'Escape' gives us Liberty
By Dan Yakir
"There are no good guys in it, and yet it's totally entertaining," boasts Carpenter about his latest film, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, which has just completed shooting at the Statue of Liberty.
Alfred Hitchcock gave the statue cinematic immortality. In SABOTEUR, a villain falls to his death while trying to scale her heights.
Today, the 32-year-old Carpenter, whose HALLOWEEN owes much to the late master, returns to the "scene of the crime." In ESCAPE the U.S. is a police state, and Liberty Island is the headquarters of its police force. The statue - its symbolic meaning reversed - is a guard tower.
Such irony is perhaps appropriate in a movie that the 32-year-old director describes as a "sci-fi high adventure" story. Set in 1997 in Manhattan, now a penal colony, ESCAPE is about the ordeal of the President who is taken hostage by the prisoners after his plane crashes. Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a WW III hero and a notorious criminal, is sent to his rescue. If Plissken doesn't succeed within 24 hours, he will self-destruct (via explosive capsules attached to his neck).
All this may sound crazy, but in Carpenter's hands crazier stories have worked. If HALLOWEEN was pure horror, THE FOG is a ghost story and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, an urban Western. ESCAPE is, "unlike anything we've ever done before," says producer Debra Hill.
The shooting, which also took place in California, Georgia and Missouri, wrapped up last Wednesday with the filming of the opening scene of the movie: a helicopter whooshing by the Statue of Liberty with "cops" patrolling the area.
The scene will be later combined with a matte (painted glass) shot of Manhattan and the special photography of miniatures to create a perfect semblance of reality.
The movie stars Donald Pleasance, Isaac Hayes, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef and Carpenter's wife, Adrienne Barbeau. But the principal character belongs to Russell, whose collaboration with the director started on the TV-movie ELVIS. "I like my character," he says. "He's a mean, arrogant son-of-a-bitch. He's not very endearing, but I think you sympathize with his situation because of his strong individualism. He's the epitome of the anti-hero."
"Carpenter is a great guy and a very talented director," adds the actor, whose wife Season Hubley also stars in the movie. "He has no fear." The fact that the story is a script that lay on the shelf for six years is a measure of his success.
"Nobody wanted it then," Carpenter remembers. "It was too violent, too scary, too weird."
Avco-Embassy is footing the $7 million bill (HALLOWEEN cost $300,000; THE FOG $1 million), with the director retaining full control over the movie. With his next project, HALLOWEEN II in mind, he should be having some delightfully scary dreams.