Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Director: John Carpenter

Rewatched this very late last night for the first time since… I don’t know, probably the mid-90s, at which time I wasn’t overly impressed by it. I have, of course, since learned that pan and scan VHS was no fit way to watch John Carpenter’s films, and watching a decent anamorphic DVD of this one made me appreciate it rather more. This was his avowed combined knock-off of Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead, an attempt to make a western whose budgetary limits ($100,000, apparently) meant he couldn’t make a “proper” one so he updated the Hawks film to a 1970s police precinct about to be closed down… except this time the gang attacking the station don’t want to break someone out alive, they want him dead. I mean, if a gang kills your daughter (a scene which is still pretty startling) and then you kill one of said gang members, they’re probably going to want to kill you back…

It’s interesting that the film makes such a point of the gang being multiracial, cos that kind of takes the edge off the fact that the gang is, frankly, something of a characterless mob otherwise, much like Romero’s undead, and similarly it’s interesting that Carpenter’s other major cue from Romero was evidently the choice of a black actor in the lead role (and another one in a secondary role). But otherwise it’s Carpenter’s own skill on show, and he demonstrates a pretty ruthless efficiency; although the set-up to the siege situation takes longer than it really should, once shit starts happening, GODDAMN. I kind of wish this has been his breakout hit (it did well in Europe but much less so at home) rather than Halloween, cos we might’ve been saved the slasher film glut that the latter gave birth to. Then again, Assault might’ve just engendered its own flood of dodgy clones, so who can say…

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