I hadn’t seen any John Carpenter films before now because of one simple reason. I hate horror films. When a friend recently asked me why I refused to watch any horror films, I realised I hadn’t seen any that truly scared me since watching The Ring (2002) and The Ring 2 (2005) when I was around 12 years old. However, I had seen films that you would count as horror since then, but not been overly bothered. Nevertheless, I still avoid them like the plague.
It was a simple choice when picking a John Carpenter movie to watch firstly because I couldn’t watch a horror. Secondly, because a friend just raves about Escape from New York and is one of his favourite films. After watching it, I totally understand why, it’s a fantastic movie and more people should know about it.
It’s got a bit of a B movie vibe about it and it’s a film firmly stuck in the 1980s and I can liken it easily to The Terminator (1984) and Blade Runner (1982). If you can stretch your imagination, the island of Manhattan is a huge federal prison and houses nothing but wasteland and the deadliest of convicts. When the President of the USA has to escape his terrorist-invaded plane, he escapes with his life but unfortunately lands in the Manhattan prison.
Top convict boss The Duke has captured the President and sends one of his henchmen to tell the police and therefore strike a hostage deal, so the Police enlist ex-soldier accused of robbing a bank to retrieve the President in exchange for pardoning him for his bank robbing. The rest that follows is the most colourful and weirdest of characters, fantastic set pieces of dystopian New York and one of the best accompanying scores I’ve heard in a very long time.
It would be a bit misleading to refer to Escape from New York as ‘refreshing’ because it’s so 80s it’s unreal, but sometimes do you not feel like you’re just watching the same film, with the same visuals, and the same kind of characters over and over again? I’m trying to watch as much a variety of films as possible and I would include Escape from New York in that variety.
The characters wear their personalities and oddities on the outside; this isn’t Jason Bourne who’s got disturbing problems on the inside, this is Snake Plissken and he’s got a badass eye patch for no apparent reason, wears a boy band tank top and the worst snake tattoo ever running down his torso. it’s not just the appearances that lend to the characterisation, but you’ve got Brain and who could forget The Duke, who’s the baddest man with his tight white jeans and the fanciest lamp shades pimping the bonnet of his car.
John Carpenter himself co-composed the score and it could not be more perfect. It’s raw, it’s urgent and it’s the main reason Escape from New York goes from being a Sci-Fi action film to more of a thriller which is nothing less than what we would expect from John Carpenter. It matches the consistent use of very low lighting (which is partly why it looks so much like Blade Runner to me) and the hazy look of the film.
I have also just discovered that James Cameron served as a Director of Photography on the film so it’s no wonder I’ve drawn comparisons between Escape From New York and The Terminator. Looking back in retrospect it doesn’t have the ‘polished’ look of the other 1980s films I have compared it too and it seems to go one step further in it’s craziness than the other films, and I know it’s become iconic to certain film fans and has a huge cult following…
But it feels like this film still doesn’t have quite the recognition it deserves, or is that just me?