Some films deserve to be seen based on the sheer audacity of their concept and Death Kiss by writer-director-cinematographer, Rene Perez is one of those films. Available now on VOD from Uncork’d Entertainment, Death Kiss comes to DVD the first week of December and if you dare to pit your brain against your eyes in a battle to determine if what you are seeing is real, then this is the film to seek out. Find out more in our Death Kiss Review.
Despite what your eyes tell you, the man you are seeing on the poster above is not Charles Bronson, the celebrated actor who passed away in 2003. Though the Andy Kaufman like tale of the actor faking his death and returning to movie screens 15 years later would make for some great publicity. Nor is this a digital re-creation like Peter Cushing in Rogue One. No, this is an actor with an uncanny resemblance to the mustachioed macho man who blew away bad guys all throughout the 80s and is about to take you on a journey that will challenge your perceptions of reality.
Celebrity impersonators have been around for ages. Whether appearing as part of late night talk show segments or for hire at upscale media parties, the idea of someone’s resemblance to an iconic actor or musician causing you to do a double take is an amusing experience. Death Kiss takes the concept of such visual deception to the next level, by creating an unofficial sequel to the infamous Death Wish series of films and pulling it off in spectacular fashion.
For the unfamiliar, Death Wish was a revenge thriller released in 1974 about a man named Paul Kersey who becomes a vigilante after a brutal sexual assault leaves his wife dead and their daughter in a catatonic state. Taking to the streets with a Colt revolver, Kersey begins murdering criminals as a way of dealing with the pain of his loss. Over four sequels, most produced by Cannon Film Group, the series began to focus more on over the top firepower and violence, turning Bronson’s character into a mere vehicle for firearms than a tortured soul packing heat. But now he’s back. Or is he?
Taking on the role of The Stranger aka Mr. K is Robert Kovacs and no, he is not Paul Kersey. At least not officially. Instead Perez has created a character who seems to have lived a parallel existence to the star of the Death Wish franchise and has not given up his vigilante ways. Kovacs is a fabulous match for Bronson, but the film does more than play on the actor’s familiar face.
“Some films deserve to be seen based on the sheer audacity of their concept and Death Kiss by writer-director-cinematographer, Rene Perez is one of those films.”
Perez has scripted a tale of a man who has gone beyond his need for revenge and is now atoning for a sin he committed while serving his own compulsive behavior. While initially the film does seem to be merely paying homage to familiar visual cues of the Death Wish series with despicable human beings finding themselves on the bad side of a bullet, Perez simultaneously unravels the mystery of The Stranger’s mistake and what now motivates his actions.
The audience is unsure as to why The Stranger regularly delivers an envelope of cash to the mailbox of a single mother and her wheelchair bound daughter and the quiet vigilante is not one to share. But soon he allows himself to interact with Ana played by Eva Hamilton and a bond is formed. Hamilton’s performance is wonderful as a woman who is trying to make up for her own drug laden past, providing a believable and engaging performance that gives the film a bit of levity that the audience sorely needs.
In the tradition of the Death Wish series, Death Kiss is a brutal film in terms of the violence on display. Practical squib effects provide explosions of viscous red liquid when the bullets fly, scenarios of baseball bat bludgeonings will have you wincing in disgust and assaults against female characters will break your heart.
Providing commentary on this vile behavior throughout the film is the blunt and angry talk radio host Dan Forthright played by Daniel Baldwin. Performing monologues into a studio microphone that take the police force to task for not focusing their efforts on stopping human trafficking and drug dealers, these scenes work to justify the actions of our protagonist, though mileage may vary based on your own moral stance. That being said, Baldwin’s gruff, gravely tone is a perfect presentation for the disgust and fury of the host.
The Stranger spends quite a bit of time wandering around to find the latest criminal who will taste his cold steel, offing pimps, drug mules and armed robbers. The casting on the crooks is quite good as they look to have been pulled directly from the catalog of skeevy goons.
While these moments sometimes feel like they come out of nowhere, it’s understood that our hero goes looking for trouble at random, so the abruptness of their appearance and demise can be forgiven. Despite these random acts of justice, the focus repeatedly returns to a drug lord named Tyrell, played by the amazingly scary Richard Tyson.
Fans of 80’s cinema will remember this brooding actor as the hulking Buddy Revell in 3 O’Clock High or the unhinged villain, Crisp in 1990’s Kindergarten Cop and for Death Kiss, Tyson delivers in a big way. Seeing as the film is not a major studio production, Tyson could have easily phoned in his performance and played the role as a melodramatic villain, but instead creates a layered, manipulative creep with a glimmer in his eye. Thanks to the fantastic dialogue from Perez, Tyson is the stand-out in the film and seeing him perform at this level made me want to seek out more of his work.
Death Kiss is a well staged film, with clever shot composition and action scenarios that tell a story, but in his 3rd role as cinematographer, Perez falls a bit short. As stated above, the film is competently constructed, but it lacks a professional sheen.
Lighting, especially for interior scenes makes the film look cheap and often causes segments to play out like a YouTube parody skit. But it can also be said that this modern, digital aesthetic is the equivalent of the direct to video films of the 80s that inspired this movie, so it’s easy to forgive.
I would like to give credit once more to Kovacs as The Stranger. He does provide a sense of gravitas in his physical performance, especially with specific poses that feel lifted directly from the Bronson catalogue of action films. Though the obvious dubbing over his voice (which sounds as though it may have been performed by Baldwin) is distracting at times, it’s clear that Kovacs has a handle on the emotional struggle of this character and deserves credit for being more than just a lookalike.
So what’s the final verdict on Death Kiss? In my opinion, it’s a fascinating cinematic experiment that deserves to be seen. The performances by the main cast are entertaining, the dialogue is never hokey and the action scenes are inventive enough that you’ll never get bored at all the gunfire.
This feels like a natural continuation of the Death Wish universe, with a relatable story that doesn’t feel like a parody of action movie tropes. All the while it manages to remove the more ridiculous, over the top carnage that made the later films the butt of the joke. I commend Perez for his work here and having the guts to pull it all off.
Death Kiss is available to stream now on VOD and the DVD featuring commentaries and other extras will be released on December 4th, 2018.