THREE GUYS AND… MOVIES
series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson
“SNAKE PLISSKEN: THE ONE AND ONLY”
written by Dominick Cappello
“Escape from New York” (1981)
“Call me… Snake.” My absolute – A#1 – favorite movie of all time. I have an eye patch and a backup eye patch for every Comic Con and Halloween because Snake Plissken is the coolest and most badass character in cinematic history. This being the second collaboration between John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, following the 1979 Elvis Presley biopic. The studio had Charles Bronson in mind for the lead, but John Carpenter decided it was better to go young.
1997… The United States of America has become a totalitarian society after the crime rate rose to overwhelming level. The borough of Manhattan has been converted into a maximum security prison for the entire country. No guards inside. Just the prisoners and the worlds they have created. Jamie Lee Curtis narrated the prologue. A terrorist hijacks Air Force One and crashes it into the city. The president (Donald Pleasence) was on his way to a peace summit. He survives the crash, protected by an escape pod, but is taken captive by the Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes).
Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef), the police commissioner, deems that sending troops into Manhattan is far too risky, so he opts for a covert rescue mission. S.D. “Snake” Plissken (Kurt Russell), a decorated war hero turned outlaw, is about to begin a life sentence, but he is offered a full pardon in exchange for saving the president. Snake agrees, but Hauk does not trust him, so he has explosive devices injected into Snake’s body. Snake has less than 24 hours to complete the mission or he will die. This deadline coincides with the end of the peace summit because once the summit is over, the president will have no value. Snake infiltrates the city with a glider, landing on top of the World Trade Center.
Once inside the city, Snake is welcomed by Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine). Cabbie brings him to meet Brain (Harry Dean Stanton) and Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) at the New York City Public Library. Brain is a loyal one man think-tank for the Duke of New York, but Snake recognizes him as Harold, a former accomplice who abandoned him during an infamous Kansas City heist. Snake demands Brain’s assistance. Brain agrees under duress, but only if he and Maggie can flee the city too. Almost every character is surprised to cross paths with Snake Plissken because the prevailing rumor was that he was dead. Snake is captured by the Duke and forced to compete for his life gladiator style against pro wrestler Ox Baker. Snake is victorious, slaying his opponent and earning the adulation of the crowd.
Brain and Maggie, playing all the angles, attempt to rescue the president on their own, but are unsuccessful. Snake catches up with them and they all cross the 69th Street Bridge in Cabbie’s taxi. The bridge is covered in landmines, which kill both Cabbie and Brain. Maggie, distraught over the death of Brain, stays behind and tries to shoot the Duke, but he runs her over with his chandelier adorned automobile. Snake and the president make it to the wall which surrounds the city and it is the president who guns down the Duke. With just seconds left, Hauk permits a lab technician to neutralize the explosive devices within Snake. No matter how many time I’ve seen this movie, and it’s been quite a few times, I still find the climax to be exciting, always nervous that Snake isn’t going to make it in time.
Hauk offers Snake a permanent job, but Snake is uninterested. Snake is also dissatisfied with the president’s callous indifference to the sacrifices made during his rescue. Since the president will obviously be unable to attend the peace summit, he makes his address live via satellite. He plays a prerecorded cassette tape, but is humiliated when big band music sounds instead. Snake had made the switch earlier and destroys the original tape as he walks off in defiance. I’ve referred to John Carpenter as a one man band before because of his skills as writer, director, and composer. The opening and closing theme to this movie is classic, haunting, and badass. This is the kind of movie that puts hair on your chest.
A deleted opening sequence resurfaced on DVD and Blu-ray decades later which shows Snake Plissken immediately following a bank robbery. This was a real treat for anyone like me who loves this film. Snake and an accomplice named Taylor (Joe Unger) flee through a subway system which apparently connects to all the major cities within the continental United States. It seems that they hotwired the train, but I’m not sure how they thought that it couldn’t be tracked. Taylor is gunned down by the police and Snake surrenders. Snake shows compassion for his fallen comrade. There is an aura of mystery about Snake Plissken. The strong and silent type. So, I think that the removal of this sequence benefitted the film because it added to his mystique. Here was an instance where less was more.
“Escape from L.A.” (1996)
“Your rules are really beginning to annoy me.” I was only eleven when this film was released. Needless to say, no one else in my particular age group had seen the original film nor were they even familiar with the character of Snake Plissken, but I was stoked when I saw the coming attraction. These were the dark ages before IMDB, when you actually had to wait for the coming attractions to know what films would be playing at a theater near you. This particular sequel is actually a veiled remake of the original film. John Carpenter’s clever satire of the old Hollywood cliché, recreating something which was previously successful, working with a set formula as appose to crafting something new and innovative… New and innovative… Words that must terrify all studio executives.
2013… A devastating earthquake has separated Los Angeles from the mainland, so L.A. is now an island like Manhattan. Once again, Jamie Lee Curtis narrated the prologue. Snake Plissken, who is now an internationally known outlaw and a folk hero in some respects, is about to be exiled to L.A., but the government has yet another bargain for him. Utopia (A.J. Langer), the daughter of the president (Cliff Robertson), has stolen a mysterious black box and jettisoned into L.A. to deliver this box to her cyber-lover and boss of the biggest gang in the L.A., Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface). Snake has no intention of accepting this mission, but is informed by Commander Malloy (Stacy Keach) that he was already infected with the Plutoxin 7 virus and has about ten hours to live unless he is administered with the antidote. Snake trades in his tattered leather jacket for stealth-wear on this adventure.
Snake enters L.A. in a nuclear powered mini-submarine, passing through the remnants of the Universal Studios theme park, where the animatronic shark from the Jaws ride is visible. Not the sort of blatant pop culture joke one would expect from John Carpenter. Snake meets an array of colorful characters. “Map to the Stars” Eddie (Steve Buscemi) is a smarmy Hollywood version of Ernest Borgnine’s character from the original film. My favorite scene is when Snake is captured by the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Bruce Campbell). What? Kurt Russell and Bruce Campbell in the same scene? Too cool. A cosmetic surgery house of horrors. Luckily, Snake escapes before the Surgeon General removes his remaining eye.
The running gag this time is that Snake Plissken is not as physically imposing as most would expect given his reputation. Snake is captured by Cuervo and brought to the L.A. Coliseum, not for gladiatorial battles, but to play basketball. Snake scores the required amount of points, but Cuervo still plans on executing him. An earthquake provides the distraction for Snake to flee into the sewers and he surfs to safety with Pipeline (Peter Fonda). I’m sure that most would consider this a “jump the shark” moment for Snake Plissken. “Map to the Stars” Eddie, who keeps switching allegiances between Snake and Cuervo, brings Snake to meet Hershe Las Palmas (Pam Grier), a transgender gang leader, who Snake once knew as Carjack Malone. Snake and Carjack / Hershe had been involved in a notoriously ill-fate heist in Cleveland. So, Pam Grier is the Harry Dean Stanton of this movie.
The final showdown takes place at Disneyland, Hershe and her gang are all killed, so is Cuervo, and Eddie gets left behind. Despite his unofficial orders to execute her, Snake brings Utopia back with him, so the president orders that his daughter be put to death in the electric chair. Wow. What a jerk. Also, the Plutoxin 7 virus was nothing more than a touch of the flu. The black box contained a remote control and a compact disk which controls satellites positioned around the globe. The president intends to use these satellites to disable all of America’s enemies with electromagnetic pulses. Snake decides to end the conflict by himself, not having a dog in the fight, and he punches 666 into the world remote. causing a planetary wide blackout. Now, mankind can get back to basics.
Allegedly, a third Snake Plissken film entitled “Escape from Earth” would have been produced if “Escape from L.A.” was more successful at the box office. Shucks. I would have enjoyed seeing more adventures with Snake Plissken, but John Carpenter stuck to his guns and decided to make the sequel a satire of typical sequels and an opportunity to poke fun at Los Angeles in general. There have been remake rumors for several years now. My vote for the new Snake Plissken would go to Jason Statham. John Carpenter initially pegged Jason Statham to play the part of Desolation Williams in 2001’s “Ghosts of Mars,” but the studio forced him to recast with Ice Cube while Jason Statham was reduced to a supporting role. So, even John Carpenter recognizes Jason Statham’s ability to portray an outlaw in a gritty sci-fi / action adventure environment. What more of an endorsement do you need?
– Dr. Rochester