revisited – john carpenter’s cult-classic ‘escape from new york’ (1981)

John Carpenter’s Escape from New York is painted upon a shadowy backdrop of a perilous Manhattan. On a planet desolated by lawbreakers, the island of Manhattan has been transformed into a confined top-security penitentiary where ruthless inmates wander. When Air Force One crashes inside the island, the US President (Donald Pleasance) gets abducted by prisoners and the only hero qualified to save his life is war veteran Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). But that’s not all; the clock is ticking as Snake has less than 24 hours until an injected apparatus detonates to an explosion from inside his neck. By saving the President’s life, Snake is also saving his own.

MGM | AVCO Embassy Pictures (1981)

Escape from New York is electrifying and innovatory. It thunderbolts ahead at a swift velocity. This film has led to a growing cult status since its release in 1981. The fueled action and inventive visual effects are marvelous as we witness Snake combat his way and escape from the apocalyptic island of Manhattan in New York City. The Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray contains a new 2K scan of the inter-positive, struck from the original negative. The transfer quality is phenomenal and if viewed on a 4K TV, the resolution upconverts, resulting in a darkly crisp film that was cinematographed entirely at night.

MGM | AVCO Embassy Pictures (1981)

Escape from New York is the movie that inspired Robert Rodriguez (Once Upon a Time in Mexico) to get into filmmaking, prior to his directorial debut El Mariachi (1992). “We went to Del Rio for dinner, and rented Escape from New York, the movie that got us into filmmaking.” Robert Rodriguez said. “When Carlos and I met in high school we talked about making movies like Escape from New York. Now we’re making this movie and the gun Carlos ended up with is the same kind they used in Escape – a Mac-10.” Rodriguez said, in his book “Rebel Without a Crew”. Robert Rodriguez was a 23-year-old filmmaker who became a Hollywood director after making El Mariachi for just $7,000, which means he was probably around 12-years-old when he first set his eyes on Escape from New York. It’s easy to see the similarities behind the Mexican-American filmmakers’ action techniques in films like Desperado (1995) and Machete (2010), in comparison to John Carpenter’s legendary style. Even Rodriguez’s horror films From Dusk Till Dawn (1997) or Planet Terror (2008) resemble bits from John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) or Vampires (1988). And considering the fact that John Carpenter composes his own music in Escape from New York (1981), one can conclude another similarity between the two filmmaking musicians, since Rodriguez has scored many of his own films as well.

MGM | AVCO Embassy Pictures (1981)

Escape from New York possesses an alternative trait of offbeat unusualness that gives it its out-of-the-ordinary cult status as an ‘80s apocalyptic action film with bits of sci-fi. The opening title card reads: 1988. The crime rate in the United States rises 400%. Manhattan has become a containment wall prison for the entire country. All bridges and waterways are blocked. The United States police force are on guard around Manhattan. Even in 2020, witnessing the special effects seem plausible and hi-tech, and to think that this film was released in 1981 must have been cutting edge; especially the night sequence where Snake flies an airplane into the city skyline and lands the plane on the roof of the World Trade Center. The skyscrapers are bathed in a magnificent blue moonlight and “the rules are simple, once you go in, you don’t come out.”

MGM | AVCO Embassy Pictures (1981)

If Snake accepts the mission to save the President, his entire criminal record will be expunged. Though Snake is intrigued by the offer, he must hilariously ask, “President of what?” Snake delivers hilarious lines of dialogue with perfect comedic timing throughout the film. “Get a new President.” Snake said, in a line that represents his disdain for politics. He’s an ex-soldier who flew a Gulf flyer plane in Leningrad and has no tolerance for politicians when he learns the President was on his way to a summit with the Soviet Union and China, and how important it is for him to make it back to the meeting. In order to prevent Snake from escaping by himself to Canada, they inject him with heated charges that could make his arteries explode in 22 hours. Snake is a rogue ex-soldier whose country betrayed him, and he has to take matters into his own hands as a one-man army when the President is kidnapped, and ultimately humiliated.

MGM | AVCO Embassy Pictures (1981)

John Carpenter’s action/sci-fi films build trends that make you wonder, with their subliminal messages, about the state of the world. Politicians are depicted in corrupt, contaminated and degraded ways in They Live (1988). We can see here, in Escape, how Snake humiliates the President of the United States in the films ending by saving his life, but ruining his live speech in his meeting with the Soviet Union and China. The crazies swarm out from the underground sewers and infest the streets like rats, and Snake is a man of few words; a drawl and a raspy voice that will blow the goons to pieces, deliver hilarious moments of laughter, and escape from Manhattan island, but only on his own terms. Escape from New York is an ‘80s cult-classic co-starring Lee Van Cleef (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) with Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog) and Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man).

Escape from New York Official Trailer

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