HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK!

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HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK!

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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!

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The late, great Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. where I saw Escape From New York opening night! (Photo from the Mitchell Dvoskin collection)

-MonsterZero NJ

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FAREWELL AND R.I.P. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK’S OX BAKER!

 

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A sad day for movie/wrestling fans as actor and professional wrestler Douglas “Ox” Baker passed away today at the age of 80. Ox Baker was not only a legendary in-ring performer, but also renown to movies fans as “Slag”, the enormous gladiator that battled Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken in John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York. His few minutes on screen are among the most memorable moments in the film and cemented a spot for Ox as a fan favorite! He will be missed!

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Ox Baker ready to battle Snake Plissken in John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York. Farewell and R.I.P.

Douglas “Ox” Baker

April 19, 1934-October 20, 2014

source: internet

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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 Elliott) 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 Elliott 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 fiancé 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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CHARACTER AUTOPSY: THE 3 FACES OF KURT-THE CARPENTER COLLABORATIONS

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THE THREE FACES OF KURT: THE CARPENTER/RUSSELL BIG SCREEN COLLABORATIONS!

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Photo: Empire Magazine

THE START OF FILM HISTORY

If there’s one thing you can definitely say about legendary director John Carpenter, it’s that he creates some great and iconic characters to inhabit his great movies. And if there’s one actor that fits Carpenter’s characters like a glove, it’s Kurt Russell. The two would collaborate five times together, so far, starting with the TV movie Elvis in 1979, with Russell playing the King Of Rock And Roll, whom the actor had actually worked with on It Happened At The World’s Fair in 1963. Of course, Elvis was not a character created by Carpenter, but it would be the start of a five picture journey with Russell playing three of Carpenter’s most iconic creations and one true life legend. The King aside, lets take a look at three of John Carpenter’s most memorable characters as they were brought to life by Kurt Russell, already a veteran actor from the age of 10.

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Russell as The King…

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…and Russell with the King in 1963’s It Happened At The World’s Fair

SNAKE PLISSKEN: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

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One of cinema’s most iconic and underused character’s is ex-soldier and anti-hero Snake Plissken, who first appeared in John Carpenter’s Escape From New York in 1981. Carpenter had to fight with Avco Embassy pictures over the casting of Russell as the studio preferred legendary film tough guy Charles Bronson, an established action star, as apposed to the former Disney child actor, Russell. But Carpenter stood his ground and Russell stepped into the role of the one-eyed, grizzled outlaw who get’s arrested on the eve of a terrorist attack on Air Force One, which leaves The President (Donald Pleasence) stranded inside NYC…which in this near future, is a walled maximum security prison. As portrayed by Kurt Russell, Snake Plissken is one part Clint Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’ and one part honey badger. Plissken doesn’t care about the rest of the world or The President, he sees his mission into the hellhole of NYC as a way out of spending the rest of his life there. Who cares if the world is on the brink of all out war, all he wants is that presidential pardon in his hands and he really doesn’t care about the rest…or does he? Despite his outward apathy, Plissken does show some remorse over those who lose their lives helping him rescue The President and even more important, the tape recording he has with him.  Although, let’s be honest, it was Snake’s little white lie about getting those who help him out of NYC, too that insured their cooperation in the first place, but when you have two microscopic explosive devices in your neck ready to explode when your 24 hours is up, you make some selfish choices. Russell’s Snake is cool as ice, but not quite cold which is why we like him so much. He’s anti-authority, he walks to the beat of his own drum and if need be, he’s got plenty of fighting and weapons skills to throw down if he has to, but he still seems to have a soft spot for the innocents caught in the way of the mechanizations of those in charge. He’s an outlaw, but one that only seems to like sticking it to ‘The Man’ every chance he gets. A fallen war hero with an Eastwood growl who’s turned his back on the government he fought for because of how expendable they see the rest of us.

We all wish we were as cool as Snake and flip the establishment the bird with our very existence like he does. And Escape ends with the ultimate FU as he destroys the very prize he was sent in for and walks away with a smoke and without a care as he may just have sent the world back to war. Sadly, Snake would appear only once more on screen in the disappointing Escape From L.A. which was, for some reason, more of a remake and played for laughs. Russell was still cool as Snake, but the film around him was one of Carpenter’s lesser efforts. Still, Snake is a classic movie icon and one of the greatest anti-heros of all time and despite remake talk, I can’t see anyone but Russell in the role.

R.J. MACREADY: THE THING (1982)

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Carpenter and Russell would work together again the very next year on Carpenter’s remake of The Thing From Another World simply titled The Thing. Carpenter’s version abandon’s Howard Hawks’ walking vegetable to return to the original source material of John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? about a shapeshifting alien creature that invades an Antarctic research station and is capable of absorbing and imitating anyone and everyone it comes in contact with. Russell is cast as helicopter pilot R. J. MacReady, who reluctantly takes charge of the situation when suspicion and paranoia causes the chain of command to quickly collapse. Like most of the Outpost 31 members, MacReady seems to be a misfit and social outcast who, for reasons never fully explained, seems to prefer being at the far reaches of the planet and spending most of his day with a bottle of scotch when he is not in the air. But Mac seems more a wounded soul than angry like Plissken.  And once the alien threat becomes known, he realizes the importance of stopping it before it gets back to the world he himself seems to be trying to avoid. He also realizes that he is best fit to take control and does so, however reluctantly. Mac would rather be left alone, but rises to the occasion when thrust into this fantastic and unbelievable situation. Unlike Plissken, MacReady is willing to give up his own life to save those he seems to want to distance himself from. In a way he is just as cool as Snake, but for different reasons. Snake is an authority hating, self serving, outlaw. While Mac is an anti-social, yet ultimately selfless, outcast who is willing to do what’s needed to stop “The Thing” from ever leaving the cold wasteland it had the unfortunate luck of crashing it’s ship into. Certain items of clothing lead one to believe Mac, like Snake, might be ex-military, but that too is never touched upon. Mac is a bit more of an enigma than Snake, but no less heroic and for far more noble reasons.

Russell is again top notch here as he perfectly creates a man who’s pain and reluctance are shadowed in his eyes, as he fights something imagined only in nightmares, in a suicidal effort to save the world. Where Snake is an anti-hero, MacReady is a true hero, and depending on how you view the film’s ambiguous ending, maybe one that has paid the ultimate price and gladly, if it means the rest of us are safe in our beds. Sadly The Thing was a box office and critical disappointment when it first opened, but fortunately,  it is now recognized as the great film classic that it is. Arguably John Carpenter’s best movie.

JACK BURTON: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1985)

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Three years after The Thing Carpenter and Russell teamed up again for the deliriously fun Big Trouble In Little China, a movie that was criminally under-appreciated when it first came out, but like a lot of Carpenter’s other works, is now recognized and loved as a cult classic… and rightfully so! Russell, this time, plays truck driver and legend in his own mind, Jack Burton. Unlike Snake and Mac, Jack is a lovable jerk who fancies himself far more the hero than he actually is, due to his massive ego. He’s obnoxious and overbearing at times, but there is something about his unapologetic bravado that makes him incredibly endearing. And Russell’s deft comic performance is a large part of why. Jack is obviously played for laughs and Russell is very funny and his timing is perfect as this lovable lug dives into numerous situations way over his head just to get the money owed him in a bet, recapture his stolen truck and impress and then save a girl who he claims he doesn’t even like, Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall). Russell’s mullet wearing Jack faces, Chinese gang members, mystically powered martial artists and creatures right out of Chinese folklore all with the swagger of John Wayne and the over confidence of a high school jock trying to impress the hot cheerleader. And he is one of Carpenter’s most all-time quotable characters as he quips his way from one fantastic situation to the next, barely messing up his hair, but somehow managing to mess up our villain Lo Pan’s (James Hong) plans.

Big Trouble In Little China is a blast as Carpenter seems to pay tribute to some of the early Chinese fantasies like Tsui Hark’s Zu ,The Warriors of Magic Mountain. If America had caught on to the new wave Hong Kong cinema that started in the early 80s a few years sooner, the film probably would have been a big hit. Once again Carpenter was ahead of his time and Kurt Russell was along with him for the highly entertaining ride, delivering every line of dialog with scene-chewing relish. Personally, I think Jack Burton was another character that needed a film series or at least a sequel much like Plissken. It was great to see Kurt Russell able to have such a good time with this character after his last two characters played for the master Carpenter were a study in intensity, which Russell pulled off in his usual classic style. This is what happens when a great director and a great actor get together…movie magic!

As a huge fan of both Carpenter and Russell, my fanboy dream would be to see them work that magic together one more time before they retire. That would be awesome! But for now, we have some great movies to watch and some sidesplitting-ly wonderful commentary on the DVDs and Blu-Rays which illustrate just how well these two cinema legends get along and why their cinematic collaborations are such classics!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DOOMSDAY (2008)

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DOOMSDAY  (2008)

A fun tribute to 80s action classics like Escape from New York and The Road Warrior, that’s like a time capsule trip back to the that era of movies. Those who call it unoriginal and a rip-off, don’t understand that a rip-off wouldn’t be so blatantly obvious and downright giddy about wearing it’s influences so proudly out in the open. It’s supposed to be reminiscent of those two 80’s classics and with nods to other flicks like The Warriors and even Excalibur. Doomsday is a homage, and director Neil Marshall never intended it otherwise. I am a big fan of  Marshall and I get exactly what he was doing here. The similarities are all deliberate and taken as such, this film is a nostalgic blast.

Doomsday tells of a near future where a horrible and deadly virus has broken out in Scotland and the British government walls the country off and leaves the survivors to die. Britain is reviled and exiled by the rest of the world and now is becoming one giant slum. When the aptly named ‘reaper virus’ returns to London, the bureaucrats send loose cannon, Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) into Scotland with a team of scientists and soldiers to find rumored survivors and thus a possible cure. What they find are a number of living and dangerous threats including a vicious gang of punk rock cannibals and a society of people reverted back to medieval times, castle and all. Even if they find a cure they may not survive the inhabitants of Scotland’s wasteland to bring it back.

Marshall fills Doomsday with a lot of action and some of it very bloody and gruesome at that. The film rarely stops moving and delightfully spills plenty of gore between the fight scenes, zombie-like plague victims and hungry punk cannibals. The FX are all very well done, as are the stunts, and the cast, including Bob Hoskins and Malcolm McDowell, are all playing it straight, yet having a good time. Let’s not forget to mention that Rhona Mitra makes an ass-kicking and smoking hot, female Snake Plissken/Mad Max mash-up. And if you haven’t gotten the point, Tyler Bates delivers a nice score that pays homage to those before mentioned 80s classics, as well. If you are a fan of 80s action flicks, especially Escape from New York and The Road Warrior, then pull up a chair, open a beer and relive the spirit of those genre classics that is so perfectly recaptured here. A fun retro blast of a movie from Neil Marshall.

A fun bit of trivia: Actor Craig Conway who plays the gang leader “Sol” also played one of the creatures in Marshall’s The Descent and a camper in the opening sequence of Marshall’s Dog Soldiers.

MonsterZero NJ Rant: I know how things work. If a movie doesn’t do well…and Doomsday didn’t…there is little or no chance of a sequel. But I really loved the character of Major Eden Sinclair and thought Rhona Mitra really pulled off the female Plissken/Mad Max hybrid while yet making the character her own. I would love to see Eden Sinclair return in another film adventure, but especially now years later, there is little or no chance of that. Bummer! A great character that would really rock in another adventure set in Marshall’s grim future, but alas, it most likely will never happen! Too bad! End rant!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Eden’s

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

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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. 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. 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. 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. 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!

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THE WARRIORS (1979)

Classic 70s flick is a comic book style action film that has a street gang from Coney Island, The Warriors, framed for murdering Cyrus (Roger Hill), the charismatic leader of The Gramercy Riff, the biggest gang in the city. Cyrus has gathered representing members of all the major gangs under a truce to discuss unifying them all and taking over the entire city. Luther (David Patrick Kelly), the psychotic leader of the Rogues, shoots Cyrus and fingers the Warriors. With their leader killed for the crime, the rest of the Warriors, under war chief Swan (Michael Beck), now must fight to make their way back home with every gang in New York City out to get them, including The Rogues, who want them all dead to cover their crime. Split up and beat up, the Warriors are determined to see the sands of their Coney Island beach home.

Walter Hill creates a surreal, violent and stylish action thriller with some really colorful characters and a sumptuous neon visual style from his and David Shaber’s screenplay, based on Sol Yurick’s book. His atmosphere is also enhanced by a wonderfully hypnotic electronic score by Barry De Vorzon. The Fight scenes are top notch and the film rarely stops moving as our heroes battle their way through enemy lines encountering some very colorful adversaries such as the face painted, bat wielding, Baseball Furies. Despite the film being about The Warriors, it’s the painted faces of the Baseball Furies that would become the trademark of this last great B-movie of the 70s. This is also still, in my opinion, one of Walter Hill’s best movies. A classic film that has also been immortalized by David Patrick Kelly’s haunting taunt… (“Warriors… come out to play-ay!”)

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The Warriors caused an uproar upon release when some gang related violence occurred at screenings causing theaters to add security and ads for the film were temporarily removed from radio and TV. Future oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl has a small role as an undercover vice cop who arrests genre favorite James Remar as Warrior member Ajax. Star Michael Beck was quoted as saying that The Warriors opened a lot of doors for him…and then Xanadu closed them all. Personally I don’t think Megaforce helped much either. Thankfully movie fans give Beck the props and honor he is due whenever he appears at conventions and he will always be immortalized as Swan in this well revered classic.

 A classic 4 Furies
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