Escape from New York - 1981
Escape from New York is co-written, co-scored and directed by John Carpenter. This review marks the third-time Carpenter makes an appearance in my Cult Classics and it won’t be the last. The 1980’s gave us the “Kurt Russell + John Carpenter era” and this movie marks the beginning. Let me sell you on this simple plot:
In a dystopian future (1988), crime has increased by 400%, this leads the US government to turn Manhattan into a giant maximum-security prison. In 1997, Air Force One is hijacked and crashed into Manhattan. Who does the government turn to? S.D. Bob “Snake” Plissken and he has 24 hours to save the president.
I first watched this movie back when I was 13 to 14 years old and I loved it. Watching it now, I completely understand why I loved it. This movie feels like a teenager wrote and directed it, similar to 2013’s Pacific Rim. This by no means is a critic, this movie is awesome and holds up to this day, but let’s talk about our hero.
Kurt Russell plays S.D. Bob “Snake” Plissken but you better call him Snake. He is the equivalent of what every 13-year-old boy thinks is badass. He has long hair, an eye patch, a raspy voice, scar on his face, no sleeves, a tattoo of a snake and his nickname is Snake. I mean is there anything else you would want from your badass hero? He is a former military lieutenant, now criminal that is offered a clean slate if he rescues the president.
Russell at the time wasn’t considered an action movie, his biggest role being a made for TV movie about Elvis. So, he decided to put on his best Clint Eastwood impression and somehow made it his own. Russell is cool, calmed and collect throughout most of this film, giving the audience stability in the face of all the weird that is happening. I read an article while doing a little research on this movie on how Carpenter had to fight to cast Russell in this role and the world thanks him for it.
Along with Snake, we get classic character names like Brain, The Duke, Cabbie, President, Hauk and Rehme. I’m telling you a 13-year-old help Carpenter on this movie.
Brain is played by the greatly underrated Harry Dean Stanton, from Repo Man. He has a complicated relationship with Snake, but by the end they work together to rescue President. The main bad guy, The Duke, is played by Isaac Hayes, better known for his voice work as Chef from South Park. I feel he was one of the weak parts of this movie. You have an incredible over the top badass hero, so you need a bad guy that will match him and he simply falls short.
Carpenter direction is perfect, as his simplistic style work perfectly for the tone of the movie. The matte paintings of New York (this was shot in St. Louis) are pure perfection and I miss them. There is a funny shot of New York’s skyline and it’s clearly a small-scale replica of the city, but honestly who cares its Carpenter. His writing like always is funny and intelligent and this movie has one of the best closing lines ever put to film; “You going to kill me, Snake?”, “Not now, I’m too tired. Maybe later.”.
Quick note: I also read during my “research”, that James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic, Avatar) worked on the matte painting for this movie. Just going to leave this here for you guys.
Escape from New York is just fun very few movies like this are made today. The premise is simple, the execution is perfect and the characters are memorable. I had fun watching this movie again and at the end of the day that’s a huge part of why I love movies.
Escape from New York is currently streaming on Netflix, watching it.
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