Every so often I forgot how excellent a director John Carpenter is. I blame some of his more recent movies like The Ward, which is just mediocre at best. Then I revisit a classic like Assault on Precinct 13.
Assault on Precinct 13 was made in 1976 on a budget of $100, 000 and it’s an intense thrilling film. The plot starts off with the police ambushing a gang who had just stolen a large cache of weapons and killing several of their members. The leaders of the gang swear a blood oath of revenge.
The setting is a ghetto in L.A. The police precinct there, Precinct 9, Division 13 is being closed down and everything is being moved to a new precinct further over. It’s the last day for the precinct and officer Austin Stoker is assigned to oversee the final day of the precinct and the change over. The place has a skeleton crew, just Stoker, one other cop and two secretaries. Meanwhile members of the gang are patrolling the neighbourhood looking for people to randomly kill which leads to one of the more brutal moments in the film. Without giving anything way the one survivor of the assault ends up pissing off the gang and runs to the precinct where he remains comatose unable to tell Stoker what’s wrong.
Meanwhile a bus carrying prisoners makes an emergency stop at the precinct because one of the prisoners needs medical attention. Then the gang attacks the police station using silenced weapons. Things go from bad to worse for the people left inside the police station. soon Stoker and convicted killer Darwin Joston are forced to fight side by side in order to survive.
John Carpenter makes the most of his low budget. It was his second film after Dark Star and his first real movie. Dark Star was actually a student film made with Dan O’Bannon which was picked up by a producer and extended for theatrical release. While Assault on Precinct 13 wasn’t a hit critically or financially in the U.S., it gathered a huge following in England and Europe which lead to the film to be reevaluated in America. It was even remade in 2005 with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne although that version just isn’t as good as the original.
Shout Factory released the film on Blu-ray last November and it looks fantastic for a low budget 38 year old movie. Carpenter’s next film would be the classic film Halloween and his career would take off from there. Still this is an excellent film and excellent early Carpenter.