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Escape from New York Review

Escape from New York Review

In 1981, John Carpenter revealed his newest film, the R-rated dystopian thriller "Escape Form New York". And what a dozy it was, with many considering it the greatest B movie ever made. Filled with wall to wall action set-pieces and with it's imaginative take on the post apocalyptic world, the film was not only a monster hit of it's era, but has stood the test of time and is still totally re-watchable today. Though often classified in the "grind-house" subcategory, in truth it's just not trashy enough to be there. Surprisingly, there's no foul language, no nudity and the violence just isn't graphic enough for it to be anything else other than tasteful. It's a social satire that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Let's Set The Scene

Set in the year 1997, Manhatten Island is now converted to a maximum security prison, that covers the whole island from Battery to the Bronx. All the connecting bridges are mined and radar keeps an eye on the island and it's surrounding waters 24/7. Technically no escape is possible. But after a truce in the US-Russian War, a plane carrying the US President has been forced to land there, handing the most powerful man in the free world to a bunch of criminals. Not only must an escape route be found, but the president needs to be spirited off the island within the next 24 hours.

Snake Plisskin Is In The House

So who have we got that can save the day.? Step forwards one Snake Plisskin, a bad-ass war hero, who also happens to be a convicted master criminal played to the tee by Kurt Russell. He's all piss and vinegar. With his Clint Eastwood whisper and an eye-patch which helps cement the character as one of the all-time cinematic greats. The deal is that if Plisskin can find and free the president, then he'll be a free man. On the other hand, just in case he wants to break free alone, then there are a couple of tiny explosive charges implanted within his arteries a la Battle Royale. In the movie we ride along with him as he encounters murderous gangs and hyper-violent "gypsies" who are high on death and roam the streets in the darkness.

Tiny Budget, Huge Result

Like the consul video game Duke Nukem, Plisskin seems to of picked up the "infinite ammunition mode of play" as his machine gun never needs replenishing with bullets. In spite of all the futuristic gadgetry, Plisskin has to outwit the many hardened criminals he comes into regular contact with. These include Season Hubley, Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, the androgynous Tom Atkins and, most formidable of all, Isaac Hayes' self-styled "Duke of New York." Both the director Carpenter and the writer, Nick Castle, deserve praise for their convincing picture of a militarized New York set within a period of grisly terror and all put together on a tiny budget of $7 million. Thanks is also due to the production designer, Joe Alves, the costume designer Stephen Loomis and to Brian Chin, who made the stunning miniatures we see through the movie. What's interesting is that nearly all the actual exterior shots were done in Las Angeles and St. Louis, but you'd never guess it. The special effects still hold up well by today's standards, with the young James Cameron cutting his teeth by working on the film.

The Greatest B Movie

One of the real stars of the movie are the sets themselves. Dean Cundy who was in charge of photography has created a landscape of dark blues along with rain swept surfaces of orange flickering street fires. Wreckage and debris lie strewn around with decaying ruins of building covered in graffiti and shrapnel. Figures and shadows combine to give a menacing feel, as do the rats now running wild without human interference. Everything appears decrepit and broken. The inspiration isn't so in your face, with artists such as author William Gibson and video game auteur Hideo Kojima leaving a subtle but noteworthy mark.The pounding sound track also helps add to the tension with it's percussion driven moody electronic score that was written by Carpenter and performed with Alan Howarth. 

A Movie Of It's Time

All told, this is a no hold's barred action movie. Yeah, it's a little tongue in cheek and there's plenty of comedic dark humor to go with all the gung-ho macho strutting. The film is also chock full of new and fresh ideas. In fact you'll not find any of the old tropes here. One thing that's gladly missing are any of those cheap jump scares we can find in Carpenter's older movies like Halloween or The Fog. The truth is that it's much closer to the social commentary horror of  Assault on Precinct 13. This is an excellent sci-fi actioner, with a brilliant central performance. So it's no surprise that it's become the cult classic of it's era. 

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