Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Release year: 1976
Director: John Carpenter
Screenwriter: John Carpenter
Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Kyes
Sunday Classic #283, week 47 2019
A Highway Patrol Officer (Stoker) joins forces with two criminals and a station secretary as the defunct precinct they are all at is attacked viciously by a ruthless gang.
This low-budget cult classic is only the second feature film directed by legendary Carpenter, only two years before he truly hit fame with Halloween (1978). The low budget shows in the beginning of the movie: a rather stiffly acted pre-story clearly only there to give a reason for the assault of the title. It can honestly leave you easy distracted and slightly sighing and watching your watch but when the assault starts, the movie really kicks into gear. Especially the trio of Stoker (Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973), Zimmer (American Raspberry, 1977) and Joston (The Fog, 1980) is incredible well-working and they create characters you really care for the outcome of. The beginning of the movie explains the background for the attack, but the people at Precinct 13 never get a reason and the frustration and confusion of the extreme and seemingly unprovoked random attack is fearsome and combined with the claustrophobic feeling of the restrained space for the victims in an almost abandoned area makes the violence stronger. The constant waves of gun shooting and violence rolling over the movie during the last part can sound boring on paper, but it grabs hold of you and keeps you almost out of breath through a crescendo of tension, violence, guns and blood. A breathtakingly well-crafted action movie showing the legend Carpenter would become.
Though Laurie Zimmer is one of the best parts of the movie with her tough secretary, the actress disappeared so thoroughly from the scene in 1979 that it caused Charlotte Szlovak, who directed her in Slow City, Moving Fast (1977), to make a documentary called Do You Remember Laurie Simmer. Here she searched for Zimmer to find out why she quit and what she was doing now.
Following the release of his first feature, Dark Star (1974), John Carpenter was approached by a group of investors who gave him carte blanche to make whatever kind of picture he wanted, albeit with a very limited budget. Although Carpenter wanted to make a Western, he knew he wouldn’t have the resources to make a period piece. He wrote this film as a highly stylized, modern-day western, essentially remaking Rio Bravo (1959), which was directed by Carpenter’s hero, Howard Hawks. Carpenter acknowledges this debt to Hawks and “Rio Bravo” by using the pseudonym of John T. Chance for his film editor’s credit, which was the name of John Wayne‘s character in “Rio Bravo”.
The movie was shot in only 20 days and several of the gang members were played by USC students. They apparently had lots of fun finding ways of dying while spilling blood over themselves. One was played by John Carpenter himself; he was one of the gang members trying to climb in the window.
Picture copyrights: Another World Entertainment