Back in the 1980s I was a huge John Carpenter fan. These days I could care less about him. I don’t think he’s done anything worth getting excited about since … well, I can’t remember when. In those Reagan-era years, however, the mere mention of a new Carpenter movie was enough to get me drooling with anticipation, and one that really excited me was “Escape From New York.”
I had seen pictures of the film in various magazines well before I saw the film. I knew its hero wore an eye patch and that New York City had been turned into a giant prison colony, which wasn’t all that much different than how I viewed New York at the time anyway. I read that there were sewer dwellers and various madmen roaming the streets, and our hero, whose name was Snake, had to go in there and rescue the president. What wasn’t to like?
I watched the film as soon as I could get my sweaty little hands on it, and it didn’t disappoint me. I thought it was gritty, action packed and pretty tense. To this day I still find it to be a good film. It’s not as great as I remember it, but I can watch it and not feel like an idiot (like the time I traded a bunch of rare music for a bootlegged run of the show “Get a Life”).
Then Carpenter had to go and make a sequel.
I didn’t watch “Escape From L.A.,” as there was nothing about it that looked appealing. Snake was back, but I was sure I saw him surfing. How lame is that? Plus, by that time Carpenter was no longer the god I had made him out to be. My tastes changed; his movies got worse. “Escape From L.A.” was the final nail in the Carpenter coffin as far as I was concerned. It was an act of blasphemy, and it reeked of desperation.
I still respect Carpenter’s early accomplishments. “Halloween,” “Christine,” “Big Trouble in Little China” — they’re all fine, fun films. Start getting into “The Ghosts of Mars” and the story changes. What was once a Must See becomes a Why Bother. And I seriously doubt he can turn out anything like “Escape From New York” ever again. If he did, it would be “Escape From L.A.,” or so I think.
People have accused me a living in the past when it comes to films. I’ll admit that there are some great movies coming out these days, but the stuff from the late Sixties to early Eighties is some of the best, boldest and most innovative cinema America has ever offered. “Escape From New York,” while not even close to being the cream of the crop, was part of that movement. It has its roots in Spaghetti Westerns, and Carpenter was good enough to make it something fairly original. Those are things you can’t say about film too much anymore, so yeah, I live in the past. Carpenter, however, instead of living in the past, just stagnated. Do I think he should’ve stuck to films like “Escape From New York”? In spirit, yes, but he also should’ve grown as a filmmaker.
Maybe someday Carpenter will treat us to something good again. Maybe not (which is what I’m betting on). Either way, IÔve got memories, and there’s no way any of his vampires are going to suck them away … though an “Escape From Des Moines” would come awfully close.