I was watching an episode of American Dad today which made some references to a futuristic Armageddon world and then it came to me: John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981). This flick has it all: a great cast Kurt Russell as “Snake Plissken,” Lee Van Cleef as “Bob Hauk,” Ernest Borgnine as “Cabbie,” Isaac Hayes as “The Duke of New York City,” and Adrienne Barbeau as “Maggie.” This quality continues as the movie has a futuristic Sci-Fi story, suspense, humans sacrificing themselves and a cult like following. Why haven’t I looked at this one sooner? Who the hell knows but here we go!
In the “near future” Manhattan is turned into a free for all prison. The island is surrounded by a fifty foot wall and all bridges leading in and out are heavily mined. Needless to say the dystopian society that has evolved inside the walls is cruel and unforgiving. Road Warrior like gangs roam the streets looking for prey or carrion to feast on with an assortment of weapons and whatever machines they can keep running (like Ernest Borgnine’s taxi). As prisoners are being processed before being dumped into this hell they are given the opportunity to be terminated immediately rather than face the chaos.
Enter Snake Plissken, a one-eyed ex-special forces soldier caught robbing the federal reserve who is about to serve the rest of his days in New York. Alas, Air Force 1 is forced to crash. The President survived thanks to some sort of escape pod but he is stuck in New York. How do we know the president survives? The Duke sends one of his fingers to the authorities to confirm it. Snake cuts a deal with Hauk that if he can get the President out of New York within 24 hours he will get a full pardon. Oh and by the way there is a cassette tape that contains important information on nuclear fusion that he has to get too. By the time Plissken has reluctantly agreed, Hauk has him injected with microscopic explosives that will rupture his carotid arteries once the 24 hours are up. Even cooler is that the explosives can only be defused during the last 15 minutes before they detonate, ensuring that Snake does not abandon his mission, or find another way to remove them. If he returns with the President and the tape in time Hauk will save him. As he should, Snake promises to kill Hauk when he returns.
Snake slips in atop the World Trade Center in a glider, and locates the escape pod. He follows the President’s life-monitor bracelet signal to the basement of a theater, only to find it on the wrist of an old man. Snake then runs into a friendly inmate nicknamed “Cabbie” (Ernest Borgnine), who offers to help and takes him to see Harold the “Brain” Hellman, a well-educated inmate who has made the New York Public Library his personal fortress. It turns out that Brain and Snake are old buddies from some heists they pulled in the past. Brain tells Snake that the self-proclaimed “Duke of New York” (Isaac Hayes), the terrifying leader of the largest and most powerful gang in Manhattan, has the President and plans to lead a mass escape across the mined and heavily guarded 69th Street Bridge by using the President as a human shield. How much cooler can things get? Well when the Duke unexpectedly arrives for a diagram of the bridge’s land mines, Snake forces Brain and his girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) to lead him back to the Duke’s place f/k/a Grand Central Station. Snake finds the President being held in a railroad car but is not able to rescue him and he is captured by the Duke’s cronies.
Brain and Maggie trick the Duke’s men into letting them have access to the President and after killing the guards, they free the President and flee to Snake’s radical glider. When the Duke learns the President has escaped with Brain, he loses his mind and rounds up his gang to chase them down and kill them. Snake manages to slip away and catches up with Brain, Maggie and the President at the glider, but during their attempted getaway, a gang of inmates push the glider off the building. Is there another way out? Yes, Snake and the others find Cabbie, and Snake gets behind the wheel before heading for the bridge. When Cabbie reveals that he has the nuclear fusion tape, the President demands it, but Snake takes it.
Being pursued by the Duke, Snake and the others drive over the mine infested bridge. After the taxi hits a land mine, the cab is destroyed and Cabbie is dead. As the others make a run for it Brain is killed by a mine and Maggie won’t leave him. She wants revenge on the Duke and shoots at him with a revolver—to no avail as the Duke smashes Maggie and his car. Snake and the President reach the containment wall and the guards raise the President up on a cable drawn from a Jeep mounted winch. Snake sees the Duke approaching and attacks him from behind but only after the Duke blows away the two guards with a machine gun Snake lost to the Duke when he was captured. Knowing time is running out Snake nails the Duke in the head and makes his move for the cable. Halfway up the wall, the cable stops and the President fatally shoots the Duke. Snake is then lifted to safety, and the explosives implanted in his body are deactivated with mere seconds to spare.
After Snake gains his signed pardon from Hauk, Hauk offers Snake a job, to which Snake merely starts walking away. As Snake continues walking out of the prison parking deck area, Hauk asks Snake if he is going to kill him. Snake replies, “I’m too tired… maybe later.” Snake, still walking away, pulls the magnetic tape out of the cassette containing the information on nuclear fusion as he leaves.
What else can I say? Great movie.
Here is some comedy. Where did they decide to shoot this movie needing gritty decaying buildings? Where else can you find hell on earth but East St. Louis! I always thought East St. Louis’s reputation was urban lore, but apparently I was wrong. See http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CCsQtwIwBQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DtWMFsXwpToA&ei=TFYiTv2EE4ajtgfq-rijAw&usg=AFQjCNGqe9vUGdn7wG7-W4ioFYfWfAPKMA&sig2=UoFKCPSfyE_TncCaurkPsA.
The movie was also a great commercial success—it had a budget of six million dollars and grossed about fifty million worldwide. Nice work as usual Mr. Carpenter. They sure don’t make them like this anymore.