Why I Fuck With ESCAPE FROM L.A.
John Carpenter is the best director of all time. Bold statement, I know, but I mean every word of it. It’s easy to herald the classics -- Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, et al. -- and make a case that his best work is some of the greatest genre output ever created. He was untouchable for over a decade and enjoyed a run of form that would make most director’s blush. However, what makes Carpenter the best in my book isn’t just the classics. For me, the director’s worst movies are just as important. You see, even at his “worst”, Carpenter still possesses the ability to entertain better than some of the greats at their best. In short: I fuck with Escape from L.A. -- and others.
Needless to say, I'm in the pro camp when it comes to this bizarre action adventure. Here are a few reasons why I love it:
A terrific ensemble of cult actors.
Just look at the cast here - Kurt Russell, Bruce Campbell, Pam Grier, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda. That’s Snake Plissken, Ash Williams, Coffy, Vincent Kane, Mr. Pink, and Wyatt from Easy Rider sharing a bill. And that’s not to mention the rest of roles in their respective ouvre’s. In terms of talent that makes most genre nuts mark out whenever they appear on screen, Escape from L.A. is populated with bona fide genre icons taking part in the type of outlandish movie they built careers on.
It’s soooooo 90’s.
If you’re a 90’s kid like me, then you have a soft spot for the decade that gave us nu-metal, flashy alternative aesthetics, music video-esque action movies, and a sense of fun and attitude that disappeared when the new millennium happened and ruined everything. The 90’s felt like a party -- at least in my childhood mind it did -- and it was all leading up to the end of the world. The soundtrack here alone is pure apocalyptic 90’s, with the likes of Sugar Ray (before they defined 90’s pool parties), White Zombie, and other alternative artists from back when popular music was grungy and exciting. On top of that, it’s typical of the type of cartoonish sci-fi fare from back then that made future societies seem like fun places to be. Maybe Strange Days and Starship Troopers had more to say about the state of the world, but Escape from L.A. had basketball and surfing.
The sheer ridiculousness of Escape from L.A. and how Russell navigates his way through it all completely straight-faced is nothing short of magical. It’s a fun movie, but Russell refuses to wink at the audience and acknowledge the joke. Even when he’s surfing a tidal wave to pounce on Steve Buscemi’s vehicle, he sells it with the conviction of a man who’s deadly serious. He’s the Snake Plissken that the 90’s needed and it’s a shame that we didn’t get more of him in this iconic role afterwards. All because people didn’t know how good they had it when this movie was originally released.
L.A.? More like HELL-A!
While I perfectly understand why this movie isn’t for everyone, there’s no denying that Carpenter had a vision for the hellscape Snake must navigate his way through to complete the task at hand. It’s pure adventure, an odyssey of oddities with strange and memorable surprises at every turn. Whether that’s Bruce Campbell appearing as a demented surgeon or Pam Grier as a hand-gliding transexual, this is the type of world where chaos reigns supreme and it’s all the better for it.
It’s pure Carpenter
Sure, Escape from L.A. isn’t one of Carpenter’s most respected outings, but it does contain the identity marks that define many of his other movies. It’s a genre hybrid; a high-concept actioner set in a world that’s grotesque. The heroes are blue collar bad asses and the urban environment is like the Old West. Carpenter’s love for genre cinema is vibrant in every frame -- from mission westerns to sci-fi schlock and more. Maybe it isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a John freaking Carpenter movie and when he’s gone, we’ll never see anything like him ever again.