Escape From New York (1981)

“You go in, find the president in less than 24 hours, and you’re a free man.”

Escape NY Poster

In the near future, a group of rebels kidnap the president (Donald Pleasence) and hold him hostage on the island of Manhattan, which has been turned into a maximum security prison. A convict named Snake (Kurt Russell) is promised immunity in exchange for bringing the president back safely to the mainland, but must fight against the island’s ruthless leader, the Duke (Isaac Hayes).


Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “mindless ‘escapism’ by John Carpenter” features “an intriguing premise and [a] good cast”, but fails to capitalize on its “political possibilities”, instead simply opting for “trite story points… and unreal, cliche characters.” Ken Russell’s blatant imitation of Clint Eastwood will indeed “get on your nerves”, and none of the supporting actors are particularly impressive or memorable. While Carpenter and his team make good use of a low budget to convincingly portray a decaying, blight-filled Manhattan, the city is ultimately more of a backdrop than a true “character” in the story. Plus, as Peary points out, “surely the bridges would have been destroyed by the government if Carpenter didn’t want to utilize one… in his escape plot” — it’s impossible to believe that a maximum security prison island would maintain such overt links to the outside world, albeit heavily mined ones. As a longtime cult favorite, Escape From New York deserves at least a look, but ultimately it’s a disappointment; most of its entertainment value these days stems from its campy scenarios and dialogue (“I heard you were dead!”).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An intriguing premise
    Escape NY Map
  • Impressive sets on a low budget
    Escape NY Set
  • Many campy lines and images — such as the Duke’s chandelier-bedecked vehicle

Must See?
Yes, but only for its status as a cult favorite.



One Response to “Escape From New York (1981)”

  1. Not must-see.

    I saw this once, years ago, and had forgotten it completely until now. Seeing it again, I can see why it easily left my mind. Apparently whatever appeal it has escaped me then, and it escapes me now.

    (By the way, who actually ‘escapes’ from New York in this movie? No one, that I can see.)

    The high-concept premise is given no mileage. The script meanders. The film has no style. And there’s no real acting going on. It’s a movie that arrives DOA.

    The *only* nice touch comes at the very end, with a joke involving a cassette tape.

    The oft-repeated “I thought you were dead.” line to Russell – no doubt meant as
    a running ‘gag’ that would keep the audience tickled – gets tired fast.

    I see absolutely no camp value in this film at all.

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