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Got a Smoke? Assault on Precinct 13

Aug 25, 2000 (Updated Jun 23, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Carpenter, Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Score

Cons:Puts a lot of expensive action movies to shame!

The Bottom Line: John Carpenter shows mainstream Hollywood how to make an action film. An enduring classic, must see!


Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

In my situation, days are like women - each one's so damn precious, but they all end up leaving you. Napoleon Wilson

John Carpenter wrote, produced, directed, and scored this film. When you consider he did it for under $100,000, it is a masterpiece of action film making and shows you just how out of touch Hollywood sometimes is when they spend a hundred million, give or take, and come up with a turkey.

The first thing that strikes you about Assault is the eerily simplistic music – a driving synthesizer beat. Then, as the credits roll, you see the name John Carpenter, listed in several capacities, including songwriter and performer. I was impressed with this somewhat cheesy song and later with the movie itself.

I saw this film when it was in the theaters so I was unfamiliar with his name then. I assure you that I eagerly sought out films by John Carpenter after I saw this one. John Carpenter also later brought "The Thing" and "Escape from New York" to the screen.

Many reviewers have noted that Assault is a homage to Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, but it is also a tribute to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

The parallels are obvious to anyone familiar with all three films. Rio Bravo shows the independent sheriff "John T. Chance" (Duke Wayne), with sidekicks Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, and Ricky Nelson standing off a herd of mean hombres at the ol’ jailhouse. Assault has a similar theme, but interestingly uses a black police lieutenant (in Duke’s role) and a handful of sidekicks holding off a mob of zombie-like gang-bangers throughout a hellish night of terror, hence the comparison to Night of the Living Dead. Interestingly, when you look at the credits of Assault the film editor was John T. Chance, (Duke Wayne, in Rio Bravo), another pseudonym for multitalented Carpenter.

The action centers around a deserted police station being closed down by LAPD and moved to a new location. Newby police Lt. Bishop (Austin Stoker) commands the station house in its last night of official existence. By a quirk of fate several groups converge on the deserted precinct just before sundown... a man, whose daughter was murdered and who murdered her killer in return; the gang-bangers who are in hot pursuit of the man; a busload of prisoners and their guards; and Lt. Bishop’s secretary, Leigh (Laurie Zimmer).

The gang-bangers are well represented racially, with a black leader, a white leader, a oriental leader, and a Chicano leader. These four swear a blood oath to kill the man who killed the guy after he killed his daughter. Thereupon follows wave after wave of attacks throughout the night. The defenders are soon down to three: Lt. Bishop, Leigh, and one of the prisoners, Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston).

Wilson gives a superior performance as a man at bay, against nearly impossible odds. When there is a lull in the action, the first thought in his mind is where to get a cigarette. I found his continual fumblings amusing. Leigh shows an unexpected gritty attitude that doesn’t square with her feminine good looks. Both of the characters provide good support for Stokers’ lead. The photography is also very good for a low bucks film with some surprisingly good dramatically lit scenes.

Assault on Precinct 13 is well worth seeing. It has suspense, action, and a pounding musical score that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is a valued part of my personal video collection.

The DVD is presented in 2.35:1 theatrical format and looks well preserved. There is also a question and answer session with director John Carpenter that looks like it took place at a community college, with attendant crappy camera and moderation, but it is John Carpenter, discussing one of his seminal films so it's worth watching.

Also see the worthy remake (2005) Assault on Precinct 13




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