Set in the not-to-distant future, 1997 to be precise (remember this was filmed back in 1981), the United States now resembles an oppressive police state, and New York City's Manhattan Island has become the countries single maximum security prison.
Walled off around the shore line, with all bridges barricaded and mined, there are no guards inside. Only the prisoners and the world they've made. Rules are simple, once you go in you don't come out.
But when the presidents plane crashes inside the prison walls, the chief in command Commissioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) is forced to recruit former army veteran, turned bank robber, Snake Plisken (Kurt Russel in his first major screen role) to go in and get him out.
Having infiltrated the prison, he is aided by an old cab driver nicknamed "cabbie" (Ernest Borgnine) and a couple of acquaintances (played by Harry Dean Stanton and Adrienne Barbeau) who agree to help him rescue the president (Donald Pleasance) from the clutches of chief thug "The Duke" (played by soul singer Isaac Hayes) and his gang, who want to exchange him for their freedom.
This proves to be no easy task though as the decaying city is filled with tons of rampaging hoodlums lining the streets, who they have to fight their way past before they can infiltrate The Duke's hideout. To make matters worse, they only have a limited time to get him out before a vital world conference, which he was on his way to before the plane crash, packs up.
Not a horror film in the true sense of the word, but more of a dark sci-fi orientated action thriller. This has got to rank amongst my top 3 favourite John Carpenter films (the other 2 being "Halloween" and "Assault on Precinct 13"). There's some great action scenes showing Snake, Cabbie and company trying to fight their way through the hordes of gangs in the decaying city and a great chase scene near the end as they attempt to escape across one of the booby trapped bridges.
Overall, a terrific action pic that paints a very grim picture of what the future might be.