COOL STUFF: ESCAPE FROM N.Y. COLLECTOR’S EDITION on BLU-RAY

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and SHAKEDOWN

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This week’s double feature combines two movies I’ve covered before but, since NYC was on a lot of people’s minds this past week and the World Trade Centers figure prominently in both features, I decided to pair up two of my favorite 80s action guilty pleasures! Enjoy!

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite B movies and a bonafide film classic. I instantly fell in love with this film upon seeing it opening night at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and John Carpenter solidified himself as one of my favorite directors.

An outrageously original idea has New York City in a war torn, crime filled, future turned into a maximum security prison, and legendary director Carpenter makes it work by taking his subject matter just seriously enough to make the audience buy it. Add to that a colorful cast of characters, including one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heros of all time, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) and you have the recipe for a B movie classic. The story is simple, war hero turned outlaw, Snake Plissken has been captured and is about to be sentenced to life imprisonment in New York City Penitentiary. But, fate intervenes and the President’s (Donald Pleasence) plane is hijacked on the way to a crucial peace summit and crashed inside the city. Former special forces soldier Plissken is the only man skilled enough to sneak in quietly and get him out alive and Snake now has a chance at a full pardon for all his crimes if he takes the job. But, a vicious gang leader called The Duke Of New York (Isaac Hayes) has other ideas for both The President and Snake, who has less then 24 hours to complete his mission or the world goes back to war.

Director and co-writer (with Nick Castle) Carpenter creates some nice tension and suspense and his visual eye is great at creating a gloomy hellhole out of the world’s greatest city. And Dean Cundey’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful as it captures the world inside New York, which is very effectively portrayed on a small budget. Carpenter moves the film along well, although not as fast paced as today’s audience are used to, and there is plenty of action and chases to keep one entertained. And despite being released in 1981, this film may be the last film to have a real 70s feel to it before the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards changed action films forever. Another film that inspired many and was imitated many times and another great Carpenter film score to add to the atmosphere.

As for the cast… Kurt Russell does his best Clint Eastwood as Snake and it’s only natural then to pair him up with Eastwood co-star Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner, Bob Hauk. Rounding out the cast is Halloween vet Donald Pleasence as the President, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, Carpenter’s then wife, Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie and legendary soul man Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York. And not to forget, there is also genre favorite Tom Atkins as Hauk’s right hand man, Rehme and frequent Carpenter collaborator Charles Cyphers as the Secretary Of State. A simply classic B-movie sci-fi/action flick and one of my all time favorites! MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  The studio wanted Charles Bronson as Snake, but, Carpenter fought for his choice of former Disney child actor, Russell and the rest is history. Also, the SPFX were done in part by a then unknown James Cameron, who went on to direct Terminator and Titanic. And despite it’s setting, most of the film was lensed in St. Louis and L.A. with only one night actual shooting in NYC at the Statue of Liberty.

One of the greatest B-movies of all time!

A classic 4 Snakes

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Shakedown

SHAKEDOWN (1988)

Shakedown is an 80s action guilty pleasure from Exterminator director James Glickenhaus that is not only his best film but, a darn entertaining cop thriller that is one of the last to take place in NYC before the 42nd street clean up and thus presents New York in all it’s sleazy pre-90s glory.

Shakedown is the story of public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) who is moving on to a Wall Street law firm, run by his future father in-law, and as his last case, defends a drug dealer (Richard Brooks) accused of killing a cop. But, the dealer says it was self defense, he was defending himself in a robbery and the officer never identified himself. Dalton investigates along with lone wolf cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliot) and they discover a conspiracy of criminals and dirty cops who now want them both dead.
Sure some of the action is a bit overblown and the FX in the final showdown very cheesy but, Shakedown, as written and directed by Glickenhaus, is a down and dirty good time with a New York City bathed in neon lights, covered with empty crack vials and where sex, drugs and murder are a common occurrence. Add some 80s nostalgia to the mix and you have a whole six pack worth of Saturday night entertainment that is both grind-house action flick and slick crime thriller.
But, aside from it’s dirty, backstreet depiction of New York and some over the top action scenes, what really makes Shakedown work is that Elliot and Weller makes such a great team. They work very well together and it’s a shame the film never caught on enough to further the adventures of Marks and Dalton. The characters and the actor who portray them, really click and begged for a series. Supporting cast all perform well too, including Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as drug lord Nicky Carr, Blanche (Sixteen Candles) Baker as Dalton’s fiance’ and hot Patricia Charbonneau as the assistant D.A. and Dalton’s former flame.
One of my favorite 80s guilty pleasure action flicks. A fun movie.
MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The original title for the film and it’s title in other parts of the world was Blue Jean Cop which is a term used in the film for a cop on the take (dirty cops can afford designer jeans as opposed to Wranglers or Levis). Also, Director Glickenhaus made a few more flicks, including the campy Gary Busey action vehicle Bulletproof, before leaving show business to work at his father’s investment firm and became a successful investment professional and car collector.
3 and 1/2 bullets!
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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CHRISTINE (1983)

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CHRISTINE (1983)

John Carpenter’s next film after The Thing was supposed to be an adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter for Universal Pictures written by Thing scribe Bill Lancaster. When Carpenter’s sci-fi classic failed at the box office, Mark Lester was given the helm instead and ironically Carpenter found himself at Columbia Pictures directing another Stephen King adaptation, Christine. Carpenter would have the last laugh as Christine not only beat Lester’s Firestarter to the box office but, at the box office as well. Today Christine is considered a minor classic and Firestarter has all but been forgotten.

I currently have not read King’s novel… thought with a trip to the library it now sits on my night table… (UPDATE: My book review sits below, after the film trailer…) so, I am reviewing Christine strictly as a movie and not as an adaptation. Set in 1978, this horror flick tells the story of nerdy Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) who is oppressed by both his overbearing parents and the high school bullies. His only friend is kind hearted football player Dennis (John Stockwell)… that is, until he meets Christine. Christine is an old beat up red 1958 Plymouth Fury named by it’s previous owner who, unbeknownst to Arnie, committed suicide inside it. The owner’s brother (Roberts Blossom) sells it to him despite Dennis’ protests and Arnie sees the restoration of his new obsession as a way to finally earn respect from his peers. Not only does Arnie restore the car, he also begins to change. The awkward nerd becomes a confident man and wins the prettiest girl in school, Leigh (Alexandra Paul), but also the vengeful eye of the bullies he’d gotten expelled. When they trash his beloved car, the vehicle shows it’s true nature and not only restores itself before Arnie’s eyes, but methodically tracks down and slaughters the wrong doers…on it’s own. Arnie refuses to see the evil thing before him and the confident man starts to become an aggressive and violent person who forces anyone who cares about him out of his life, which he lives only for his car. Fearing for Arnie, Dennis and Leigh start to investigate the car’s past and not only find a trail of bodies, but the realization that Arnie’s obsession may be taking him on a ride straight to hell, unless it is stopped… but can it be and can Arnie be saved?

Carpenter creates an entertaining and atmospheric thriller from Bill Phillips’ script adapted from the King novel. He successfully creates a likable and sympathetic character in Arnie and thus his transformation from nerd to cool guy to heartless villain gives the film the dramatic backbone it needs. He also successfully establishes the relationships between Arnie and Dennis and Leigh, so we understand why they are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to save their friend despite his becoming, for lack of a better word, a douche. Though I will say we could have maybe used a bit more of this to really solidify the relationships. What really makes this film click, thoug is the menacing and evil character given to the title vehicle by Carpenter and his team of FX people. From the opening scene set on an assembly line in 1957, we see Christine claim her first victims. A car that is born bad. We get a blood red car that is dripping with malice and one that only plays vintage Rock ‘N’ Roll songs on the radio…which seem to always suit the situation at hand…and takes a lethal interest in anyone that comes between her and Arnie, like Leigh…the other woman. Carpenter films the car from angles and in lighting that give it a demonic presence and stages the sequences of it pursuing it’s prey with the same tension and intensity he would if filming Michael Myers as a muscle car. Despite how bad the bullies are, there is a sense of sympathy when Christine mows them down in cold blood. She is by far the greater of the two evils. The FX of the vehicle repairing itself after being damaged are truly breathtaking, as we literally watch panels un-dent and grills regain their off-the-assembly-line shape and it adds to the vehicles supernatural aura.

The master director gets good work from his human cast too. Gordon is fairly solid as Arnie conveying the sensitive nerd and then his slow transformation to cold blooded killer. He does go a little over the top in a few sequences and could have done with less of the maniacal eye rolling in some of the later scenes, but otherwise is well cast. Stockwell gives his Dennis both a strong and a sensitive side as Arnie’s concerned friend. Paul’s Leigh seems like a naturally sweet girl who still cares about Arnie even after he is so mean to her and is a likable heroine. We also have veteran Harry Dead Stanton as a detective that knows Arnie and his car are responsible somehow for the murders, yet frustratingly can’t prove it and character actor Robert Prosky as a slimy garage owner that takes a shine to Arnie but, not to his car…and the feeling is mutual.

Carpenter again supplies the music and though the score is very reminiscent of his excellent Halloween III score, it is still highly effective at adding atmosphere to the proceedings and also includes some great Rock ‘N’ Roll classics. Though it’s the first Carpenter film without cinematographer Dean Cundey since Assault on Precinct 13, Donald M.Morgan fills in and does very well in capturing Carpenter’s camera work and mood. The film isn’t perfect. There is some weak dialogue at points and, as stated, the relationships could have been a bit more fleshed out, but they do work fine as is. The final showdown between Christine and Dennis driving a bulldozer could have been a bit more intense, but this a modestly budgeted film, so what we get is effective enough and certainly well staged.

All in all, Christine may not be on the same level as Halloween, The Thing or Escape From New York, but it is certainly a solid and effective chiller and an entertaining movie that sometimes gets overlooked when talking about Carpenter’s classic films. Also stars Kelly Preston as a hottie trying and failing to catch Dennis’ eye.

3 and 1/2 flaming vengeful Plymouth Furys!

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BONUS BOOK REVIEW!

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CHRISTINE by Stephen King

This is only the second Stephen King book I have ever read. Despite being a horror and sci-fi fan, I have never gravitated toward his books for some reason. I am a fan of director John Carpenter, though and have recently revisited and greatly enjoyed his film adaptation and so, I was curious to check out the source. I liked King’s Christine, but I didn’t love it and certainly wasn’t wowed by it. To be honest, I think Carpenter’s movie was far more economical in the telling of the story, as I found King’s book to be long-winded and could have lost about 100 pages and still told the same story and with equal efficiency. To me, King likes to go off on tangents that really don’t further the story and only serve to create stretches between the action. Did Dennis really need to have not one, but three long discussions with George LeBay about his brother and his demonic car? And let’s face it, King never really explains sufficiently why Christine is such a demonic entity even before LeBay dies and starts to haunt her and Arnie. It’s a casual throw away line that really doesn’t satisfy. LeBay has no history or belief in the supernatural, so it’s silly to accept that he transformed his car into a supernatural entity. Again, Carpenter’s film simplified the story and just made the car ambiguously evil from the moment it was made, much like his Michael Myers. I did like the book overall, but I do feel based on this, that even though King is a good writer, he’s one that also gets self-indulgent. I’m certainly not intimidated by a long book, most of the fantasy stuff I read is over 400 pages, it’s just there is a difference between a story that requires a lot of detail in it’s telling and a story that’s just taking longer then needed to be told.

3 star rating

-MonsterZero NJ

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