John Carpenter almost can do no wrong with me and it is safe to say that Escape from New York certainly is a solid film. But can it be called a classic? I am not so sure.
For the most part this film holds up well. Apart from a few outdated effects here and there it looks pretty good visually. You really get a good sense that the New York everybody knows does not exist anymore and that it's a completely different world now. If I had to make a comparison it looks very similar to the dark streets portrayed in The Warriors except maybe slightly eerier since there is no hint of civilization left. There is a high dark apocalyptic feel to this film that does not disappear even when daylight comes. The fact that even the military and police are hesitant to go into this maximum security prison only adds to the sinister ambiance.
So what is the film about? In short Snake Plissken (Kurt Russel) who got apprehended by the police is tasked by Hauk (Lee van Cleef) to rescue the president of the U.S. and to recover the suitcase with an important tape inside. Apparently Snake is the only one capable and reliable enough to go in on his own. From this moment on there are two factors that provide a constant tension. One is the time limit Snake Plissken is put on. He is injected with some explosives that will detonate after the set time has passed. The other is that both Snake and the audience don't know what to expect. Everything about this New York is unfamiliar and dangerous. Almost anything could happen. Combine that with the haunting theme composed by director John Carpenter himself and you could almost say that this is more a horror flick than action film. If it weren't for a few flaws. Carpenter never makes good on the promise of the truly evil and despicable events happening. One example of this is a group called crazies. Guess why they are called that? Once they make their appearance you can feel the tension rising and you brace yourself for Snake to be in real trouble. Only Snake manages to get out of that nasty situation relative unharmed and very easily. I would have liked to see at least one or two of these crazies make his life difficult. So that we would be able to experience how dangerous it really is. Basically the whole film is like this. It's close to giving us all the horror and spectacle but then resorts the easiest ways out and denies us that exciting action and fun.
Granted for a first time watch it's acceptable. Not so for multiple viewings. Because then you realize that Escape from New York is a very minimalistic film. It just has enough for a one time watch or perhaps a second watch but that is it. There is nothing about this film that requires extra thought or attention. Apart from a few moments the film manages to have a nice pace and not become boring. but that has to be credited to the actors. Kurt Russel in particular. The though antihero role suits him and you instantly believe that he is the real deal. Escape from New York like I said is solid but it's not a film you would be able to watch over and over again. And apart from the things I mentioned I don't know what else I could say to speak in favour of the film. So I will leave it like this for now. Please do feel free to share your opinion on this film and perhaps you could point out some elements that I might have overlooked that make the film deserving of it's cult status.