New York, as they say, is a hell of a town.
I’ve lived in or near New York all my life, and for the past seven months I lived right in the heart of Manhattan, in a neighborhood affectionately known as Hell’s Kitchen. But is there devilry (and devilish cooking) truly afoot?
According to Hollywood and certain comics, you bet.
Unlike DC’s superheroes which exist in New York substitutes like Gotham City and Metropolis, the brain children of Marvel patriarch Stan Lee were living it up in the very real New York City. Spider-man swung from the Empire State Building. The Fantastic Four’s headquarters are found in midtown Manhattan. And Daredevil, the man without fear, has chosen my old neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen, as the area he’s going to defend.
When aliens attack the Earth, they’ll often start with New York, but fortunately the Avengers will always be there to make a stand. (The same was true of the X-men until those lousy mutants recently defected to San Francisco. Boo.)
And there’s more than just the Marvel clan. Hellboy, after all, resides in New York and fights off the demon spawn that may attack it. And then there’s the Watchmen, those angsty heroes desperately in need of therapy, who also patrol New York City, although really they’re just defending us from themselves.
But before you think it’s superheroes who have the market on the supernatural goings-on in the city that never sleeps, take a look at the staggering amount of fantasy or fantasy-esque movies that have taken place here.
The occult has a long history with the Big Apple. One of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, Rosemary’s Baby (based on the novel of the same name), has its demonic activity going down in the Dakota, the building in Central Park West where John Lennon was tragically killed.
And for the mother of all ghost stories, who can forget the immortal film Ghostbusters, that standard-bearer of 80’s comedy, along with its less favorable but still admirable sequel? Surely the sight of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man strolling through the streets of Manhattan will go down as one of the most infamous images of cinematic New York of all time.
And deep below the streets, in our very sewers, there dwell a clan of four heroes known as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, protectors of the weak and devourers of the pizza. What would they be without New York as their backdrop?
The much-maligned action-fantasy Last Action Hero took the cinematic ideal of Los Angeles and juxtaposed it with the “reality” of New York, much to the dismay of the fictional-turned-real action hero played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Monster and disaster movies thrive in a setting like New York; how many other cities have such a memorable skyline upon which to wreak your havoc? King Kong, Godzilla, and most recently Cloverfield have done their best to wipe clean the buildings of beloved Manhattan with their monstrous paws, and Independence Day and The Day the Earth Stood Still have brought that destruction from above. The Earth herself has turned against New York in The Day After Tomorrow and the upcoming 2012.
Will Smith memorably carted himself around a New York that had succumbed to the rule of zombie creatures in the apocalyptic I Am Legend. (And what a fascinating future New York it was, with its glimpses of skyrocketed fuel prices and an ad for a Batman/Superman film!)
And perhaps the most iconic image of a post-apocalyptic New York comes from The Planet of the Apes, in which Charlton Heston sees the buried Statue of Liberty, leading him to realize that mankind had destroyed themselves, ushering in the rule of sentient apes. (Oh, by the way, spoiler alert! You’ve all seen the movie, right?)
But I’m going to truly geek out here and admit that might my favorite fantasy film of recent years to feature New York is the slightly sappy yet utterly amusing Disney film Enchanted.
Now, hear me out!
Yes, it’s soft fantasy. Yes, it’s Disney. Yes, there are musical numbers and talking animals. But with Enchanted, Disney really gave its own movies a send-up for their occasionally laughable sappiness, and particularly the shallowness of some of their older stories — a princess and a prince fall in love in a single day?
Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older (I’m in my seriously late 20’s now), but the sight of Amy Adams blissfully singing her way through Central Park is a pure joy, considering how most people doing so in real life would have a hat on the ground for you to throw change into.
Yeah, I’d rather watch that than a monster topple skyscrapers. So what?!
New York is the place to be for some of the finest culture, cuisine, and entertainment in all of the United States. It’s also, as it happens, the place to be for your choicest assortments of ghost, demons, and magical spells. Keep that in mind next time you’re searching for vacation hotspots. After all, as the song goes, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. Even another plane of existence.