top of page
  • Gareth Crook

Escape from New York (1981) - 7/10

I’m on a bit of a Carpenter binge at the moment. The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13 and now this. Escape from New York feels like a more polished production. The set and scope much bigger, the cast with more stars, although there’s plenty of old Carpenter favourites too. In 1988 we’re told that with crime rates soaring in the US, Manhattan has been walled off as a maximum security prison. That’s a nuts notion now, the Manhattan bit not the crime rate, but back in the 80s Manhattan really was a pretty grim place. I remember my mother being anxious about me being there, in ‘88 as it happens and couldn’t wait for me to get home. That thankfully was an option. It’s not here. There’s no guards on the island and just one rule “once you go in, you don’t come out”. Forward to the future, 1997 to be exact and Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is the latest inmate to arrive as the authorities stationed on Liberty Island are in a flap about an unidentified plane in trouble in their restricted airspace. They’ve a right to be in a flap, the plane is Airforce One, which has been hijacked, kidnapping the President (Donald Pleasance), who escapes in an escape pod that lands, yep you guessed it, inside Manhattan. When a team are sent in to rescue him, they’re met by the freaky Romaro (Frank Doubleday) who’s got a finger with a Presidential ring on it and sent packing. Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) is the head copper and needs to find a solution, he needs Snake. He’s ex military you see, with a long rap sheet, an eye patch and sounds like he smokes 500 a day. He’s tooled up and sent in with a tracking device and a countdown. He’s got 22 hours to find the President and the briefcase he has cuffed to his wrist, which holds nuclear secret stuff. Very 80s. Fail or run out of time and his head will explode due to the mini explosives injected in his neck as an insurance policy. Also very 80s. So we’ve got a mission. A hero, lots of retro tech intended to look futuristic and Carpenters ominous synth score. It’s got a post apocalyptic mood. Fires in the streets, upturned cars, a city in ruins as Snake tracks his way through its belly and discovers a dark society of gangs trying to get by with characters like molotov cocktail wielding Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine). He’s going to need some help when the tech fails and Cabbie knows everyone. There’s a definite sense that if the briefcase weren’t so important, they’d leave the useless President. Which is good to see as I’m sure that would be the case today too. I mean, with Biden he could just live out his last years in peace and if it were Trump, he’d surely be thrown in a maximum security prison anyway! It’s a proto action hero movie. It does have weight though and a decent story arc. It’s also helped by that cast of stars. Like the villain of the picture, The Duke (Issac Hayes) and Brain (Harry Dean Stanton). The Duke rules the island… and has the President. It gets a bit glam mad max in places and a bit too comic for me, but largely it still works. It’s a spectacle and although it’s dated, it’s not in a bad way. It’s not got the small town charm of The Fog or the inner city menace of Precinct 13, but it’s certainly entertaining. Car chases, gladiatorial fighting and the biggest mobile phone you’ve ever seen! Not my favourite Carpenter outing, but still great and worth watching for Donald Pleasence with a machine gun!



bottom of page