In an interview, Silvana Gallardo (who played the housekeeper) said the rape scene was "grueling" and took about six days to film. To prepare for the role, she talked to an actual rape victim. She also said the actors who played the criminals raping her would immediately cover her up with a robe or blanket when Michael Winner yelled "CUT!"
This movie upon theatrical release was marketed with Roman numerals to signify the number two i.e. 'Death Wish II'. In time, its modern DVD releases tend to show the number two of the title using Arabic numerals. This is then consistent with the titles Death Wish 3 (1985) and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987). According to the book 'Bronson's Loose' by Paul Talbot, the original working title of the next film 'Death Wish III' was changed to 'Death Wish 3' because the Cannon Group conducted a survey and found that nearly half of the U.S. population could not read Roman numerals. Interestingly, the fifth film, Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994), reverted to the use of Roman numerals to signify the film number.
Director Michael Winner once said of this movie: "From caveman days to today, there have always been violent times. You cannot say the Middle Ages weren't violent, before television or films. So where do you put the blame then - oil paintings and books?"
In West Germany, this movie set a record for the number of video-cassette units sold. There, ten thousand tape sales of the home video were sold in two months thereby producing royalties of over $ 0.5 million in its first year on video-tape.
The main gun Kersey uses (taken from the hidden compartment in his closet) is a Browning BDA .380, a 13 + 1 automatic made for Browning by Beretta from 1977 to 1997 and very similar to a Beretta Model 84 (same frame and magazine, different slide).
The film introduced significant changes for the character of Paul Kersey. One involved his modus operandi as a vigilante. In the original film, Kersey would shoot and kill every criminal in his vicinity. In the sequel, he is after five specific criminals who are responsible for the death of his daughter. His single-minded pursuit extends to ignoring other potential targets. He is seen to mostly ignore thieves, drug dealers, and one violent pimp. Another change involves his abilities. In the first film, his activities as a vigilante rely only on his use of weapons. In the sequel he is able to beat up men considerably younger than himself.
Screenwriter David Engelbach argued the film raised "serious issues - namely, the deteriorating state of our criminal justice system. The actions of the Bronson character are dictated by the inability of the police to prevent crime, the preoccupation of the courts with technical rather than real justice, and the cancerous climate of fear in which we find ourselves today. Paul Kersey is no hero. In his pursuit of vengeance he loses the only emotional relationship of his life and by story's end has become as much a victim of crime as the thugs he leaves dead in his wake."
Several of the extras of the film were various locals who were either hired to play a bit part or happened to be passing by during a shooting. Among them were drug addicts, a drag queen, Hare Krishnas and bikers. All included by Michael Winner in an attempt to get an authentic feel of the streets of Los Angeles.
The film was shot on location and depicted actual "sleazy" areas of the city. Twenty off-duty men of the Los Angeles Police Department were hired to protect the film cast and crew from potential trouble.
According to Michael Winner's biography, Charles Bronson's alcoholic brother often visited the set to borrow money. Bronson was careful not to give him too much in case someone might kill him for it. He was later found dead in a cheap hotel room having been stabbed in the buttocks.
In 1991, the UK television station Channel 4 screened a documentary about cinema censorship and this included a brief shot of the maid about to be forced to perform oral sex, subtitled 'Scene cut by censor'. This was in keeping with Channel 4's reputation for controversy at the time, and it can probably be safely assumed that the then BBFC secretary James Ferman would have been unhappy about this.
Michael Winner said the film was "the same, but different," to the original. "That's what sequels are - Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982) - you don't see Sylvester Stallone move to the Congo and become a nurse. Here the look of LA is what's different. Besides - rape doesn't date!"
The idea to produce a sequel to Death Wish (1974) originated with producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, owners of Cannon Films. They reportedly announced their plans to do so prior to actually securing the rights to the franchise. Dino De Laurentiis co-producer of the original film, threatened them with a lawsuit unless they properly purchased the rights. He negotiated payments for himself, co-producers Hal Landers and Bobby Roberts, and original author Brian Garfield. The agreement included future payments for each prospective sequel.
Michael Winner had suffered a downturn in his career since the mid-1970s, with no box office hit since Death Wish (1974). He agreed to return to the franchise and also took the initiative in revising David Engelbach's script.
Michael Winner recalled that Dino De Laurentiis was having second thoughts about letting someone else produce the sequel, and offered to hire him to do the film for his own production company. Winner refused and De Laurentiis did not renege on his deal with Cannon. The producer did, however, start work on a "clone" of the film. The final result was Fighting Back (1982).
Michael Winner said the sequel was pertinent because "mugging is now a bigger issue in America. It's spread to towns where it was not a problem before. In Beverly Hills, instead of talking about other people's failed movies - thank God, something has stopped them at last - they talk about their muggings."
The film was originally intended for release around the Christmas of 1981. Filmways decided to postpone release until February 1982, in order to face weaker competition for an audience. The strategy apparently worked, since the film became the top grossing film of its opening week.
In 1980, The Cannon Group had secured the rights to produce a sequel to Death Wish (1974), titled "Death Wish II" or "Death Sentence", to be written by Brian Garfield, author of the original 1972 novel. However, David Engelbach would instead write the screenplay for the estimated $6 million production. Michael Winner clarified that producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were unsatisfied with Garfield's 1974 sequel to his novel, so they purchased the rights to Garfield's characters, which would allow them to create their own story. Cannon obtained the property from Dino De Laurentiis and Paramount Pictures, who released the first film. Although the first film concludes with Paul Kersey escaping New York City to Chicago, IL, Winner chose to set the sequel in Los Angeles, CA, to achieve "a much different look from New York City".
Origianlly Natalie Wood would have starred in this movie and Menahem Golan was planned to direct, beginning principal photography mid-Jan 1981 in San Francisco, CA. However, Wood does not appear in the film, and Golan fulfilled the role of producer when Michael Winner joined the project as director.
Various contemporary sources confirmed that principal photography began 4 May 1981 in Los Angeles, CA, but an article reported that Michael Winner filmed various shots on the streets of downtown Los Angeles prior to the official start date. The schedule to film the eighty-seven-page script was expected to last eight weeks, extending between the hours of midnight and 4:00 AM. Bronson ignored the eight-hour day limitations in his contract, working ten to twelve hours "to help complete the movie in time." Winner exploded a Cadillac automobile over the edge of a cliff in San Pedro, CA, on the final day of filming, although the scene does not appear onscreen.
David Engelbach admitted that he was "somewhat appalled" by the final film and how it differed from his original script. He felt that the rape scenes were added so that Michael Winner could "get his rocks off".
Michael Winner gave the actors playing the thugs a lot of creative leeway. They bought their own costumes, designed their own makeup and tested them out on passers-by to see how intimidating they'd look. Laurence Fishburne bought a pair of magician's gloves and waved his knife like a wand, while Kevyn Major Howard waxed his eyebrows and shaved the front of his head to make himself look like a snake. He even developed mannerisms like his insane laugh, slapping his head and twirling a baton from seeing a live drummer in a punk band.
This movie was Charles Bronson's second consecutive picture to feature the word 'Death' in the title. Bronson's previous movie was Death Hunt (1981). Bronson made seven movies with this word in the title, five of them being in the 'Death Wish' series. Messenger of Death (1988) was another example. The final time would be in Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994), where the word appeared twice.