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Assault on Precinct 13 (1977)
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by Dr. Isaksson

"Why would anyone Shoot at a Police Station?"
4 stars

Now there's a dumb question... John Carpenter's third attempt in the Directors' batting chair seemed to be his home run. "Assault on Precinct 13" set the tone for what kind of films Carpenter would plan on creating in a career that has now spanned over 30 years. Films that were a little edgy, a little flashy and always with a fantastic balance of reality and fantasy. All this on a budget the size of Rosie O' Donnell's weekly grocery bill.

When I read the reviews for Assault on Precinct 13 nowadays, a lot of time I see 5 stars next to the title. Yet, when it first hit theatres in 1976 it was bashed by the critics. This view has markedly changed. Why the change? Beats the hell out of me. Maybe the moviegoers in the 70's didn't want to see a film that was a major throwback to the cop dramas of the 50's. With Assault on Precinct 13 John Carpenter pays homage to the Howard Hawks' classic Rio Bravo. However instead of taking place in the desert, this one takes place in an LA Ghetto.

At the offset of Assault we see six gang members known as the Street Thunder, (umm edgy!) ambushed and killed by some cops. Apparently the problems with gang warfare has gotten out of control and police are starting a 'No Tolerance' way of dealing with the little hoodlums. Now. "Why would anyone shoot at a police station?"

John Carpenter does an excellent job of showing us LA's dusty underside. The air looks dry and dusty and in this stagnant atmosphere a feeling of unrest is rising up from the sticky pavement. (Hmmmm. Heat and guns.) Inside a rundown house somewhere in Anderson CA, a gang of thugs are holding a blood oath as a sort of vigil for their dead members. Each one slicing their arms with switchblades and filling up a bowl with their mixed blood. (A nice little plasma cocktail.) Then they head out in their black car to hunt down any rivals that may cross their path.

It's a typical day for Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker), a black, thirty something cop who's whistling a carefree tune and ready to enjoy a carefree night on the beat. He soon learns that he's been assigned to supervise the closing down of a Precinct 9 in Anderson CA. Inside the Precinct, he meets the remaining employees. There's Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), the somewhat hot shit secretary that's been around the block a few times. Phone operator Julie (Nancy Loomis), the chick who hasn't been around too many blocks. And fellow Sgt. Chaney (Henry Brandon). It's up to them to see to it that the skeleton Precinct has an easy last day of operation. The night looks to be a routine one.

Cut now to a prison in Los Cruces where Officer Starker (Charles Cyphers) is assigned to transfer some prisoners to a death row facility. One of the prisoners is the infamous Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston). A brutal killer whose dialogue is sometimes almost as scary as his acting. (And just how did he get the name Napoleon? Is it cause he is short, dorky, murderous kind of guy or is it cause he's only got one testicle? Don't wonder at how I learned that little factoid. But it makes you wonder.) Anyway the prisoners are loaded onto a bus and are on their way, but one of them is taken sick and is need of medical attention. So the bus pulls in at the gutted 'Anderson Precinct' and unloads the crew into the empty cells unaware that they being watched.

Many difficulties snare Officer Starker's attempts to get hold of any medical professional. Not only that but there's trouble outside. An unknown man (Martin West) stumbles into the Precinct, in shock and unable to speak. He's been through some major shit and now it's looks like the danger he faced is now moving in on the near empty Precinct. 'The Street Thunder' are pissed off. They are ready to avenge their fellow gang members' death. It's War! (And I'm talking bell-bottom, wah wah peddle, freak-out kinda war.)

Night falls and Lt. Bishop and his small group realize that for unknown reasons to them, they are the target of a full fledged attack. The power goes out and the bullets start flying. Through every window, from every direction. Now it's time for the 'Anderson Precinct' to find a way to make due with the few weapons they have. There's no where to call for help and no place to run to. How will Lt. Bishop manage to keep Leigh, Julie, and the unknown man safe? Not to mention what will he do with old Napoleon Wilson, whose locked in one of the cells. The gang is moving in and the decisions have been made for the people inside the Precinct. Time to kick some ghetto ass!

John Carpenter definitely shows why he is a well respected Director here. Assault on Precinct 13 is a fantastic mix of gritty realism and comic book fantasy. The kind of mix that he has become famous for using time and time again. Carpenter seems most content when he's giving the audience a little slice of reality served with a big chunk of fantasy. And he makes it work nearly all of the time. Assault on Precinct 13 is a work of fantasy because of the chances of such a situation occurring are slim. But it's imbued with reality because Carpenter creates full blooded characters you can root for and that is hard to come by in action films.

John Carpenter's direction is some of his finest as well. He maneuvers the camera with a sure and definite hand. Capturing the action but not loosing the sense behind it. And his fellow assistants, Tommy Lee Wallace and Debra Hill (who went on to aid Carpenter in many future films) are in attendance as Art Director and Assistant Editor. With the help of those two, we are given a nice, grimy looking LA. and the lighting is used to great effect inside the Precinct giving off a wonderful sense of doom. The settings are well conceived as well, coming across as cold and desolate.

However, all this praise being stated I did have some problems with this film. First and foremost, the dialogue. There are some of the cheesiest one liners I have ever heard coming out of these actors' mouths. This poor dialog only hampered the performances which, given better lines, would have come off much stronger. Austin Stoker plays Lt. Bishop with great integrity but as far as Leigh and Napoleon, they could use a little more time in the acting class. Especially Napoleon, (that guy needs to shit that brick and loosen up.) He gets my nod for the worst lines in the film like. "I was born outta time." and then when Lt. Bishop is whistling a tune, he says. "that's kinda pretty." And then of course the line Julie exclaims with the utmost seriousness. "Why would anyone wanna shoot at a police station?".. Ummm...I'm sure a lot of people could give you some reasons.

Assault's music is a brilliant piece of simple electronica. A great five note composition plays over a high pitched deadpan key and a tripping little percussion taps along. Not nearly as stunning or innovative as his famed Halloween score, but as always, John Carpenter knows how to use music to perfection in his films.

P.S. I read that this is one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite films.

"Assault on Precinct 13" is a nice escape from countless other shoot em up films of the 70's and 80's. The pacing is slower and the people come across as having much more character. A rough little gem of a film. **** 4 Stars

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1940&reviewer=296
originally posted: 06/17/02 01:42:02
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good flick 4 stars
8/23/10 Joseph If it had just a few more gunfights/action scenes this woulld have been a five star movie 3 stars
1/05/10 art ALL OF john carpenter's movies are JUNK! 1 stars
12/28/09 Chad Dillon Cooper Very good re-make of Rio Bravo. 4 stars
3/17/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess Intense 4 stars
7/31/07 VMANIC1 Characters show NO emotion or expression, movie has awkwardly silent moments. Suspenseful. 4 stars
6/12/07 al smith take note hollywood this is how to make a film without the need for 100m dollar+ budgets 5 stars
5/08/07 David Pollastrini a bit slow in places but still good. 3 stars
9/10/06 Booksworm Full of great directing, believable performances, and flawless choreography. 5 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins Flawless, acting, directing, editing, even soundtrack is perfect. True urban nightmare. 5 stars
5/29/05 Juio night of the living dead rip off without the good bits, mexicans instead of zombies, crap 1 stars
5/27/05 Christy Schultz So much better than the remake... 4 stars
1/25/05 Steve Michaud Tense, exciting, supremely well-crafted; one of the best films of the 1970s 5 stars
1/16/05 Jeff Anderson A thrilling 70's masterpiece. Nobody does genre films better than J. Carpenter, NOBODY!!!!! 5 stars
7/06/04 American Slasher Goddess Excellent stuff and does a great job of combining genres. 5 stars
4/07/04 Napoleon Wilson no comment...it is just the best film of all time... 5 stars
2/19/04 john Carpenter combines RIO BRAVO and NIGHT OF LIVING DEAD and it works - good film making! 5 stars
6/23/03 the Grinch 4 potato 5 potato 6 potato 7, kiss my ass and go to heaven...Watch this with 'Warriors'. 5 stars
3/19/03 Jack Sommersby A slight but helplessly suspenseful actioner. Superbly directed and edited. 4 stars
6/21/02 Kever This movie is the shittt !!!!!!!! 5 stars
6/17/02 Charles Tatum Carpenter does better with horror 3 stars
4/27/02 Vanja Zoran Cankovic one of the best film i ever seen! it is groovy! 5 stars
10/28/01 Eric Exciting thriller, with the shootout at the 53-minute mark as the standout sequence. 4 stars
8/05/01 E-Funk Very good. Kind of a sneak preview to all the kick-ass material Carpenter would give us. 4 stars
7/24/01 wes randazzo definitely not chicken night in turkey! 5 stars
7/13/01 donald one of John Carpenter's best 5 stars
2/01/01 Dan Waldman Intense nail-biter. The kind of suspense that today's movies only wish for. 5 stars
1/27/01 r tilbrook (aka mentor) It may not be your thing, but it deserves respect! 5 stars
11/03/00 randall accomplished action scenes interesting plot and good, simple, distinctive characterizations 5 stars
9/07/00 Matthew Bartley Surprisingly brutal. Great music. Dull in places very tense in others 4 stars
8/16/00 Thom Brenner Brilliant film. Fantastic direction, tense as hell. I love it. 5 stars
4/09/00 Rob Amazing film directed, written and scored by JC ; + if set on halloween as well..[;-)] 5 stars
12/24/99 Napoleon Wilson This film is brutally honest and undeniably disturbing. I loved it; a classic! 5 stars
11/23/99 harry gottschalk a truly brutaly, upsetting corker of a film 5 stars
4/20/99 lucas jackson I do not understand why any body liked this movie 2 stars
4/14/99 Jon Jackson A nice low budget effort but just a wee bit booorriiinnnggg. 3 stars
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  02-Jul-1977 (R)


  02-Feb-1978 (M)

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