Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) - 8/10
Updated: Aug 5
Are there any bad John Carpenter films? If there are I’ve avoided them somehow. The scores alone are worth your time, those ominous synths easing us in to the mayhem about to unfold. There’s no messing around here as we’re immediately introduced to a street gang slaughtered in the dead of an LA ghetto night. Guns are loaded and retribution is sought. A code of gang warfare to uphold. Bishop (Austin Stoker) is a new lieutenant assigned to Precinct 13. It’s closing up and relocating. Getting out of Anderson, a dodgy part of town, where gangs run wild. A part of town Bishop knows well having grown up there. His task on his first night out is to look after the building until the morning. Simple enough right? Stalker (Charles Cyphers) has a task too. Escorting prisoners to death row. The smart, dangerous and infamous murderer Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston), the confident savvy Wells (Tony Burton) and the sickly Caudell (Peter Frankland). Tensions already running high. Our revenge maddened gang are cruising the streets of Anderson with a sniper rifle, as Caudell’s seeming near death forces the prison escort to make a pit stop at, yep you guessed it, Precinct 13 and a little girl looking for her babysitters house with her dad gets distracted by an ice cream truck. It feels like pieces being carefully laid out, like elements of an incendiary device being readied for the trigger to be wired up. I’m not glamorising things, but the streets, the cars, the clothes. It’s all very cool and with the opening act all in daylight, manages to amp up the natural menace. For all this careful choreography it’s doesn’t soften the blow of some brutally shocking scenes. As dusk fall things get, well… darker. Especially as things converge at the precinct and the power is cut. It’s not fancy or slick, but it’s astonishingly good. Considering that essentially it boils down to one massive shootout. The characters are strong though, especially Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), the station secretary who is not to be messed with. She’s the epitome of calm when everything is going to hell. As the numbers thin out, we’re left with a core group of mismatched heroes, partly clinging on, partly showing their mettle. It’s proof that both America has always been a screwed up country obsessed with guns and Carpenter is indeed brilliant. It’s not perfect, the dialogue is a bit clunky in places, but truthfully it’s not far off. Right, I’m off to see if I can find the score.