By: Jacob Bloodee Jacob Babcock
Escape From New York was released in 1981. Coming off the heels of the success of Halloween in 1978, John Carpenter and co-writer (Michael Myers himself) Nick Castle were able to put this ambitious effort to the forefront. What can I say about this film that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? Nothing, but here I go.
Directed by THE John Carpenter who of course also composed the music, it starred Kurt Russell who would star in yet another John Carpenter cult classic in The Thing just a year later. Now I recognize 1978 Halloween’s place in history but personally I see both this movie & The Thing as Carpenter’s superior work and both have aged better. When Carpenter is at his best there is almost no one that can create an atmosphere as palpable and well realized as he can and this film is a prime example of that. They didn’t even shoot in NY yet they utilized primarily East St. Louis to a tee and made it look exactly how the films premise intended it anyway. The setting is so well realized and special that it feels “alive”, there’s a real eeriness in the ruined city.
Kurt Russell plays a seemingly straight forward with a mysterious past whose sent into the now prison city to retrieve the president played by the late great Donald Pleasance in exchange for both a pardon and to avoid his own automatic execution if he fails to do it within less than 24 hours. It’s hilarious that some were nervous about Russell playing this role at the time as he is seamless as one of the most memorable characters in cinematic history, Snake Plissken. My other favorite cast member had to be another late great in Lee Van Cleef who just has the perfect look & delivery for these sorts of roles. Yet another Carpenter favorite Adrienne Barbeau plays her part perfectly too as “Maggie” who may be one of my movie crushes now and Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton and Ernest Borgnine all blend nicely into this world as well. The movie is such a nice mesh of different genres from being a dystopian sci-fi tale to a classic action movie and even some thriller almost horror-esque elements to it too and it all organically fits together. Part of me could have seen it going a bit longer but at the short but brisk and focused runtime it is, it’s a near flawless gem as is.
What I hesitate to admit is that this was a first time watch for me which is embarrassing but better late then never, right? Now believe when I say this is really condensing it as I’ve seen A LOT of movies but this is very likely in my top 30 or so of all time now.