A movie chock full of Snake Plissken action…
Kurt Russell plays the leather jacketed, eye-patched, big booted anti-hero that everyone thought was dead, on a dangerous mission to save the President.
Escape From New York Original 1981 Trailer, Jeremy Gau AND PHOTOS © AVCO Embassy Pictures
To get you in the mood – or to inspire you to join – for the upcoming 3 days of all films Kurt Russell starting tomorrow. The review for today is Escape from New York (1981). This is for my blogathon with Return to the 80s, with a wee link HERE should you wish to join this tribute to all things Kurt. But enough of the shameless plugging.
Now on with the review of this 1980s action movie, with a cast including the film’s director John Carpenter’s favourites. These are big names that you will remember from my reviews on The Fog (1980) and Halloween. (1980). If you want to know just why Donald Pleasence had to don a shoulder-length blonde wig, read on. I can’t tell you just why Russell’s character Plissken is believed to be dead (by the entire speaking cast) or has an eye patch though.
The opening text tells that in 1988 – with some stats (not of the Statham kind) – New York’s crime rate has risen 400%. These stats along with some natty 80s graphics show how Manhattan Island has been turned into a maximum-security prison with a 50-foot wall and mines surrounding routes in and out of Manhattan should prisoners dare to escape. The prisoners were there indefinitely with no release date.
Then by the powers of film, it is 1997. (Yay). But meeting Snake Plissken he’s obviously still back in the eighties. With the anti-hero wearing an eye patch (as Dead or Alive tribute? Nick Fury fan?) and with trousers, Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon would gladly have donned for that Wild Boys music video.
Those boots alone are like the pair that your mother refused to buy you, as they had a sensible vibe of 0%. He’s kind of a
1987 fashion icon with the voice of Clint Eastwood. That’s for those of you who thought pastel was only for the girls and Miami Vice (1984-90). He’s an ex-Special Forces turned criminal and is due for life imprisonment in prison.
Anyway, it’s all go, an unidentified plane has been hijacked by terrorists. The plane belongs to Air Force One and has the President (Donald Pleasence) on board en route to a Peace summit. In 1997, in the parallel movieverse, this would have been good ol’ Harrison Ford. So had this been the case, Van Cleef needn’t have worried as the President himself would be taking on the bad guys. Ford did just that as President James Marshall in Air Force One (1997).
But hey ho, as it’s the Pleasence, he’s got that Carpenter clout, and so he needs some muscle. He simply escapes in an egg-shaped pod. He’s handcuffed to a suitcase with a tape in it (ask your dad), containing the recipe for nuclear fusion. The plane crashes minutes later, killing all. The empty pod is found by the police commissioner, Bob Hauk and his police dudes (in dressed for riot gear).
Romero (Frank Doubleday) – an 80s Billy Idol crossed with Steve Buscemi lookalike – is the right-hand man to the Duke – tells Hauk that the Duke aka the head honcho crime boss (Issac Hayes) is holding the President hostage. Romero has a severed President’s finger as proof. The President will be killed if someone tries to rescue him, exit Hauk.
Our anti-hero, Plissken is then asked by Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to go into the prison (which he will be anyway), and retrieve the President. He must escape via the World Trade Centre in 24 hours. He’ll then get a nice wee Presidential reprieve for all his wrongdoings on American soil if he succeeds and the President and that audiotape are both safe.
So Plissken agrees with enough guns and ammo to rival John Wick in Chapter One (2014) and Chapter Two (2017). He also gets a jazzy watch with a 24-hour countdown watch with a LED screen (remember them?) and tracking advice to find the President.
To get him to the World Trade Centre to enter the prison he mans a wee stealth glider plane. But to prevent him from zooming off in the said plane, two capsules are zapped into his neck which will disintegrate and kill him in 24 hours. These can be reversed on his return if his mission is a success.
Our man goes into a very bleak Manhattan Island. This place looks like the aftermath if those Captain America: Civil War (2016) superheroes had been there (and this led to a bollocking from William Hurt). Or Godzilla had fought King Kong there.
There are graffiti and fires everywhere and this the only signs of life, in the darkness of Manhattan. As Plissken enters this mission, it feels like the boss level on a one-person shooter. Adding to this as we see the remains of the plane and the empty pod.
Then the tracker takes us and Plissken to a gaudy theatre… but instead finds an old beardy weirdy with the President’s tracking device. Here he fights the “Crazies” single-handed (well it is Kurt Russell) and meets a friendly, smiley and jaunty cabbie (Borgnine), who tells Plissken the Duke
Duke Duke of Earl has the President.
Cabbie takes Snake to visit the Brain (Harry Dean Stanton) who can tell him of the Duke’s whereabouts. The Brain living in the kind of splendour, that Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049 (2017) would give his eye teeth for. Instead of a dog for company, he has a loyal, lovin’ girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau).
The Brain as well as thinking Plissken was dead (prequel to explain all, please Mr Carpenter), can take him to the Duke’s base… but can he be trusted? As it appears these guys have a murky backstory which suggested this is not a good idea. But does Plissken need him anyway, after all the Dukemobile pimped out with chandeliers for headlights is hardly missable? So tune in and see.
The first time I saw this I only recognised a few of the cast. Thanks to a combination of blogathons, collaborations and Darlin Husband the whole wonderful Carpenter cast list was completed. This is from the get-go with Jamie Lee Curtis as the narrator to the wee 1988 graphics and completed with the inclusion of Adrienne Barbeau.
I loved Kurt Russell, in this his breakout from those Disney roles, as the 1980s anti-hero I wanted (sorry, but sewing yourself back together on screen put me off – as a bit icky in Rambo, Mr Stallone). Making me super relieved he fought for this role against the likes of Charles Bronson and Tommy Lee Jones.
He showed himself here as the action hero he’d become in Tango and Cash (1989), to the man with presence in The Hateful Eight (2015) to the man with the gravitas in Fast and Furious 7 (2015) and The Fate of the Furious (2017). I loved seeing Ernest Borgnine again, with perfect casting in this role as the cabbie. He played it so well that I thought I’d missed him as a cameo from him in a similar role in Total Recall (1990).
Harry Dean Stanton showed us the versatile actor we know and loved in such contrasting roles as a doting father in Pretty in Pink (1986) to a father to a more gritty rebel kind of dad in the original Red Dawn (1984). I know the remake does have Chris Hemsworth in it, but even Chris Hemsworth does not always a good picture make.
I loved Barbeau, an actress I’m seeing in more and more roles. And her gutsy, loyal girlfriend couldn’t be played any better. She made Maggie a striking character, much more likeable than those one-dimensional ditzy girlfriend sidekicks.
The presence of that grim New York of the then future and combined with Carpenter’s score added to the chilling and eerie ambience as only Carpenter can. Our journey, initially illuminated only by lights and candles took us to the green smoky depths of this murky playground for prisoners, from which we felt we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) escape. But luckily the Brain of Dean Stanton and the Brawn of Kurt Russell guided our way.
Oh and that wig, well as much as I’d like to say that Carpenter’s plot goes full-on crazy with Pleasence escaping dressed as a girl or as Rick Parfitt from Status Quo… it’s possibly just to humiliate the President. Just in case this film does become a first-hand shooter game, and you get the option to dress as the above to escape from New York. As it doesn’t mean diddly-squat and this means it’s game over for you.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂10
Hulk Rating: /10
This post was added to The Kurt Russell Blogathon as run by myself and Return to the 80s. My other posts with this cast include Kurt Russell in Overboard, Fast and Furious 7 and The Fate of The Furious. Adrienne Barbeau stars in The Cannonball Run and The Fog. Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence star together in Halloween. Pleasence also stars in I Don’t Want to be Born and The Eagle Has Landed. Harry Dean Stanton is tributed HERE and in Kelly’s Heroes. He’s in more reviews on Pretty in Pink here and here. Lee Van Cleef was in The Twilight Zone. Ernest Borgnine starred in The Poseidon Adventure, Magnum PI and The Love Boat.