|Directed by||John Carpenter|
Assault on Precinct 13 is a 1976 American independent action thriller film written, directed, scored and edited by John Carpenter.It stars Austin Stoker as a police officer who defends a defunct precinct against an attack by a relentless criminal gang, along with Darwin Joston as a convicted murderer who helps him. Laurie Zimmer and Tony Burton co-star as other defenders of the precinct.
Writer/director Carpenter was approached by J. Stein Kaplan to make a low-budget exploitation film for under $100,000 but with total creative control. Carpenter wrote The Anderson Alamo, inspired by the Howard Hawks Western film Rio Bravo and the George A. Romero horror film Night of the Living Dead. Despite controversy with the MPAA over the explicitly violent and infamous “ice cream” gunshot scene, the film received an R rating and opened in the United States on November 3, 1976.
Assault was initially met with mixed reviews and unimpressive box-office returns in the United States. However, when the film premiered in the 1977 London Film Festival, it received an ecstatic review by festival director Ken Wlaschin that led to critical acclaim first in Britain and then throughout Europe.
It gained a considerable cult following, reappraisal from critics, and was later re-evaluated in America as one of the best action films of its era and of Carpenter’s career. A remake appeared in 2005, directed by Jean-François Richet and starring Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne.
Carpenter edited the film using the pseudonym John T. Chance, the name of John Wayne‘s character in Rio Bravo. Debra Hill acted as an uncredited assistant editor: 49 According to Carpenter, the editing process was very bare bones. One mistake Carpenter was not proud of was one shot “cut out of frame,” which means the cut is made within the frame so a viewer can see it. Assault was shot on Panavision, which takes up the entire negative, and edited on Moviola, which cannot show the whole image, so if a cut was made improperly (i.e., frame line not lined up properly) then one would cut a half of a sprocket into the film and “cut out of frame,” as happened to Carpenter. In the end, it did not matter because he said “It was so dark no one could see it, thank God!”
Tommy Lee Wallace, the film’s art director, spoke admirably about Carpenter during post. “[Carpenter] asked if I could cut sound effects. The answer, of course was ‘Sure!’ Once again, here I was, a perfectly green recruit, yet John made a leap of faith … he further insisted we get the best processing money could, which at that time was the legendary MGM color labs. Finally, he insisted we get the best postproduction sound money could buy, which was Samuel Goldwin Sound, another legend. The expense for this unorthodox approach ate up a huge amount of the budget. The production manager fumed that we were exploiting people to pay for processing— and it was true.
Assault started in November 1975 and was shot in only 20 days, including Thanksgiving, on a budget of $100,000.:43 The film was shot on 35mm Panavision in a 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio with Metrocolor film, Carpenter’s first experience with Panavision cameras and lenses.Carpenter has referred to this film as the most fun he has ever had directing.
Two weeks of shooting indoors were followed by two weeks on-location.:70 The interiors of the police station were shot on the now-defunct Producers Studios set while the exterior shots and jail cells were from the old Venice police station.:87 The bus traveling to Sonora was shot on a closed section of the Los Angeles freeway system, with cast and crew having lunch on the freeway. 77–86 Carpenter has said that the trick with shooting a low-budget film is to shoot as little footage as possible and extend the scenes for as long as one can.
The first scene, in which several gang members of Street Thunder are gunned down by cops, was shot at USC. The gang members were USC students who, Carpenter added, had a lot of fun finding ways of dying while spilling blood over themselves.
“The first night I saw dailies,” replied art director Wallace, “projected on a bedsheet in the producer’s ratty apartment… My jaw dropped and I sat up so straight I cast a shadow with my head. This looked like a zillion dollars. This looked like a real movie.”
Violent and witty
This is rightly considered a classic cult movie from the 1970’s by the once reliable John Carpenter (who also composed the edgy early synth score). Basically it’s a faint mish-mash of other movies, the dialogue is reminiscent of great westerns as a black policeman and a white convict battle against gang members in a Night of The Living Dead re-working. It’s also tempting to draw Vietnam allegories (as with many American movies of the mid 1970’s and after); the faceless, nameless gang members die in the droves but keep attacking the besieged police station and the lawmen and the lawbreakers, black and white, must unite to defeat them and escape with their lives.
The real joy of this movie, however, is the playing of the two virtually unknown leads, Austin Stoker and the late Darwin Joston. They have a great, almost wry chemistry and use Carpenter’s stripped-down witty dialogue to great effect. Because there are no ‘stars’, there are no real expectations, and the shocks when they come (including the famous ice cream sequence) are more shocking for it.
The representation of women leaves a little to be desired (the two female characters obviously shop at the same sweater store!) but the character Lee shows some inner strength and resolve, and even has time for some kind of upper hand in terms of sexual tension between herself and Joston’s Napoleon Wilson.
If you haven’t seen this movie I urge you to watch it; in terms of B movies and cult thrillers it’s the yardstick in my opinion; simple, stylish, violent, witty and not remotely sentimental.
Author: MovieAddict2016 from UK
6 June 2004
John Carpenter is one of few directors who can successfully transform their movies into giant roller coaster rides without insulting the audience. James Cameron does this, sometimes, but usually adds more plot to his stories. Carpenter just takes simple premises, throws some characters together, and lets everything evolve and unwind on their own. “Assault on Precinct 13” deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as “Dawn of the Dead,” or perhaps the overrated “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” as a very low-budget horror/thriller that takes a cast of unknowns, places them together, doesn’t really delve into their backgrounds, but lets everything just work itself out like clockwork.
There’s an eager new cop, an infamous death row murderer, and a relocating precinct, all stuffed together into a movie about a vicious gang assault. It’s brilliant in a very subtle way; a sign of things to come for a director who has implemented some of the most oft-used camera tricks in the horror world.
He pioneered the first-person killer perspective in “Halloween” – an effect sorely missed on full screen TV and VHS versions, to once again be savored on the wide screen DVD presentation. Carpenter received quite a number of critical jabs in 1978 for his use of the POV technique, explained to be too voyeuristic and potentially dangerous to be shown in a mainstream motion picture. Hitchcock used the POV technique very subtly in “Psycho’s” famous shower sequence, but in “Halloween” it was far blunter, resulting in an uproar of moral complaints.
No matter. “Halloween” became movie horror legend, casting a spell over its viewers, inspiring major knock-offs such as the “Friday the 13th” series (which has overall made more money than the “Halloween” franchise due to more sequels than “Police Academy”).
“Assault on Precinct 13” was one of Carpenter’s very first efforts at directing. It shows. The movie is flawed, imperfect, both technically and otherwise (some of the dialogue in particular could have used fixing, and the acting is nothing incredible by any means). But it still has an addictive sense of urgency and frantic pacing that makes the movie feel like one long, non-stop, brutal assault – even though the setup for the film takes over forty minutes. It may not be a flawless film but it is one of my favorites.
It’s about a new cop named Bishop (Austin Stoker) who is put in charge of a transferring L.A. police precinct – number thirteen. As equipment is carried out of the building and last-minute closings are made, far away a bus load of convicts, including notorious murderer Wilson (Darwin Joston), decide to stop at precinct 13 due to the fact that one of the criminals seems to be coming down with a harsh cough.
And downtown, a young girl is shot by a ruthless gang member. Her father shoots the killer, and then flees to precinct thirteen, hunted by the gang members, who eventually begin to siege the precinct in a suicide raid. Trapped with two killers, a few cops and a jail warden, Bishop and company try to think of a way out of the place without getting shot by the vicious gang outside.
That’s basically it – people stuck inside a police station trying to get out without dying in the process. The movie is only ninety minutes long, give or take, which is a good thing, because if it had been any longer it might have lost some of its pacing and become tiring. Instead, there isn’t a single scene in “Assault on Precinct 13” that I think should have been cut. I’m sure there are some that could have been tossed onto the editing room floor, but I’m glad that the movie is the way it is – it flows smoothly and we don’t ever feel like a scene has gone on too long or too short. In that sense, it’s just about perfect.
Carpenter has had one of the most successful careers of all time, followed by a legion of cult fans. His “Halloween” is one of the greatest horror films of all time, and one of the most influential. He occasionally makes his duds, like any director, but in this case, the good far outweighs the bad. “Assault on Precinct 13” is an utterly refreshing film experience that manages to maintain a fast speed but never appears to be cheating its target audience, or treating them stupid. The movie is being remade in 2005, with a considerably higher budget, bigger names, and probably worse directing.
I don’t really look forward to this remake because I can almost guarantee that, given the age it is being made in, there will be many pointless plot explanations, worse dialogue and bad direction. “Assault on Precinct 13” does not really need to be made again because the first one works so well. History has taught us that most remakes are not at all on the same level as their influences – just look at Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” then Van Sant’s. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. “Assault on Precinct 13” is not broken and it does not need to be fixed.