Published Jun 02, 2015Escape From New York was actually written by John Carpenter nearly ten years before it went into production. Being more of a big budget production, it was left aside (left sitting in the trunk of Carpenter's car, actually) while he made Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. And, oddly enough, the time delay actually worked in its favour.
1981, the year that Escape From New York was released, saw a skyrocketing rate of crime in the titular locale. Crack and street violence had invaded the city, causing people to flee. At this time, over one million people had fled the city, making this a rather timely work of science fiction possibility. The premise — wherein Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent into Manhattan, which has been shut off from the world and converted to a maximum security prison, to rescue the president (Donald Pleasance) after his plane crashes there — had some social truth to it.
The early '80s also saw an abundance of post-apocalyptic fare hitting big screens around the world as a sort of punk response to the death of idealism and the unsustainable hippie ethos of the '70s. In many ways, New York represented that punk ideology, featuring a reluctant hero — something that's now a tired archetype — saving the day to ultimately save himself. Plissken was, and is, an emblem of the antiestablishment movement, having no time for bullshit, whether it stems from bureaucrats or the rudimentary hierarchy of power in the criminal underworld.
Though it's dated now, Escape also featured an array of practical action sequences and fights that helped propel the irreverent, almost nihilistic, attitude embodied. Audiences were rooting for Snake — something that ultimately caused them to cut the opening robbery scene that's included with this Blu-ray — and not the president, which spoke to the cultural climate of a post-Nixon USA. Sure, some of the hierarchical structure of Manhattan and its criminal inhabitants is super cheesy — and was even back in 1981 — but the tone and the idea, the inventiveness, is what drew viewers in and made this a cult classic.
This cult status is barely discussed on the special features included with the Collector's Edition Blu-ray, but there are interviews with the visual effects team, producers, production assistants and two separate audio commentary tracks: one with Russell and Carpenter; the other with Debra Hill and the production designer, Joe Alves. For the purpose of this release, there's also a commentary track with Adrienne Barbeau, whose roles in several Carpenter films and marriage to him give her some moderately interesting insights into the process and the motivations behind this film.
While some of the features are somewhat strained, such as one where queer horror director David DeCoteau discusses working on some second-unit reshoots, this is a rather comprehensive package for collectors and fans. Hopefully, this means that Carpenter's less popular, underrated masterpiece, In the Mouth of Madness, is up for an updated reissue soon.