When I was a kid, “Escape From New York” was basically my favorite fucking thing ever. I was already into movies from like 6 ot 7, and to frame it this way, my mom was the big movie fan and my dad was the sports guy, and there was almost no overlap between the two, so my childhood in my younger years was like a perfect 50% enthusiasm for baseball with the old man, then lounge around watching movies on HBO with Mom. With what would become my single-track mind later in life, I guess I could’ve gone either way and you’d be reading my moony 2016 reminiscence about Tim Foli’s fucking ‘stache and hair combo right now, but that’s for the alt-universe version of this blog you ain’t reading anyway.
Anyway, 1982 is considered by every guy my age some SEISMIC YEAR for cinema, in particular geek cinema and horror and sci-fi and that kinda thing. But I was a total HBO kid; My Mom wasn’t big on going to the theater, really, so I got everything exactly 11-12 months later when it hit HBO. So as this heralded year of “geek classics” like Blade Runner and Conan and Halloween III and The Thing were dropping in theaters, I was just getting to the GEMS from the last year. This is the year I was 9 years old and I was working up this psychotic obsession with movies and the HBO GUIDE and memorizing what movies were showing what days, I had been into Bond and Rocky and The Pink Panther and Jaws and Alien – those were all my favorites up to this point, but I guess I didn’t really have that “personal Star Wars moment” so many kids pinpoint as being EXACTLY when it all came into focus what a director did and what style was and how transportive movies could be and how in that INSTANT all you guys knew you wanted to be George Lucas or Luke Skywalker or whatever. But this particular year a lot of stuff that shaped my tastes came into my world, from Looker to Wolfen to Nighthawks (which I should do one of these on next) and all these other awesone-ass movies that gave me this fantasy of some big, awesome scary nighttime world of cops and long hair and hotness and guns and Puerto Rican muggers in cities with big-ass skyscrapers and stuff.
I was also still dazzling the old man with my OMAR MORENO Topps and Fleer completism and even starting to like music like some regular dork, like all these little formative influences coming together but still being really young and jolly in our little super laid-back part of Maine. My dad generally couldn’t have cared less about movies unless it was Airplane! or some SNL-type comedy with Belushi or Aykroyd who he loved, and he especially latched on to “Caddyshack,” a big favorite that just busted me and Dad up, completely mystifying to my mom who thought it was in bad taste and “juvenile,” but I didn’t give a fuck, I thought Rodney was the funniest fucking shit EVER. But generally he didn’t care for flicks, so when he did, I took that one to heart because it would mean a rare time we’d bond over that instead of just sports. Anyway, one day he’s cracking up telling me about some epic-sounding shit he watched the night before and as his MO, even when he likes something he ALWAYS describes at as being stupid, terrible, the worst thing ever. No idea why, and I’ve kind of inherited this too. Like a slight tendency to bag on something so you don’t sound too fucking lame gushing over it, I guess. He’s like ROLLING about this ”stupid movie” that had “Isaac Hayes” (doubt he knew who any of the other actors were by name at that point) that I just had to see, and I was DOWN.. I’d seen it in the HBO GUIDE, and it had some awesome looking pic of a guy with long hair and an eyepatch and a weird long gun on one page and other pages it had the head of the State of Liberty with people running around it, and I thought, “Yeah, that does look fucking awesome.” But I didn’t know who Kurt Russell was from Adam, and I kinda still didn’t know what a director meant, but it was described either there or in the TV Guide as being “from the director of Halloween,” which I’d watched half-hiding under a blanket with my mom yelling “turn your head, this is the bad part!” when they showed P.J. Soles’ tits.
So next time it was on, I was THERE, on our BROWN-ASS ICE STORM COUCH in my fucking GLORY from frame one. It’s like everything I would ever think was exciting and forbidden and scary and COOL all in one movie, starts out with that SINISTER-ASS SYNTH music over those SATANTIC CARPENTER FONT CREDITS, then the words “1997 – NOW,” I was like NINE and this SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME, like wooooah, this could really happen. What if the world ends? What if the world’s a prison? I won’t be that old! I want to live to be old but they’re gonna turn New York City into a fucking MAXIMUM SECURITY PENITENTIARY, I was hooked, I was scared, it was fucking AWESOME/
I’m sure I’m blurring together a LOT of formative viewings of it, because I was off to the races spazzing out like Feldman seeing tits in Friday Four, watched it EVERY TIME it was on HBO, first time maybe had my dad’s “hahaha it’s so bad it has Isaac Hayes in it!” riff in mind but even then I knew that meant he kinda dug it. My mom didn’t get it at all and thought it was “stupid” how they keep repeating lines like “I thought you were dead,” like she really thought that was just bad moviemaking, which would probably come as a surprise to a million Film Studies scholars with a Howard Hawks encyclopedia in their heads. But the whole thing was at NIGHT and SCAR, this guy with an EYEPATCH who didn’t give a fuck, with LONG HAIR. LONG. LONG. ALSO HIS HAIR IS LONG.
I had became obsessed with having LONG HAIR already from the “major leaguers” whose coked-out Deke DaSilva disco coifs came out the sides of their ballcaps, so much so that instead of practicing my swing or developing any hand-eye coordination I’d stand in front of mirrors trying to “wing my hair out” sides of the ballcap, which between that and the uniform seemed way more exciting than actually playing. But seeing Kurt’s GLORIOUS COIF was amazing, like as good as seeing a real naked lady. My mom would NEVER let me grow it like that but any time my choppy Danny Torrance bowl cut felt a mild breeze I pictured myself looking exactly like SNAKE FUCKING PLISSKEN my whole childhood. And he had an eyepatch and shit, and EVERY SECOND OF THE MOVIE just seemed to have some riveting image that my 9-year-old head was blown away by, from SNAKE’S OUTFIT to TOM ATKINS WALKING UNDER THE STATUE OF LIBERTY lighting up a smoke in that control booth, they bring in Snake on some BUS and the BUS BREAKS HISS and it lowers and Snake rolls out and you’re like ‘Who’s this awesome motherfucker,” then he WALKS THROUGH THE HALLWAYS and the HALLWAYS ARE SUPER SINISTER and LOOK AT THAT POINT and is that creepy voice lady saying “debarkation” or “deportation” – I’m 43 and have seen this movie 200,000 fucking times and still don’t know.
Then HAUK his name is fucking HAUK, how much does that owns has HORN RIMMED GLASSES and when he sets them down the STEMS REVERBERATE and MAKE THIS AWESOME NOISE and he interviews Snake and if there’s one mild complaint I have about this movie, it’s that really? You can’t picture KURT RUSSELL DOING AAAANY of this shit, like FLYING THE GULP FIRE as I thought Lee Van Cleef was saying and being some MASTER CRIMINAL and PSYCHOPATH, even as scary as his outfit was Kurt seems like such a GOOD SOLID DUDE, so it’s kind of the DUKE thing where he’s this legendary outlaw but really it’s some amiable oaf with an obvious shit skid. But then THAT FUCKING MUSIC, like E CHORD REPETITIVE MUSIC, changed my whole life and explains how I got into metal because it had that dark repetitive sound, even though that wouldn’t come till YEARS later, Atkins and Van Cleef showing him these AWESOME LOOKING WEAPONS yet there’s like some sun dial looking thing on the table as the music goes DUH-DUH. DUH-DUH. DUH-DUH. BRRRREEURRR ROWRRRRR….. BROWRRRRR RRRRROWRR. You know the part.
Then HOLY SHIT they shoot him with like NEEDLES IN HIS NECK and NOBODY WHO’S EVER SEEN THIS MOVIE has understood if the charges were real because he gets the NEUTRALIZER at the last second instead of the timeline that CRONENBERG describes. Then fucking GOD KURT is SAILING OVER NEW YORK CITY with this HIGH-TECH AS FUCK DOT MATRIX ASS OUTLINE OF THE CITY ON HIS SCREEN and his HAIR IS SO WINGED OUT IN THIS PART I LITERALLY WANT TO FUCK IT, and they play this AWESOME AWESOME synth part that Carpenter or somebody said was based on DEBUSSEY whoever the fuck that was, but I guarantee that doesn’t sound as cool as the EFNY soundtrack with the HOWARTH SYNTH.
Then he rolls around the city and there’s a little bit of downtown as he MEETS THE HOTNESS and almost steps on a RAT and the best shit EVER I MEAN EVER I MEAN EVER in a movie, Snake’s exhausted and the leads aren’t panning out and he just had to endure GEORBE BUCK FLOWER singing LA-DEE-DA-DEE-DA, and what does he do?
What does Snake do, I ask? HE PULLS UP A CHAIR AND JUST SITS DOWN. FUCK YEAH. Got electrodes in his neck, double-crossed by everyone, doomed die, completely fucked, he pulls up the card table chair from my grandma’s game room in 1974, just SITS DOWN and flops his hair. GOD RUSSELL.
Like watching all this shit as a kid was like LEVITATING TO VALHALLA, EVERY SECOND OF IT, or that CHINESE GUY WITH THE GLASSES FRAMES THAT HAD NO GLASS IN IT and HAYES TWISTING THE ARROW and scariest of all, ROMERO who I later saw again as THE ICE CREAM TRUCK KILLER in Assault on Precinct 13 and whose hot daughter is on Mr Robot and once sat behind me at the movies. Has this ALL-NIGHT ADENTURE and that seemed best of all to a kid, the idea of STAYING UP ALL NIGHT, being in a SCARY CITY at NIGHT. NIGHT. NIGHT. I see so many Marvel homos talk about how they wanted to be a SUPERHERO as a kid but I wanted to SKLUK AROUND A BOMBED-OUT 1981 HELLHOLE WITH A GUN ducking from Puerto Rican muggers and BLACK DUDES WITH CHANDELIERS on their car. HAHAHAHA and how about that OVERACTING ROMERO does when DUKE OF NEW YORK’S POSSE ROLLS IN and he steps out of the car and does this exaggerated coast is clear search motion, HAHAHHAA ROLLING just THINKING ABOUT.
Then what does Carpenter hit you with???? THE SUN STARTS COMING UP. You have STAYED UP SO FUCKING LATE that it’s THE NEXT DAY. And LEE VAN CLEEF smoking a probable WINSTON looking EXACTLY LIKE YOU KNOW CARPETNER IMAGINES HIMSELF STANDING AT THE TOP OF THIS 50-FOOT CONTAINMENT BRIDGE with this BIG-ASS CITY BEHIND HIM at dawn. The best image Carpenter ever shot, completely destroys The Thing which rules and I’d never say an ill word about but when it’s not in the GORGEOUS BLINDING WHITE SNOW, there’s a lot of parts in The Thing that are in some DEPRESSING BUNKER BOILER ROOM HALLWAY and look kinda BROWN.
But this is all BLACK AND BLUE cinematography, though in early viewings on HBO and the eventual EMBASSY CASSETTE with the two-tone white-and-black box my Dad later bought me for my birthday in 1984, the palette was almost DEVOID OF COLOR, all washed out and somehow that made it even scarier. HALLOWEEN used to have that look too on cable and the MEDIA VHS.
So they bring in OX BAKER and his GOATEE is scary, his BALD HEAD is scary, and most of all his fucking MATTE of back hair is SCARY, and he gets a SPIKED BASEBALL BAT into the back of the head and everyone starts changing SNAKE! SNAKE! SNAKE! And like Snake becomes this GODLIKE LONE WOLF CELEBRITY WHO KICKS ASS and GETS THE HOTNESS and HANGS OUT WITH HARRY DEAN FUCKING STANTON and hey as an aside CHARLES CYPHERS in this looks almost exactly like my old man.
And then HAWKS SUPERFAN Carpenter’s MOST HAWKS MOMENT EVER, when BARBEAU in her BIG CANS is given this MOMENT OF ASS-KICKING DIGNITY and Snake forks over that AWESOME-LOOKING GUN and gives her a Forster-worthy tip o’ the cap, respect, props, feminist solidarity and all that a thousand times better and more believable than some CW cheese chick in gay-camp catsuit in the MCU.
Even the last fuck-you from Snake, RIPPING UP THE CASSETTE, as a kid I was like WOAH I HAVE CASSETTES. CASSETTES ARE SINISTER. I would never do that to a cassette. Like I think I wanted to re-enact SNAKE PULLING OUT THE TAPE on my Memorexes but didn’t have the nerve because I’d have nightmares the tape itself would come back and strangle me, like Videodrome before its time or something.
Long story long, I watched it every two days every time it was on HBO, and if I missed ONE airing because it was on at like 3am or something, I’d CRY ABOUT IT. It aired on HBO that year and into 1983, and in December 1983 we were in the process of moving to Pittsburgh, and I was really down about it, and the old man was on the phone from down there scoping out houses and stuff and in his hotel room said, ‘Guess what’s on!” and he put the phone up to the TV and it was HAUK’S INTERVIEW WITH SNAKE and it cheered me up. That same month it played on the local Boston channel in an edited version and I was fucking FASCINATED how they dropped some profanities, like HOW DO THEY DO THAT? I was so consumed by this that on the re-air I HELD A MONO TAPE RECORDER, MacReady type one, to the CONSOLE TV SET and made like TWO AUDIO CASSETTES worth of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK because we hadn’t figured out the VCR yet. I’d sit in my fucking room and LISTEN TO AN AUDIO RECORDING OF THE MOVIE.
Also somewhere in there right before we moved, I “wrote” a treatment in my head for a ripoff called “1997.” I didn’t realize you couldn’t just wholesale ripoff remake a movie from your bedroom in Portland Maine at age 9, but I’d whip up little STORYBOARDS for “1997,” a TOTALLY DIFFERENT MOVIE where Snake Plissken did the exact same plot except I’d change the actors around a few of the plot points and references. I drew a fake HBO GUIDE picture ad for “1997” and fuck, I wish I could remember who I fantasy-cast as Snake in my alt-world version, I wanna say it was TIM MATHESON or something. HAHAHAHA.
Anyway we moved and I sucked at sports and got lonely and depressed and my happy childhood kind of ended around age 11 thanks to bullying, but as said, my dad did buy a $79.95 copy of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK for me summer of 1984 or maybe 1985 because it hadn’t been on cable in an “eternity,” which then was probably like six months but to a kid that’s two decades. Of FUCKING COURSE a week after he bought me this cassette, it came back on HBO, and when I saw this in the guide I got ashamed and felt really guilty and kept trying to hide the TV Guide so dad wouldn’t find out I could’ve just taped it off HBO for free.
But I still watched that thing almost daily, one day my WORLD RECORD was some lazy humid July day I watched the fucker FIVE TIMES IN A ROW, and would do little IMAGINARY INTROS in my head like I was fucking Dana Hersey or Ben Mankiewicz or something. It started my interest in directors, because along with Landis and Spielberg those were my first guys where I put together what a director did, what a “style” was, what a “sheen” was, and how you could watch movies by some guy like that and recognize little winks and stuff recurring from one flick to the next. My obsession with it was shaped by and then flip-side informed my interest in LONG HAIR, in BEING UP LATE, working NIGHTS, staying up til the sun comes up, it MADE ME WANNA SMOKE (what brand is Snake repping, anyway, almost look like 100s)…. It made me get into Lee Van Cleef when THE MASTER came along where he played the world’s only 94-year-old white Ninja who walks with a fucking limp. Basically made me wanna work in film and wanna look like Kurt Russell and direct movies like John Carpenter and only listen to heavy, downcast repetitive scary music…. It had fucking everything, not even the other chestnuts in JC’s career have this much cool stuff all in one place.
So I guess I’m saying I liked it.