A big ass scoped revolver! A silenced Uzi! Kurt Russell in his prime!
BQB here with a review of the 1980s action thriller, Escape from New York.
I’m surprised I never got around to seeing this one, 3.5 readers. Made in 1981, it envisions a futuristic 1997, one where crime has risen so dramatically that the entire island of Manhattan has been turned into one giant prison to hold all the riff raff.
While the outskirts of the island are heavily guarded by a security team lead by Warden Hauk (Lee Van Cleef), prisoners on the island are allowed to wander about freely and do whatever they please – killing, maiming, and destroying as much as they want.
Seems like a foolproof plan for ridding America of it’s ne’er-do-wells…until the President’s plane crashes right in the middle of it.
As luck would have it, war hero turned bank robber, the ultra macho, constantly brooding, eye-patch wearing Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is about to be deposited on the island as a prisoner when the shit hits the fan.
Hauk and Snake play let’s make a deal. If Snake saves the President (Donald Pleasance), he’ll go free.
High stakes, huh? To double the stakes, the President was on the way to a conference with important information in his possession that could stop a nuclear war from breaking out. Thus, the world will be screwed if Snake fails.
Moreover, to triple the stakes, a device is implanted in Snake’s neck that will blow his head off if he doesn’t return with the president within twenty-two hours. No pressure.
It’s Snake to the rescue as he fights all sorts of weirdoes, and even makes some allies along the way. Ernest Borgnine provides comic relief as Cabbie, a molotov cocktail wielding yellow cab driver. Harry Dean Stanton stars as Snake’s frenemy (friend/enemy), “Brain” while Adrienne Barbeau is eye candy Maggie, although she has sort of an odd hair style that never really made it out of the 1980s.
What’s a movie without a villain? That role goes to Isaac Hayes, “the Duke of New York,” who holds the president hostage. He does his best to be menacing, though whenever he speaks, I have a hard time not thinking of Chef from South Park.
Meanwhile, Van Cleef’s Hauk is sort of a good villain, a man who puts the screws to Snake in order to get him to do something good.
Van Cleef, who passed away in 1989, was mostly known for playing villains, especially the roles he played opposite Clint Eastwood in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
I’ve seen these films, but it took me a minute to recognize him without a cowboy outfit on.
The 1980s is the Golden Age of action cinema. The special effects were just starting to get good. Audiences were less turned off by violence. The country was still getting over Vietnam, so moviegoers were sympathetic to an action hero trapped in a shitty situation by forces bigger than he was.
As a kid, I grew up on a steady diet of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, so I am surprised it took me so long to see this one. It’s got all the standard action tropes, but for whatever reason, I just don’t recall it being as popular as say, The Terminator, a film that everyone was talking about in those days.
One part that made me sad – the World Trade Center plays a prominent role in the film. To avoid detection, Snake flies a silent glider into the city and lands it on the roof of one of the towers, with the intention of flying it off the tower later, seeing as how it is the only building tall enough for a glider to take off from.
It made me sad, seeing as how those buildings aren’t there anymore, though I suppose technically, the movie still holds up as they were there in 1997, the year the film is set in.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. There is some cheesiness and the special effects, though not up to modern snuff, were likely the best available at the time. Also, it was directed by John Carpenter, who gave us the Halloween franchise. Watch it on Netflix.