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John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 is a 1976 cult classic action thriller that yields truly spectacular results from its low budget roots, even if at times those limitations hold it back.
Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is put in charge of a soon-to-be-defunct police precinct for the night. He and handful of others, including secretaries Leigh (Laurie Zimmer) and Julie (Nancy Loomis), as well as prisoners Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) and Wells (Tony Burton) find themselves under attack by a relentless gang of criminals armed to the teeth. Outnumbered and outgunned, those trapped inside the precinct are forced to get creative if they want to stay alive.
Assault On Precinct 13 is a movie that you can certainly tell is very low budget, but will probably be surprised to find out just how low – the budget was capped at $100,000 dollars, the flip-side being Carpenter having total creative control. It’s remarkable how much they were able to achieve with a fraction of what even a lot of independent movies have to work with.
This is a lean, gritty, minimalist movie that works best when it’s building tension. The first half sets up the various circumstances that lead up to a rather colorful bunch of characters being trapped in a defunct police station. It’s slow, but suspenseful and sets the appropriate tone for the siege itself.
The antagonists of the movie, the Street Thunder gang, almost never utter a word. They have no discernible personalities and their motivations are straightforward and simple. There’s something inherently unnerving about this faceless, voiceless crowd of armed thugs and their relentless assault.
The besieged, by contrast, are far more defined, if not particularly complex characters. The actors give fine performances and the writing gives them their fair share of memorable moments and lines. Joston’s Napoleon Wilson is easily the most quotable, so much so that he arguably upstages Stoker’s Lt. Bishop.
Where Assault on Precinct 13 suffers the most is with is action. Apart from one standout gunfight that has the main characters fend off dozens of attackers at once and the infamous ice cream truck scene, the action tends to be a bit lackluster. A long sequence of the gang firing on the precinct off-camera is probably the worst offender, as we’re left mostly looking it a bunch of windows breaking as muffled gunshots are heard.
This is a movie that makes the most of the moments leading up to the action and those in between it, but when the guns start talking, so do the budgetary constraints. That being said, it is still a terrific movie that definitely holds up well even after 40 years.
This restoration comes with a wide range of special features, including several interviews, two audio commentaries and plenty more – so even if you already own Assault On Precinct 13, there’s plenty of reason to consider getting the new edition as well.
Assault On Precinct 13: 40th Anniversary Restored Special Edition is set for a DVD and Blu-Ray release in the UK on November 28, 2016.
Return to Precinct 13 – New Interview with Austin Stoker
Producing Precinct 13 –New Interview with Joseph Kaufman
Filmmaking with John – New Interview with Tommy Lee Wallace
Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker
‘The Sassy One’ with Nancy Loomis
Audio Commentary with John Carpenter
Audio Commentary with Tommy Lee Wallace
‘Captain Voyeur’ John Carpenter Student Short (Blu-Ray Exclusive)
Do You Remember Laurie ZimmerDocumentary Film (Blu-Ray Exclusive)
5 Art Cards (Limited Edition Box Set Exclusive)
Bonus CD Soundtrack Disc (Limited Edition Box Set Exclusive)