I had the good fortune of meeting wrestler Ox Baker the other day while helping out as a camera person on a documentary in development about old school wrestling champions.
In case you’re wondering why I’m mentioning such a thing in a horror blog, let me remind you that the Ox was in John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) playing the huge, bald animal-man that Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) has to fight in the ring after being captured by Isaac Hayes and his eccentric crew. So while the film itself is margilnally considered sci-fi, it was written and directed by an acknowledged master of the horror genre.
Anyway, I asked him how he came to be involved in the project in the first place. It turns out that another wrestler had been picked to play the role, but he got killed in a knifing incident just a few days before his scene was to be shot.
Carpenter got on the phone and personally called Ox and told him that
if he was interested in the role, he was needed in St. Louis in two
(Yes, a great deal of Escape From New York’s
urban exteriors were actually shot in St. Louis instead of New York –
welcome to Hollywood, kids!)
Ox was friends with the wrestler who had been killed, but he took the
role nonetheless – although Ox waited more than 10 years to finally sit
down and watch the film out of respect for the man he replaced.
In the worlds of moviemaking and wrestling, “the show must go on”, is
what the Ox offered as his sage wisdom on the subject. And he ought to
As it was a relatively low-budget project, the entire large-scale scene
was shot in a single, grueling 19 hour day (with two meal breaks).
violent confrontation between him and Kurt Russell
was meticulously choreographed and shot in only 6 hours. And it was Ox
himself who came up with the memorable ending to their battle. Instead
of falling flat on his face after being whacked in the back of the head
with a spike-encrusted baseball bat (as originally written), Ox
suggested that he instead fall into the barbed-wire threading that
surrounded the ring instead, which gives the climax of their fight a
rather macabre visual punchline.
Oh — and I guess I should mention that a remake was just announced the
other day. Note that I haven’t provided a link for that sorry news….