Escape from New York: Adrienne Barbeau on how J.J. Abrams changed the movie

The John Carpenter classic Escape from New York (watch it HERE) celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and Variety caught up with co-star Adrienne Barbeau - who was also married to Carpenter when the film was in production - to discuss her character Maggie, as well as what it's been like working on genre projects over the years. There's some interesting information in there, like the fact that Barbeau had never seen a horror movie until she watched Halloween with Carpenter after they got engaged, and the ideas she had for Maggie's style. One thing I never heard before is that J.J. Abrams, now one of the most well-known filmmakers in the business, had an impact on Escape from New York, even though he was a teenager when the movie was made and had nothing to do with the production.

The story goes that Abrams and his father were in the small audience assembled for a test screening of Escape from New York. As it turns out, this is a story Abrams had told in an interview before, but Barbeau reiterates it here: 

Apparently, J.J. raised his hand afterwards and asked John, ‘What happened to Maggie?’ I guess he didn’t think it was clear enough that she died when the car hit her. So a short while later, John and I got together with a very small film crew, and we went into our home’s garage and shot that final image of Maggie covered in blood. I got back in my costume and makeup, laid down on the floor of the garage, and they poured blood all around me and shot that last scene of dead Maggie."

It's kind of surprising to hear that teen Abrams wasn't sure what had happened to Maggie, since she clearly gets crushed between two cars in the film, but we have him to thank for that shot of her bloody corpse.

Abrams' father may have had an even bigger impact on the film. As Abrams told NPR, 

So I'm sitting there in this theater and John Carpenter starts this film and there was a whole opening sequence where the main character, Snake Plissken, is robbing a bank and he ends up getting caught, and the movie plays and the whole thing, it was magical, like it was amazing. And the movie was over and John Carpenter said, you know, okay, I want to talk about the movie. And what I learned was just by watching him be open to any criticism. And it was just incredible watching him take notes that were sometimes easy and understandable, other times huge, and he knew he had a movie that at the time was problematic in certain ways and he was trying to fix it. And I remember my dad raised his hand. I was like ooh, God. What? Just dont... And he said yes. You know, my dad said cut the opening for the movie. And I thought, I'm leaving. I am out. So mad that I'm here. I am so humiliated. And John Carpenter said, what do you mean? And my dad said Snake Plissken is a more imposing character, he's more of a mythic character if you don't see him get caught. That when you meet him he's already held and you know. And I thought this is just the dumbest thing I've ever heard. God, I wish he hadn't said that. And in the final movie John Carpenter cut it out and that  whole sequence is not in the film."

Years later, Abrams was able to talk to Escape from New York cinematographer Dean Cundey about the test screening and the shot of Maggie's bloody body.

I went up to him and I said, excuse me, Mr. Cundey, my name is J.J. Abrams. I said, you know, I'm a big fan. You know, it's funny 'cause I was at the screening of "Escape from New York" at Paramount years ago - I was describing it, he said, oh, no, no, no. I totally remember that night. And I remember a kid in the back saying that. He said the next night, we went out onto John Carpenter's driveway and shot Adrienne Barbeau dead on the ground because people needed to see that she had actually been killed. So that was hopefully not the last time I collaborated with John Carpenter, but certainly the first."

To read Variety's full interview with Barbeau, click over to their site, and to see an awesome movie, go watch Escape from New York.

Source: VarietyNPR

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