Starring Kurt Russell, Donald Pleasance, Henry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins and Lee Van Cleef
In the future year of 1997, New York has been turned into a prison for those undesirable killers, psychos, wackos, etc. On his way to a summit vital information that would bring the current war with other super power countries, the President’s plane is taken down over the prison and he’s taken hostage. As a last ditch effort to save the President, and the information, former war hero turned criminal “Snake” Plissken is forced to take the mission to rescue the President within 22 hours in exchange for a full pardon.
After crime rates hit an all time high of 400% in 1988, in order to maintain peace and justice, the island of Manhattan in New York is transformed into a walled in maximum security prison in 1997. Any criminal found guilty of their crimes are ex-communicated to the island with no chance of parole. The United States is in a war with Russia and China and in order to stop it, the President (Pleasance) is on his way to a peace summit in Hartford (really?) but his plane is taken over by radicals who crash the plane in New York. He’s taken hostage by The Duke of New York (Hayes) and his large gang/army who plan on exchanging the President for their freedom.
Seen with little choice since the peace summit will be over in less than 24 hours, the New York Police Commissioner Hauk (Van Cleef) looks to strike a deal with an incoming criminal who was recently caught trying to break into a federal reserve. Bob “Call me Snake” Plissken was once a highly decorated war hero who turned his back on his country to look after himself since he thinks the country has gone to hell.
Plissken isn’t phased by the Hauk’s plight, but eventually agrees with the promise of a full pardon for his crimes. To make sure Snake doesn’t deviate from the plan, Hauk injects tiny bombs in Snake’s neck that are set to go off in 22 hours — the same time the peace summit ends. No President, no Snake. Snake tells Hauk if he makes it back he’s going to kill him before taking off in a hang glider so he can enter Manhattan undetected. Once inside, he meets old, let’s say, acquaintances from his past, like Brain (Stanton) who in the past ditched Snake while they were on a job. However, Brain works for the Duke so he makes a deal with Snake to help him in exchange for getting him out of prison. Snake doesn’t have much time so he reluctantly makes deals that will either get the job done or get him killed.
Even though the film is over thirty years old now, it’s not surprising that it still holds up in that old school action sort of way. However, aside from a few obvious effect pieces that don’t hold up now, there isn’t much I can pick on. The plot is awesome and just crazy enough to work because the character of Snake Plissken really seems to be the only person crazy and capable enough to pull off the job. The eye-patched anti-hero is the ultimate bad ass and overcomes everything in his way, usually guns blazing. The rest of the cast is also fantastic featuring many actors who have or will continue to work with John Carpenter like Donald Pleasance (Halloween’s Dr. Loomis) Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog) and Tom Atkins (The Fog, Halloween III) as well as great character actors like Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton (imdb is my friend) and Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.) Isaac Hayes hadn’t had much acting experience at the time so even though he has only a few lines of dialogue, he is The Duke, A-Number 1 so that’s more than enough for me.
Even with a low budget, the production quality is quite good. The filmmakers sent someone around the country to essentially find the worst city in America, landing production in East St. Louis, Illinois in a fire ravaged part of the city which really gives the movie that unique feel of a city meant to be taken over by street gangs. Mix in some actual footage filmed in Manhattan and Liberty Island and you got yourself a run down New York on the cheap. The action is mostly car chases and gun play in an open city — which is pretty cool — and even hand to hand combat to mix things up where Snake, after being captured by The Duke, has to fight in a battle to the death with a muscled up heel, played by the late, great Ox Baker.
Escape from New York is still a fun watch after all these years and after watching the big budget sequel, Escape from LA, right after viewing the original all I can say is that NY puts LA to shame. It’s a classic worth revisiting again or discovering for the first time.
Story: 9 – A bad ass ex-military is forced into a suicide mission to save the President in a future New York that’s been turned into a giant prison for all the country’s criminals. Awesome!
Blood: 4 – Mostly gun shot wounds, a few cuts here and there. The worst thing may be some dude’s hand getting blown apart with a shotgun.
Nudity: 5 – There’s a brief topless scene but the most you’ll get is Adrienne Barbeau’s cleavage doing most of the acting.
Overall: 9 – A fun action flick from John Carpenter with a terrific cast which happens to include the birth of a movie pop icon with Kurt Russell’s “Snake Plissken.”
-Carpenter managed to persuade federal officials to grant access to Liberty Island. “We were the first film company in history allowed to shoot on Liberty Island at the Statue of Liberty at night. They let us have the whole island to ourselves. We were lucky. It wasn’t easy to get that initial permission. They’d had a bombing three months earlier and were worried about trouble.”
-Carpenter had to fight with the producers to have Kurt Russell portray Snake Plissken. Russell was well more well known for his squeaky clean slate of Disney films so the producers wanted to get Charles Bronson (Death Wish) or Tommy Lee Jones.
-Video game enthusiasts will be interested to know that Metal Gear Solid’s main protagonist, Solid Snake, was directly influenced by Snake Plissken.