, there are so many alternatives. Why is the sense of challenge perverted like this? These games don’t create violence, they are violent, full stop.
Mel: Don’t you like computers very much?
Bruce: We call ‘security’ being willing to murder millions of people – we sell weapons to anyone but computers are neutral like any technology. It’s how you use them. Like the telephone, you can plot a murder on it, you can plan a wedding on it, a computer itself is just neutral.
Bruce: Except when I played computer tennis. It thrashed me. Non-violently of course!
The Game’s Machine (issue 2, December 1987)
Those who were most vociferous on the topic likely didn’t purchase a copy of the game or even play it. Leading the remonstrations – and sensationalist headlines – were the outraged non-gaming fraternity who believed Death Wish 3 might cause a cataclysmic phenomenon leading to the sky falling in on their crystal-tiered macaroon towers.
Even Charles Bronson deemed certain elements of his own movie to be “excessive” and “unnecessary”, worrying that his onscreen vigilantism might lead to copycat incidents. Although the 1984 Bernard Goetz subway shooting case would superficially appear to validate his concerns, there’s no logical reason to suggest direct cause and effect. Mitigating circumstances further weaken the association between movie violence and real-world transference. It should be noted that Goetz was absolved of all murder and assault charges, instead convicted to serve 250 days in prison for gun possession.
It all seems absurdly farcical today of course given how far computer graphics have evolved. It’s true that some of the most extreme examples have the power to cause players to wretch or feel dizzy, though I’ve yet to discover a case where playing a computer game has provoked a previously balanced individual to commit acts of rabid homicide. As you were.