Classic Reformation

The recent release of David Gordon Green’s Halloween saw the re-emergence of the great John Carpenter, who started the franchise with the 1978 original. Hired as Green’s executive producer, the 70 year-old Carpenter also was involved with the score. So it seems timely – eight years after his last film, The Ward – that StudioCanal are bringing four of his most famous films back, each with a 4K restoration and Blu-Ray release.

Of the quartet, 1981’s Escape From New York is arguably the best known, and can also be seen in cinemas this Thursday for one night only. Set in 1997, when New York is now a maximum security jail, Kurt Russell plays the eye-patch wearing inmate Snake Plissken, entrusted to rescue Donald Pleasence’s president when Air Force One is taken over by terrorists and the leader crash-lands inside this makeshift Manhattan prison.

With some remarkable characters actors in support – Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine and even singer Isaac Hayes, as the ‘prison’ don, known as The Duke – it’s a gloriously lurid mix of sci-fi, politics and action, accompanied as ever by Carpenter’s own catchy score, as well as special effects by a young James Cameron. Never mind Carpenter’s own disappointing 1996 sequel Escape From L.A., this is a wildly original tale.

Also re-released is The Fog – the film Carpenter made a year before Escape From New York. Reuniting him with Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis and also casting her mother, Psycho star Janet Leigh, it’s a supernatural nerve-shredder, set in a small coastal town as an insidious fog starts rolling in exactly a century after a nearby maritime disaster. It also features Adrienne Barbeau, who had just become Carpenter’s wife.

Less known, but regarded by many as one of Carpenter’s best, 1988’s They Live has also received the restoration/re-release treatment. Based on a Ray Nelson short story, and starring Roddy Piper, it’s a brilliant high-concept tale of a construction worker living on the margins who uncovers a bizarre conspiracy – that aliens have begun to inhabit our world. Cleverly switching between black-and-white and colour, it’s a rich satire of consumerism.

Finally, Prince of Darkness (1987) again sees Donald Pleasence cast, further proof that Carpenter was just as vital in his career as playing Blofeld in 007 movie You Only Live Twice. A story about the discovery of a mysterious cylinder – supposedly containing the embodiment of Satan – that will wreak apocalyptic destruction if opened, it’s typical of the singular and vivid imagination that Carpenter brought to cinema.

Escape From New York is in cinemas – for one night only – on 22 November. For more details, click here.

James Mottram

1. Still from Prince of Darkness.