Escape from New York (1981)

Seriously, this article should just say, “This is the best movie of all time” and nothing else.

It is absolutely impossible for me to be impartial to this movie. How can you be? A western set inside a destroyed New York City that’s been converted into a prison for the worst people in America being invaded by someone even worse than all of them put together to rescue a President with only 24 hours to do it? Yeah, they don’t make them like this anymore.

Actually, they never did. This is a once in a lifetime film.

AVCO Embassy Pictures wanted Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones to play Snake. Kurt Russell was still seen as a Disney kid. But Carpenter saw in him someone who could be a Clint Eastwood-like mercenary who lived for the next minute and nothing else.

The film slams us into 1997, a time and place where the world is constantly at war. As the President of the United States flies to a peace summit in Hartford, Connecticut, Air Force One is hijacked and crashed, with the President (Donald Pleasence!) being taken to New York City and captured by the Duke of New York City (Isaac Hayes!).

The police would never make it on a rescue mission. That’s when Police Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) gets an idea. Instead of sending in a military force, he sends Snake into the Hell on Earth that is New York City to save the President. If he completes the rescue mission, he gets a full pardon. And if not, well…he was going to die anyway. To keep Snake from running, he’s injected with micro-explosives that will kill him in 22 hours.

Driven in an armored cab by Ernest Borgnine to Harold “Brain” Hellman (Harry Dean Stanton!) to attempt to find the leader of the free world, Snake encounters all manner of enemies that he outwits, outfights and outright murders to complete his mission, including an incredible fight with pro wrestler Ox Baker (originally it was going to be Bruiser Brody, but he was in Japan at the time). Plus, you get appearances by Carpenter regulars like Adrienne Barbeau, George Wilbur, Dick Warlock, Nancy Stephens, George “Buck” Flower, John Strobel, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers and a voice cameo by Jamie Lee Curtis.

At the end, the President tells Snake he can have anything he wants. Snake only wants to know how he feels about everyone that had to die so that he could live. The President barely conveys gratitude as Snake walks away in disgust.

You can see echoes of Snake in nearly every post-apocalyptic movie that came after this film. In a perfect world, there would have been way more than just one sequel to this movie.

4 thoughts on “Escape from New York (1981)

    • I just watched From Rollerball to Rome, which is a feature-length documentary-supplement to a recent box-reissue of Rollerball.

      The document smartly mentioned how EfNY was an outgrowth of Rollerball (agreed), and EfNY, in turn, inspired the ’80s Italian knockoffs, such as End Game and Rome 2072, but how those “sports oriented” post-apoc’ers tied back to Rollerball.

      Bottom line: you wouldn’t have 3/4s of the apoc films we’ve reviewed at B&S, if not for EfNY — 2019: After the Fall of New York being the most blatant, but the best of the bunch, next to End Game and Rome 2072. No way could the Italian-Spanish film industry pull off Rollerball, but EfNY, made on a tight, $5m budget, showed it was possible.

      Sam did a wonderful job, here. It’s very hard to review a film that is so well known and oft reviewed. It was time: we reviewed all of the EfNY knockoffs and it was time to chronicle the original on the site. It’s why we’ve mentioned Max Max/Road Warrior so many times on the site, but never reviewed it. It’s why we never reviewed Mad Max: Fury Road, but reviewed the Asian-inversion, Mad Shelia, instead.

      Like

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