ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is set in the not too distant future of 1997. The U.S. president’s plane has crashed into Manhattan, which has been walled off and turned into a giant prison. Desperate to get him out of there covertly, the government sends in soldier-turned-criminal Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to rescue the president. Inspired by but loosely tied to the Watergate Scandal, Carpenter’s film is set around corruption and a crumbling society full of crime that still holds up today. While 1997 came and went without Manhattan actually being turned into a prison, the U.S does have a prison system that holds a staggering one-quarter of the entire world’s inmates.
There were plenty of conspiracy theory flicks that came out in the 70’s in direct response to Watergate, but Carpenter is able to distance himself from such a direct relation and make it a more streamlined and entertaining action story. Snake is blackmailed and dragged through hell by government and prison officials who clearly have secrets they are holding back. With the dark visuals of the city at night and another haunting synth score composed by the director himself, Manhattan is turned into a wasteland that feels like the gangs from THE WARRIORS have taken over.
This may not be the first in the great collaborations between director John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, but its certainly one of their most memorable. Only their made for TV biopic of Elvis precedes their first foray into redefining action films: starting here with Snake Plissken, then turning up the heat and desperation with R.J. MacReady in THE THING, and capping it off with Jack Burton in the bizarre action-comedy BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (I’m excluding Escape from LA here as it is a sequel). Over the course of three movies in five years, they gave us great characters set in strange universes that sound crazy on paper yet look great on film. Beyond Russell’s Plissken, this film is filled with other great characters played by Lee Van Cleef, Eernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes and, of course, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain.
If you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it on a big screen, do yourself a favor and get to Coolidge Corner this weekend.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK
Friday, November 1, 11:59 PM
Also playing Saturday, November 2 @ 11:59 PM
Coolidge Corner Theater (290 Harvard St, Brookline MA, 02446)