30 Years ago this month, horror fans witnessed the birth of two extremely different genre features. One was a futuristic tale of terrorism, isolation and ruthless death battles on the quarantined isle of Manhattan. The other was a twisted tale of lupine terror centered uncharacteristically in (you may have guessed it!) New York. While one has gone on to gain a formidable fan base that still call for annual theatrical viewings in a few American locations (believe it or not, there’s a small theatre way over here in Northern California that showcases the film yearly), the other boasts little more than a great cast gone forgotten.
Regardless of their long-term cultural impact, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the inception of these two features.
Happy birthday, Escape from New York and Wolfen, you’ve both managed to survive (to some extent) in the corners of our morbid minds, clinging to the twisted strands of memory… and even encouraging some of us (who are probably a tad less busy than others) to take extreme measures to ensure your legacy lives on.
Escape from New York (released July 10th, 1981)
Domestic earnings: $25,244,700I must confess, I’ve yet to seize the opportunity to view this film on the big screen. That said, I do indeed own the feature, and I’ve watched from the comfort of my sofa on at least 15 occaons. The film isn’t a full blown horror pic, but it’s imposble to deny the darker genre elements at work in the film: kidnapping, torture, modified cage bouts that include a slew of weapons, and don’t see closure until one man ventures to meet the maker.
These are clear horror elements, and, combined with the gloomy atmosphere of Escape from New York it’s tough to debate the films clasfications. It’s an action picture without a doubt, but it’s equally horror.
Not only did this dark gem catch on with mainstream crowds, it marked the first time Kurt Russell worked on a genuinely grim (the two worked together on the made-for-televion film Elvis in 1979) feature with frequent collaborator, the living legend, John Carpenter. The pair went on to also shoot The Thing (1982), Big Trouble In Little China (1986) and Escape From L.A. (1996) together.
Happy birthday Snake Plissken.
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Wolfen (released July 24, 1981)
Domestic earnings: $11,000,000
Wolfen didn’t turn out to see the long-term success that Escape garnered, but it’s got its moments, and it’s certainly got its fans. It’s also got something not every genre piece was fortunate enough to claim: an extremely stellar cast and a kick ass make-up maestro on set.
Popular behind-the-scenes make-up man, Carl Fullerton (alongde Michael Thomas), who’s had a hand in such memorable genre pieces as The lence of the Lambs, Friday the 13th Part 2 & 3 and The Bone Collector handles the make-up. Due to the fact that most of the kills take place off-screen the effects are minimalized, but there’s some great work on hand in the post-death shots, and it’s one of the pictures greater qualities. Keep an eye out for some awesome prosthetics as well!
As far as the cast goes, well, to call it admirable is to sell it short.
The always awesome Albert Finney acts as the film’s featured alpha-male lead, Dewey Wilson. Dewey’s a collected bad ass who looks like he pulled five aces from the deck without you noticing, and smoothly stashed them in his sleeves. He also looks like he’s willing to punch you in the face long before revealing his tricks. Somehow, through the rugged nature required of this boozing protagonist, there’s an endearing quality to Finney’s performance.
Earlier appearances from Tom Noonan, Edward James Olmos and the late Gregory Hines are major points of triumph, as all three of these gentlemen offer high quality, believable performances that help make up for the film’s greatest deficiency, a miscalculated pace (which in part lies on the shoulders of the editing crew, who could have eliminated a solid 10 minutes of dull filler) that nearly lulls one into a coma during a sequence or so.
In the end, there are enough pros to warrant viting this long-forgotten genre piece that, just like Escape from New York, turns 30 years old this month.