If you've never seen John Carpenter's 1981 post-apocalyptic, sci-fi masterpiece Escape From New York, or if it's been awhile, here's five reasons why you need to hustle over to The Loft Cinema this weekend.
1. The plot is simple. The year is 1997, and Manhattan has been turned into a maximum security prison. There's a wall around the island, and all the bridges are laced with bombs. There's no getting out of the Big Apple. The President of the United States, on his way to a peace summit, is taken hostage by the prisoners when Air Force One goes down near the World Trade Center. Snake Plissken, an eye-patched soldier of fortune recently sentenced to NYC, must go in and rescue him before the summit is over.
2. The cast is incredible. Veteran British actor Donald Pleasence, best known for playing the Van Helsing-like Dr. Loomis in Carpenter's groundbreaking Halloween, plays the president. Kurt Russell is Snake Plissken (more on this in reason #3). Soul singer, funk machine, and Blaxploitation star Issac Hayes is great fun as the villain, The Duke of New York. Spaghetti Western veteran Lee Van Cleef is rock-solid as Police Commissioner Bob Hauk, the man who sends Plissken inside with his mission. Rounding out the cast are Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau and Oscar-winner Ernest Borgnine.
3. John Carpenter helped Kurt Russell shed his Disney image. Originally the studio wanted Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones for the lead, but Carpenter balked. Carpenter had cast Russell as Elvis Presley a few years previous in the TV-movie biopic Elvis, a role that landed Russell an Emmy nomination. Carpenter wanted to work with him again, and Russell wanted to shake his Disney-movie past. I'd say he succeeded. You wouldn't think the lead in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes could pull off the eye-patch wearin', no time for talkin' and Uzi totin' Plissken, but it cemented Russell's career as a bankable star. Maybe there's hope for Zac Efron yet.
4. The score. Since his debut film Dark Star, Carpenter had been composing his own scores. His trademark pulsating, monotone synthesizer drones are used to great effect in this. It brilliantly captures the urban decay and moral rot of the city and re-enforces the feeling of isolation and dread. The score ranks among one of Carpenter's best.
5. Escape from New York was highly influential... in Italy. Carpenter's film was a smash success overseas, and it opened the floodgates to a sea of imitators. Escape from New York was essentially remade over and over again as 1990: The Bronx Warriors, 2019: After the Fall of New York and Escape from The Bronx. They're each a pale slice of extra-cheese pizza compared to the original, but they're also pretty fun on their own merit.
Escape from New York is part of The Loft's Late Night Cult Classic series, and it's playing tonight and tomorrow at 10 p.m. More information can be found on their website.