This is Help! We are Surrounded week. Assault on Precinct 13 is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) – Rated R.
“This taut action flick from writer-director John Carpenter pits an understaffed police station against a bloodthirsty gangs angry horde gathering outside the precinct walls. Before Carpenter hit pay dirt with slasher and sci-fi fare (Halloween, Escape from New York), he directed several low-budget, suspenseful thrillers. Assault on Precinct 13, co-starring Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston, is among his best.”
“Look at that, two cops wishing me luck. I am doomed.”
Okay first a pet peeve. I understand that it is a rough job describing the eight billion movies on Netflix but many of them contain wildly inaccurate information. For example here they say that John Carpenter directed several suspenseful thrillers before Halloween. Umm actually just this one – the only other feature film he directed pre-Halloween was Dark Star, a science fiction comedy.
John Carpenter begins this film with his signature synth music. It works quite well here as in most of his films.
I am not going to comment much on the acting here. Carpenter, one of my favorite directors, has never been an actors director and here his cast are complete unknowns. They are serviceable enough for the story.
John Carpenter wrote the story and script. I really liked that even though the gang members are clearly the villains here, they have a real motive for their actions. In the beginning of the film, the police gun down a fair number of the gang (in a shocking act of brutality). This is just the first in an escalating series of events.
John Carpenter takes Rio Bravo and gives it an urban update. He also appears to take some inspiration from Night of the Living Dead (mindless hordes attacking the building) and throws in a bit of Once Upon a Time in the West.It is clear that he really wanted to make a western but the western was essentially a dead genre by the 70s.
Part of the reason I like John Carpenter is that almost all of his films are different from both Hollywood norms and his own films. His remake of The Thing is nothing like the original. The only two films of his that I did not find original were Village of the Damned and Escape from L.A. and those are probably his two worst films.
Assault on Precinct 13 itself would go on to inspire The Warriors from Walter Hill and Assault would be remade (but obviously uninspired) in 2005 with Laurence Fishburne and Ethan Hawke. The only thing the remake has on the original is the presence of several good name actors and strangely this did not make for a better picture.
Nancy Loomis who plays Julie here would go on to work with Carpenter on Halloween (as Annie Brackett) and The Fog (as Sandy Fadel). Charles Cyphers who plays Starker here would go on to become a Carpenter stalwart appearing in Halloween I and II, The Fog, Elvis!, and Escape from New York for him.
There is a hilarious moment thirty minutes in where Carpenter breaks one of the cardinal Hollywood taboos. This scene caused the film to be threatened with an X rating so the film was submitted without the scene, got an R rating, and then released with the scene.
The siege is well-filmed and tense and takes up more than half the running time. John Carpenter keeps the action zipping along straight through to the ending.
I highly recommend this exciting low-budget action film.
People Watch: Look for John Carpenter as one of the gang members climbing through a window.