Escape from New York (1981)
Director: John Carpenter
Lee Van Cleef/Bob
In the future, the city of New York is turned into a maximum-security prison. When the President of the United States’ (Pleasence) plane crashes into the dangerous jail, the government blackmails American badass Snake Plissken (Russell) to go in there and retrieve him.
Escape From New York isn’t all that it could’ve been, but it still charmed the living shite out of me. First off, Carpenter offers us one of the koolest anti-heroes to ever grace the bloody screen in Snake Plissken (Russell). The man talks like Eastwood, dresses like The Terminator and kicks ass like Rambo. The Snake character really appealed to me and kept my attention riveted to the screen throughout. The premise is also pretty novel and Carpenter backs it up with a very gloomy look. New York is not a happy place to be in, that’s fer sure. Add to that a slew of character actors that make everything more pleasant to watch (Stanton, Hayes, Pleasance, Barbeau…need I say more?) and you get an appealing little ditty that will keep you smiling.
Where "Escape From New York" failed me however is in not going far enough with some of its elements. The New York setting, for example, is not capitalized on as much as it could've been. The way it looks here, the movie could’ve taken place in any decrepit city. I just didn’t feel “New York” shine through. The same can be said about the action sequences. Now I don’t know if this is due to the fact that the movie is dated or that Carpenter was off at the time, but the action just didn’t thrill me. For example, the wrestling match was just "there". Or the car driving on a mine-filled bridge just happened. Wasn’t I supposed to feel some kind of tension? It kind of lessened the punch of it all. My last qualm with the film is Carpenter’s knack for killing off side characters without pity. During the film I kind of got attached to a few of them and didn’t appreciate seeing them get whacked out so easily.
But overall, "Escape From New York" is a groovy little indy gem. The film had a $7 million dollar budget and every penny is on the screen. The effects are somewhat crude by today’s standards but they still work in that B-movie kind of way (that green computer screen made me feel nostalgic). The actors are also endearing and I can’t praise Russell enough for making it all stick together with his awesome performance as Snake. So are you going to enter this jail or what?
Not much going on in this department. We get an after-the-fact severed head, an arrow in the leg, a person being blown by a mine, another being run over by a car and a bat sporting nails being planted in someone’s head. There’s violence but not lots of gore.
Kurt Russell (Snake) adopts Eastwood's rasp and delivers a very fun performance. Snake is such a badass and we love him for it. Lee Van Cleef (Bob) is obviously having a blast here. His scenes with Snake have the same enjoyable energy Mr. Van Cleef had with another raspy Cowboy ("The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" baby!). Ernest Borgnine (Cabbie) comes off as very sympathetic and you can’t help but like him. Donald Pleasence (President) doesn’t do much here but I dug his special "ra-ta-tat" moment near the end. Isaac Hayes (The Duke) has the look and the voice for the part. He works as the villain. I love Harry Dean Stanton (Brain). He’s so natural and his performances always seem effortless. Here he scores again. Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) does what she has to do (not much). Tom Atkins (Rehme) doesn’t have much of a part but it was still gnarly to see the dude.
T & A
The ladies will appreciate Kurt’s many shirtless sequences (yes, he’s buff). The boyz get Barbeau’s impressive cleavage. Unfortunately, the top stays on.
This film is very dark and is filled to the brim with atmosphere. The direction is tight, we get some slick shots and Carpenter delivers a few spooky moments (I loved when the prisoners rose from the sewers, reminded me of the "Night Of The Living Dead"). But again, the action sequences lacked energy.
The John Carpenter/ Alan Howarth synthesizer score is the money and very engaging. I adored it.
"Escape From New York" could’ve gone further and could’ve been more but it’s still one of a kind. There’s an aura around this film that just rubs me the right way. Couple that with a solid premise, Russell’s bang-on performance and a strong score and you get a film that’s worth the trip. I say give New York a shot.
At first, the studio wanted Tommy Lee Jones for the role of Snake. They didn’t think Kurt Russell had what it took since he had only done happy-go-lucky Disney films before. Boy, were they wrong!!!
Carpenter favorite Jamie Lee Curtis has a voice cameo in the film. She does the opening narration and is the voice of the computer.
A scene of Snake robbing a bank (which gets him arrested) was cut out of the film before its release. I hear you can find the scene on the Laserdisc.
The name Snake Plissken was changed to Hyena for the Italian release of the film.