HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK!
Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken! One of the greatest and sadly underused movie anti-heroes of all-time!
40 years ago today the film world was introduced to Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) as John Carpenter’s Escape From New York was released in theaters! A little EFNY anniversary trivia: studio Avco Embassy Pictures wanted Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones for Plissken, but Carpenter held out for Kurt Russell and history was made! HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK!
The late, great Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. where I saw Escape From New York opening night! (Photo from the Mitchell Dvoskin collection)
AVENGING ANGEL (1985)
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Sequel to New World’s exploitation hit Angel was rushed into production and released just under a year from the 1984 original…and it shows. The story has Molly/Angel (now Betsy Russell) off the streets and in college for four years, thanks to Lt. Andrews (now Robert F. Lyons). When Andrews is gunned down by a group of mobsters, Molly returns to the streets as Angel to track down his killers. Helping her are her old street ‘family’ Kit (Rory Calhoun), Solly (Susan Tyrrell), Yo-Yo (Steven M. Porter) and witness Johnny Glitter (Barry Pearl).
While the creative team of writer/director Robert Vincent O’Neill and co-writer Joseph Michael Cala return, lead actress Donna Wilkes and actor Cliff Gorman did not and it hurts the continuity of the flick. Add to that a new cinematographer, Peter Lyons Collister, giving it a different look and new composer, Christopher Young giving it a new score and you get a film that barely registers as a sequel if not for Calhoun, Tyyell and Porter to give it a familiarity with the first flick. That aside, the exploitation elements are really watered down and it feels like a TV movie. O’Neill gives it none of the style and fun trashiness of the original and the story is very uninspired. There seems to be an effort to clean it up for more mainstream consumption to the point of a baby being added to the proceedings, which is completely unnecessary. It’s got none of the energy the first flick had either, nor the atmosphere of the streets that the first flick used so well. The acting is very wooden, except for the delightfully energetic Calhoun and Tyrrell and despite being quite a fox, we don’t endear to Russell’s Angel as we did with the sympathetic teen street walker of Wilkes’s incarnation. It feels like a totally different film and a totally different kind of film, as it tries to be more action flick than exploitation movie…and being an exploitation movie was part of what made the first film work. A high school hooker being hunted by a serial killer is sleazy fun, some college girl avenging a friend’s death in fishnets and a miniskirt, not so much.
I actually saw this chapter in a theater and it was very disappointing. The original Angel nailed the exploitation tone perfectly for a story about a high school student turning tricks as a Hollywood hooker and this film tries to downplay it’s sleazy roots and go for a more mainstream low budget action flick and fails. None of the style or trashiness that made the first flick so enjoyable is there and one wonders if writer/director O’Neill wanted to do this movie at all and was just accepting a paycheck. If not for a few supporting characters being present and acted by their original performers, this would not feel like a sequel to the 1984 hit. When you throw in the baby and a lot of broad humor, it almost isn’t. Despite under-performing at the box office, there were two more sequels with two more actresses as Angel. Avenging Angel also stars Escape From New York’s Frank Doubleday as a mobster’s arrogant son.
Rated 2 (out of 4) hot, but yet, not Angels.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK COLLECTOR’S EDITION Blu-Ray
Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite films (see full review here). It’s the film that cemented John Carpenter as one of my favorite directors. A starkly original idea featuring one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heroes of all time. There have been a few editions of the film on VHS, DVD and even a feature-only blu-ray, but, now Scream Factory has delivered this classic flick in a special 2-disc edition loaded with extra features that gives this quirky Sci-Fi adventure the treatment and respect it deserves!
The print is a new remaster from the original negative and is absolutely gorgeous. The image is crisp and clear and the colors are vibrant without betraying the look and feel intended by the filmmakers. The movie has never looked better and having seen it on screen, on VHS, on DVD and on previous blu-ray, I can say that with the utmost confidence. It’s never looked better. The audio is DTS-HD 5.1 and sounds great. It’s like seeing and hearing the movie again for the first time. It’s a beautiful presentation of this classic movie. Now on to the fun stuff…
We get some nice audio extras… not one but, three commentary tracks. There is a new track featuring actress Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey. Also, previously released tracks from Joe Alves and Debra Hill, as well as, the classic John Carpenter and Kurt Russell commentary, which is almost as entertaining as the film. More on-set insight than you could ever hope for. As for video treats and featurettes, the second disc holds a mix of new and previously released material. The first featurette is new and is a really cool look at EFNY’s SFX. It contains behind the scenes stills and interviews with Dennis and Robert Skotak, who worked at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, which did the visual effects for the film. The Return To Escape From New York documentary from the MGM collector’s edition DVD is also included here and is filled with interviews from all the principles. We get the now legendary deleted bank robbery/arrest scene with an added new interview with actor Joe Unger, who played Snake’s partner Taylor in that deleted sequence. There’s a fun new look at scoring the film and the legacy of the soundtrack, with co-composer Alan Howarth. There is a great interview/slide show with on-set photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, who recently released a book (review here) featuring her work as a photographer on a number of Carpenter’s films. We get an interview with filmmaker David DeCoteau, who was working as a PA with New World Pictures at the time and got to visit the EFNY set. The disc then finishes up it’s extra’s section with theatrical trailers and two photo galleries on top of all the rest of the features. A great selection of extras to compliment the film.
As fan of Escape From New York, you couldn’t ask for a better special edition. The film looks great, sounds great and there is a nice selection of nostalgic and informative features and interviews to bring you back to 1980 when the film was being shot. I personally had the opportunity to see this flick in a theater…my beloved Oritani Theater…back in January of 1981 and it instantly became one of my all time favorites. Now I can enjoy it like never before thanks to this newly remastered, extra-filled, loving tribute from Scream Factory.