TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996)

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ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996)

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It took 15 years, but in 1996 John Carpenter finally brought Snake Plissken back for another escape. This flick takes place in 2013 and finds Plissken (Kurt Russell) being caught gunfighting in Thailand and brought to the West Coast to be deposited in the lawless island of L.A. A massive earthquake, predicted by the United States’ right wing religious president (Cliff Robertson), has separated L.A. from the mainland and now any immoral or criminal individuals are deposited in this no man’s land. Meanwhile, the president’s daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer) has rebelled and fled to L.A. into the arms of Peruvian terrorist Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface) with a doomsday weapon. Like in New York, Plissken is offered his freedom and a pardon of all his crimes, if he infiltrates L.A., kills Cuervo and Utopia and returns the weapon to the U.S. president.

Escape from L.A. was a box office and critical disappointment back in 1996, but with a lot of John Carpenter’s lesser films, it grows on one and now, viewed all these years later, is an entertaining watch finally finding it’s fan base. Carpenter directed from a script by he, producer Debra Hill and star Kurt Russell. It’s lighter in tone and more colorful than Plissken’s apocalyptic first adventure and the characters are a bit more cartoonish than those Snake met in NYC. The budget is almost 4x as much, though bargain basement CGI FX make it look a lot cheaper than it’s 1981 predecessor. The story is a thin remake of the first film and is a bit more politically preachy, with it’s religious right president and police state where even smoking and red meat are criminal offenses. Thankfully Snake is still Snake and he’s cool as ice, even when surfing a tsunami alongside Peter Fonda. The action is somewhat bigger than in EFNY, though a weak villain and too many disposable characters lessen the film’s overall impact. The flick follows the 1981 original’s template too closely to really resonate as a new adventure, but there is a lot of entertainment in watching Carpenter poke fun at politics and Hollywood, no more evident than the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Bruce Campbell) segment. It is a flawed movie, but with a little added nostalgia, at over two decades old, it can be fun…and at least we get to see Russell back in action as Snake, one more time.

Carpenter always assembles a good cast. Russell steps into Snake Plissken seamlessly and despite the outlaw being 15 years older, it seems like just yesterday, he was escaping New York City. Russell plays him very seriously despite the film’s lighter tone and Snake is ever the badass up until and including the very last shot. A classic character used far too sparsely. The only disappointment in the cast is Corraface as Cuervo Jones. The actor tries hard, but doesn’t have the presence or ferocity to make him a strong villain worthy of taking on Snake. He’s weak. Issac Hayes’ Duke of New York seemed far more deadly and dangerous. Langer is fine as the ditzy Utopia, though the character is too light to fit in a Plissken adventure. Same could be said of Buscemi’s ‘Map To The Stars’ Eddie. He’s a jokey substitute for Borgnine’s Cabbie and another character that feels out of place. Keach is good as Malloy who would be the Bob Hauk character, as is Robertson slimy as the religious zealot president. Michelle Forbes, Valeria Golino, the great Pam Grier and Peter Fonda are all fine in their supporting roles, as is Bruce Campbell a hoot as the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills. A good cast for the most part.

Overall, this was a bit disappointing when seen opening day 1996, especially to those of us who had been waiting 15 years for Carpenter to unleash Snake Plissken again. Decades later, now that the disappointment has abated and nostalgia has set in, it’s doesn’t seem so bad. Sure, it’s a bit too much of a remake to feel like a completely new adventure, but Russell is still awesome as Snake and at least we have two adventures to watch instead of just the one. There is a lot of action, aside from some sly political commentary and showbiz satire and some of it is more relevant now than back in the day. Not one of Carpenter’s best, but like many of his lesser titles, one that has actually aged better than expected…except for the awful CGI. Where was James Cameron and the New World Pictures FX crew and their model work when you needed them.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Snake Plisskens.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)

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THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)

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The People Under The Stairs is just another example of director Wes Craven’s versatility as he treats us to a darkly humored tale of urban horror. Story finds young “Fool” (Brandon Adams) on his 13th birthday finding out his mother is ill and his family is about to be evicted from the ghetto tenement they live in. Street tough Leroy (Ving Rhames) talks the boy into helping him get payback and a paycheck by robbing the house of the reclusive rich landlords. Once entering the former funeral parlor that is home to the bizarre Robeson’s (Everett McGill and Wendy Robie), Fool finds himself in a house of horrors that includes, kidnapping, murder, cannibalism and…the people under the stairs!

While Craven certainly gives his flick some disturbing moments, he tells his story with a very twisted sense of dark humor as we follow our heroic teen as he tries to escape the virtual fortress of horror. The legendary director has a good time filling his house full of devious and deadly traps, the psychotic Robesons and the tormented souls they keep in the basement. The movie moves quickly, thought could have benefited, pace-wise, from being a few minutes shorter and there is enough action and laughs to keeps us entertained. Sure, the film’s messages about ghetto life and the vastly uneven distribution of wealth between the haves and have-nots is a bit too obvious, but we can overlook that since we are having ghoulish fun with the story those messages are attached to. Despite the humorous tone, Craven doesn’t skimp on the blood and gore and the FX portraying the carnage and the house’s hidden inhabitants are well done and shown in just the right amounts to keep them effective. The house itself is a creepy fun-house of secret doors, hidden passages, traps, bones and cobweb filled rooms…and if that’s not enough, we have Everett McGill running around in his bizarre S & M gear that he wears when on the hunt. It’s loaded with atmosphere and is a fun flick with a ghoulish sense of humor that still holds up well almost a quarter century later.

Craven also has a good cast to portray his oddball characters. Young Brandon Adams is quite an engaging and noble hero as young “Fool”. An inner city teen who, despite his nickname, is wise beyond his years and is tough when he needs to be, but has a surprising sense of honor for a kid his age and the hard life he lives. Adams does a good job making him three dimensional and very likable. Everett McGill reaches near Bruce Campbell levels with his borderline slapstick portrayal of the weird and put-upon Robeson. He may be a twisted killer, but conveys the essence of a man who truly never gets a break…especially when dealing with Fool. Wendy Robie is equally creepy as his disturbed sister and one can truly believe of the two, she is the one to really be scared of. A.J. Langer is sweet, naive and sympathetic as the Robeson’s captive “daughter” Alice. She has lived in captivity all her life, but knows she is being mistreated and bonds with Fool as she sees a possible means to finally seeing the outside world. Rounding out the main cast is Ving Rhames, who is effective as the tough, street crook Leroy, pretty Kelly Jo Minter, who is sweet and street-wise as Fool’s tarot card reading sister Ruby and Sean Whalen is likable as Roach, one of the escaped captives loose in the house’s walls. A good cast for a very offbeat film.

Maybe not the best of Craven’s work, but it is an original and fun flick. It entertains us with a bizarre and twisted sense of humor without sacrificing the tense action, chills or gore. It may get a little preachy, especially in the last act and could have had a bit tighter with it’s running time, but overall, is ghoulish fun and another example of how versatile Craven was as a filmmaker.

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Wes Craven 1938-2015

-MonsterZero NJ

3 kitchen knives.

malevolence rating

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