Viking Night: Escape from New York

By Bruce Hall

October 2, 2012

Someone's compensating.

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What do you think of when you think of New York City? The New York Giants? 9/11? Sicilian style pizza? I like to think of it as a place where you can buy booze 20 hours out of the day but a 32 ounce Pepsi will get you arrested. But if you live in the 1970s, not only do you probably have sideburns; you think of New York as a crime infested hellhole. At least, that was the pop culture image of the place back then. The entertainment world had a terrific time making fun of the death-tastic metropolis that chews people up and spits out bone fragments.

That sky high crime rate also lent itself well to the endlessly explodey possibilities offered by the action film genre. And the task of turning this dream into reality fell to action/horror-meister John Carpenter, who decided to take a break from killing cops and teenagers to sharpen his science fiction chops on the Big Apple. The result was Escape from New York, a cheesy and intriguing futuristic techno-thriller that’s short on thrills, but long on Snake.

It is the year 1988. In this strange, distant future, a crime wave inexplicably engulfs the country. The worst offender of all is of course New York City. So, the government builds a 50 foot wall around Manhattan and dumps every junkie/rapist/murderer/illegal music downloader in America inside. They blow the bridges and put troops in New Jersey and Brooklyn, with orders to completely murder anyone who makes it over the wall. Inside there are no guards, no social services, and no rules. Gangs of crazed addicts and armed thugs roam the streets, doing whatever they want to whoever they want.

Like Sinatra said: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.


Before they throw you into this place, they give you the option of suicide and cremation. Considering the brutal fate waiting inside, it’s a truly generous offer. It’s the one they give to Army Ranger gone bad Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), who scoffs at death and thinks cremation is a delicious, creamy breakfast cereal. But there’s more to this offer than just death and more death. The government needs a man of Snake’s talents, because the President’s plane has just gone down over Manhattan island. Where the prison is. The big, deadly one that nobody ever escapes from.

That’s bad.

The President (Donald Pleasance), who is for some reason British, is immediately captured by the most powerful gang in the city They’ve threatened to kill Sir President unless all prisoners are set free and given total amnesty. Since that’s not an option, the Government decides to send Plissken to the rescue. In return, Snake gets a full pardon, free and clear. It sounds like an easy choice but since Snake is a bad-ass, he considers declining the offer. To help him decide, they inject him with everyone’s favorite inmate control tool, the head-exploding bomb pellet. Snake is going inside one way or another, and the only way he gets out alive is to get back in 24 hours with His Majesty the President. As an added bonus, he’s given a comically large digital watch that shows him (and us) the time remaining until Head Separation Sequence begins.

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