A Grim Vision Of 1997 New York (Regina Leader-Post/Oct 09/1980/US) By Bob Thomas



New York City, 1997. Manhattan is a walled maximum-security prison for the criminal forces that lost the civil war with the U.S. Police Force. Air Force One is rigged to crash-land on the island, and the President becomes a hostage.

Such is the grim vision of John Carpenter in Escape From New York, the new movie he's making for Avco Embassy Pictures. Quite a departure for Carpenter, heretofore the creator of low-budget thrillers like Halloween and The Fog.

One of the few games in town during the actors' strike (a waiver had been granted by the Screen Actors Guild), the film was shooting all-over Hollywood, including the Wiltern Theater, a lovely old movie palace now deserted and in danger of the wrecker's ball.

Carpenter finished consulting with the crew in a shattered theater basement room and responded to the questions of the film's cost: "It's more than the entire cost of my other six pictures -
$7 million." 

Carpenter, a Bowling Green, KY.. native and graduate of USC cinema school, rattled off his credits and their cost: Dark Star, his first feature in 1974,
$60.000; Assault on Precinct 13 $300.000; a TV movie Someone's Watching Me, $1 million; Halloween, a huge, scary hit, $300.000; the three-hour TV movie Elvis, $2.5 million; The Fog, 1$ million.

Halloween and The Fog made millions for Avco Embassy, which gave Carpenter the go-ahead for Escape From New York.

"Actually I wrote it before Dark Star," he said. "I offered it to every company and was turned down by them all. They were fairly polite about it, but the reasons were pretty much the same: It was too violent, too wierd, too strange. It's all of those things, but I don't think it's too much. A bit cynical perhaps.

The producer of Escape From New York is Debra Hill, who also produced Carpenter's low-budget hits and who hammered out the tough deal with the Screen Actors Guild to allow filming during the strike.

Hill said that Carpenter's success hasn't caused him to run wild on costs, as have other young directors.

"This picture is still below the average feature cost today," she said. "It's a very complicated project, involving special effects and visual tricks. We have shot in St. Louis, which doubles as New York, and in Atlanta, where the new subway was ideal for the Police State headquarters.

"Next we go to New York to shoot at the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center. John is making the film more reasonably than other directors would because of the way he works."

"I decide what the picture is going to be like before I do it, making storyboards for some of it," he explained. "That allows me to work fast and economically when I get to the shooting. I'm always able to improvise; if the helicopters don't show up, I'll shoot something else. I don't wait around and play catch-up, which is what a lot of directors do."

Carpenter and Hill employ the same efficient crew again and again, and Escape From New York is literally a family affair. Star Kurt Russell's wife, Season Hubley, is in the cast, and brother-in-law Larry Franco is coproducer. The cast also includes Carpenter's wife Adrienne Barbeau, as well as Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes and Harry Dean Stanton.

Russell, who credits Elvis for releasing him from his image as a Disney hero and getting him into adult roles in features, has great faith in Carpenter. "He has a solid basic knowledge of film, a remarkable visual eye, and a keen ability to edit in his head, which is what the great directors did. This picture takes him out of the horror genre and into something that nobody has done before."