The original mulleted, eyepatched badass named Snake.
In 1988, the crime rate in the United States rises four hundred percent. The once great city of New York becomes the one maximum security prison for the entire country. A fifty-foot containment wall is erected along the New Jersey shoreline, across the Harlem River, and down along the Brooklyn shoreline. It completely surrounds Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped around the island. There are no guards inside the prison, only prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple: once you go in, you don't come out.
Escape From New York (1981) is a cult-classic action film featuring the dream team of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. The story is one of the classics: a rescue mission. The President's plane has crashed in the badlands, and so Police Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) is forced to recruit the most Badass criminal available to go in after him. That man is Snake Plissken, and if that name doesn't tell you everything you need to know about the character, you probably shouldn't be watching this kind of movie in the first place. If you still need a clue, he's wearing an eyepatch. And the only way to get him to agree to help is by putting on an Explosive Leash and turning him loose.Oh, and as you may have worked out from the title, the badlands in question are the ruins of New York. Because this film is set Twenty Minutes into the Future (or rather, sixteen years, in the year 1997), and Manhattan has become a giant ruin of a penal colony, full of savage gangs and ruled over by the Duke of New York, played by the late great Isaac Hayes.The film is a classic of the dystopian future genre, and Snake is himself a classic Jerk with a Heart of GoldAnti-Hero. Snake's history is mostly just hinted at, but a Novelization, now out of print, fills in some of the details.The supporting cast includes a lineup of memorable character actors, including Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine, Adrienne Barbeau, and Adrienne Barbeau's cleavage, which frankly deserves its own credit.Fifteen years later, Russell and Carpenter reunited for a sequel, Escape from L.A., which dispensed with much of the grittiness to lampoon Los Angeles and Hollywood culture. It was not met with nearly the same level of acclaim as the original.A remake of Escape From New York is currently in development hell.
Afraid of Needles: Snake. "I don't like needles," he says before the physician Cronenberg injects him with a supposed anti-viral and bacterial serum. Turns out he was right to be untrusting, as the injection was actually an Explosive Leash.
The Alcatraz: New York Maximum Security Penitentiary, AKA Manhattan Island Prison. The only bridge into the island is mined, and the entire island is surrounded by a wall, and the perimeter is patrolled by helicopters and monitored 24/7. Escape is essentially impossible, and once prisoners go in, they never come out.
Big Bad: The Duke of New York, who captures the president and uses him as a hostage in a plan to get himself and his followers out of Manhattan without being killed by the police force surrounding the island.
The Big Rotten Apple: Obviously. While the premise was far-fetched, at the time it wasn't inconceivable. By the early 80's most major American cities had seen anyone who could afford it flee to the suburbs, infrastructure was decaying, cities were bankrupt, and of course crime was out of control. New York, as America's largest and most prominent city was the ultimate symbol of this urban decay. In the late 70's the federal government refused to bail the city out. This led many New Yorkers to declare "America has given up on New York".
President: You are the Duke of New York. But you ain't number one.
Bottomless Magazines: Snake's MAC-10 is never reloaded once, and it fires about 10x as many bullets as he apparently brought with him. This also applies to Snake's revolver; not only does it only get reloaded once (and Snake only seems to have brought two speedloaders if the loadout on the table is any indication), but when Maggie gets charged at by the Duke, the revolver with six chambers is fired seven times.
Boxed Crook: Snake, at the beginning of the film. He's about to be sent into Manhattan as a prisoner but gets roped into rescuing the president by Hauk.
Illinois and Missouri Doubling: Filmed in East St. Louis and St. Louis to keep the budget low. Entire areas were in such a state of neglect, to the point where sets didn't even have to be built. Four years later, the scene of the Batter UpBlood Sport (see above) was renovated into a hoity-toity shopping area — visual Mood Dissonance.
Chekhov's Gun: Subverted. Snake takes a wide array of weapons with him, but doesn't get a chance to use them all.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Brain acts just loyal enough to Snake and the Duke on different occasions to avoid being shot, but doesn't hesitate to screw them both over if it helps him get away.
Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Cabbie has been driving his taxi in Manhattan for 30 years which means it's possible that he's not even there for any crime, but may have refused to leave when the city was walled up.
Crapsack World: The United States seems to have become this, with the crime rate rising by 400% in 1988 and Manhattan island being converted to a maximum security prison. When the movie was made in 1981, this didn't seem too unreasonable to expect of the future.
Hauk: About an hour ago, a small jet went down inside New York City. The president was on board.
Snake: The president of what?
Hauk: That's not funny, Plissken.
Disproportionate Retribution: Being sent to Manhattan Island means a life sentence with no chance of release. Once you go in, you don't come out. There are no provisions inside to keep the prisoners fed and housed (though food is implied to be sent once a month by the girl in Chock Full O' Nuts), they simply fend for themselves in any way that they can. It's heavily implied that everyone who commits a crime in the United States gets thrown in there.
The Dragon: Romero for the Duke, as he's the one the Duke sends to deliver the ultimatum to Hauk, and the one guarding the president when the Duke holds him hostage.
Dub Name Change: In Italy, Snake is known as "Jena" (hyena), due to "Serpente" (snake) being too long to properly sync up with the video (oddly enough, the Spanish dub averts this, in spite of the fact that their word for snake (serpiente) is even longer).
Escape Pod: Air Force One has one for the President only, enabling him to survive the crash.
The Great Politics Mess-Up: In 1997, the Cold War has turned hot and the USA is fighting a (presumably conventional) war against the USSR.
Heroic Neutral: Snake, obviously. "I don't give a fuck about your war, or your president." He would prefer to just take the Gullfire and fly straight to Canada, letting the US, China and the Soviet Union blow each other to hell, but he can't because of the Explosive Leash he's injected with.
Heroic Sacrifice: Maggie. Later, Snake asks the President if he knew how many people died to save him. The President's rote response doesn't please Snake.
I Just Want To Be Free: Snake's entire motivation is that he just want to get away and be left alone to his own devices.
Inexplicably Awesome: The movie tells us that Snake is an ex black ops soldier twice decorated who turned his back on his country and tried to rob the Federal Reserve. No reasons for Snake's choices that led him down that path are ever presented.
Insistent Terminology / Do Not Call Me Paul: In both Escape from New York and Escape from L.A., the U.S. government is on a Last Name Basis with protagonist Snake Plissken, to which he consistently replies, "Call me Snake." However, during the respective climaxes of both movies, when one of the government's men finally does call him Snake, he reverses his previous attitude with the reply, "The name's Plissken".
Also, Brain really doesn't care to be called "Harold".
Insufferable Genius: Brain. It's a minor miracle he's still alive in Manhattan since everyone hates him, save Maggie and Cabbie. Brain is also the only person in Manhattan who can produce gasoline, possibly refined from crude oil obtained from the pump briefly shown well panning through his base (presumably the New York Public Library).
Mook #1: That Brain is a real pain in the ass. He's always sniffing around like a dog.
Kill the Cutie: Cabbie. He spends most of the whole movie as a happy-go-lucky, overly friendly wide-eyed optimist who looks out for Plissken (even to the extent of throwing a molotov cocktail at some thugs, driving him for free and coming back for him just in time). Then, despite being in an explosion that leaves the others inexplicably unscathed, he dies horribly. Thankfully, Snake gets some justice for his unnecessary death by screwing the ungrateful president.
There has to be a reason everybody thinks Snake is dead...
The Kansas City incident where Brain abandoned Snake and Fresno Bob is another one. It's possible that Snake could have almost died there, as he asks Brain "Do you know what they did to Bob?"
The incident was filmed, but was removed for pacing. It is available on the Blu-Ray re-release of the film, revealing Bob's fate. He was gunned down, although in a slightly excessive way.
This is a reference to the 1971 John Wayne picture, Big Jake, which was a big influence on Escape From New York. Several times throughout that movie, people tell Wayne's character, Jake McCandless that they heard he was dead.
Off-the-Shelf FX: What appeared to be an impressive (for 1981) wire-frame CGI image of Lower Manhattan was actually a physical model with the buildings outlined with glow-in-the-dark green tape and filmed in black light. Courtesy of none other than James Cameron.
The characters Cronenberg (the doctor who injects Snake with the explosives) and Romero (the spiky-haired Mook with the crazy laugh) are named after David Cronenberg and George Romero, respectively.
Spiritual Successor: Although not intended, this film's premise is fairly similar to The Warriors, in which the protagonists have one night to escape from a dystopian New York City crawling with street trash and urban warlords. Some parts of the soundtracks even sound similar.
State Sec: The United States Police Force, who despite their name has arms and equipment on par with the military.
Stealth Pun: The abandoned store where Snake and a woman are attacked by crazies is called Chock Full O' Nuts.
Stylistic Suck: The song "Everyone's Coming To New York" is sung by various criminals, and even on the soundtrack CD, the singers sing slightly out of tune, and various interludes are played on kazoos. Why yes, hilarity most certainly does ensue.
Timed Mission: Both films. Subverted in the sequel in that it was a fake threat.
Snake is given a tracer. When he pushes a button his position can be tracked for 15 minutes.
The President is wearing a vital signs bracelet that broadcasts a "sig pulse". Snake is given a device that can home in on the signal, showing direction and distance to the device.
Trashcan Bonfire: In the scene where Romero approaches Bob Hauk to deliver an ultimatum.
Twenty Minutes into the Future: Occurs in 1997. In 1988 the U.S. crime rate rose 400%, Manhattan was turned into the maximum security prison for the whole country, and the U.S. became authoritarian. There is a war going on with Soviet Union (presumably non-nuclear) and the whole film begins as Communist terrorists skyjack Air Force One. Cold War-phobia was very popular in The Eighties.
What Happened to the Mouse?: After Snake lands in New York, Cabbie is the first major character encountered. Cabbie takes Snake, Brain and Maggie to the Duke's headquarters, then drives off after panicking over the Duke's reputation. Later, as Snake, Brain and Maggie make their way with the President to the 69th Street Bridge, Cabbie suddenly returns, with no explanation as to where he was throughout a third of the movie. Seems like Contrived Coincidence.
It can be assumed that since Cabbie traded for the tape that he was still around Duke's other men when Brain and Maggie broke out the President, he could have followed Duke's men who were following Brain and Maggie.
Zeerust: While cassette tapes were still widely used in 1997, telex were gone by then. The wireframe guidance images in the glider might raise some eyebrows, but it's conceivable that such a light aircraft would use simple computer graphics.