100 Films I Haven’t Seen: ‘Escape From New York’

I’m going to do a few of these where I feel almost a bit embarrassed to admit I haven’t seen the film. This is definitely one of those.

Film 2: “Escape From New York”

My Excuse for Not Watching It: I think it’s partly just that John Carpenter was kind of in my pop culture blind spot. I saw “Halloween” as a teenager, but at the time I was more into Freddy and Jason than Michael Meyers. And because the “Nightmare” and “Jason” franchises struck me as more character-driven than director-driven, I didn’t think to look more into the man behind Michael.

I think part of it was also “Escape from LA.” That came out in theaters when I was a teenager, and I remember the reviews were not very good. As a result, I didn’t seek out the original. Contrast that with another 90s film, “Army of Darkness,” which prompted me to rent copies of “Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II” from the video store. Each “Evil Dead” movie upped the ante and took Ash into interesting new directions. “Escape From LA” seemed more like a re-skinned “Escape From New York” than anything else. 

Also, Carpenter’s career was on something of a downturn in the 90s, with “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” and the “Village of the Damned” remake not inspiring a lot of interest from me. I would later discover “In the Mouth of Madness,” probably Carpenter’s last great film, which came out in 1994.

Thoughts After Watching It: It’s a very satisfying action movie. It feels like the missing link between 70s films like “The Warriors” and the personality-driven action films of Stallone and Schwarzenegger that followed shortly after. 

East St. Louis was the stand-in for a desolate New York, which was pretty innovative thinking on Carpenter’s part. Between the river and tons of abandoned buildings, it gives the film a more lived-in feel than if it had been made on some studio backlot.

This was also the film that finally let Kurt Russell shake off his child actor roots. An interesting fact: Kurt Russell wasn’t in a film that made $100 million at the domestic box office until 2001’s “Vanilla Sky.” His total for 2017 alone stands at almost two billion dollars, thanks to the one-two punch of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “The Fate of the Furious.” 

It’s a shame that “Escape From LA” put a freeze on more Snake Plissken movies. It feels like this should have been a franchise for Russell throughout the 90s. Hell, he could still play him today.

Fun fact: James Cameron worked on the computer effects that I’m sure looked awesome in 1981. The post-apocalypse scenes and much of the action in “Terminator” just three years later definitely feel like they got some inspiration from Carpenter.

 Movies it has inspired me to check out someday: I’ve been meaning to watch Russell’s recent western “Bone Tomahawk” for a few years now. I’ve seen Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” several times, but I’ve still never seen “Assault on Precinct 13.” I should probably also watch his first collaboration with Kurt Russell, the “Elvis” TV movie, at some point.

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