(1981) dir. John Carpenter
The thing about cable is the randomness of what is being shown. It’s always a crapshoot, usually offering up, just plain crap. This was a rare exception, a film that I liked that was coming on at a time that I could watch it. At 99 minutes, it’s a pretty tight little thrill ride.
The late-Seventies and early Eighties were a good time for low-budget science fiction/horror films, and at some point, John Carpenter had a pretty good grasp on how to make them. It seems like he’s been trying to regain his hand at it ever since he tried going “mainstream” with 1984’s Starman.
A midnight movie classic from its initial release, this film seems to have disappeared a bit in recent years. Carpenter made several films with Kurt Russell, the best of which is probably his gory remake of the classic Howard Hawks’ sci-fi flick, The Thing (1982). He also re-teemed up with Russell in 1996 to make a truly awful sequel, Escape From L.A., which missed the mark so incredibly. Luckily, the original still shines with its low-budget coolness.
Now, this is a film that I have seen several times, and actually, after re-discovering The Thing a couple years ago, I wound up renting Escape From New York at the time. So, in reality, it hadn’t been all that long since I had seen it…maybe a couple of years. So, this time around, the thing that stuck out the most was the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
A lot of movies feature the NY skyline and almost any that feature the WTC in any significance are now documents of the structures that no longer exist, as much as they are films…or at least for a while, that is perhaps how they will be seen. For this film, Russell’s Snake Plisskin lands his glider on top of one of the towers in order to infiltrate the world of Manhattan, a penal colony that reeks of anarchy, and what was, no doubt, in 1981, a humorous commentary on life in the city.
I suppose another irony would perhaps be the new “kinder, gentler, Giulianni-ier” New York that has taken place of this rather bleak, though comical view of “The Big Apple.”
Ernest Borgnine and Harry Dean Stanton show up in notable supporting roles.