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USA 1976
Directed by
John Carpenter
91 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Assault On Precinct 13

John Carpenter cut his film teeth making monster featurettes before his first full-length feature Dark Star, a low budget sci-fi movie.  With Assault on Precinct 13, one of his best-known films he goes in a different direction, hybridizing the Western with the zombie movie in a modern-day action thriller.  For lovers of B Grade cinema it will be a real treat.  More conventional expectations will probably be less persuaded.

Owing its basic premise to Howard Hawks’ classic Western, Rio Bravo, the film is set in contemporary gangland Los Angeles. Lieutenant Bishop (Austin Stoker), arrives to take over at Precinct 13 while it is being decommissioned, only to find himself and a motley crew including a convicted murderer (Darwin Justin) and a perky office wench (Laurie Zimmer) in chest-hugging knitwear, the subject of a siege after a shooting victim comes staggering into the station pursued by a gang of heavily armed thugs.  There are basically two parts to the film – the set up and the actual siege itself, a protracted gun battle worthy of Peckinpah.

As a homage to the B movie, Assault On Precinct 13 is near perfect – it has everything that the classics of the 40s and 50s had, a rudimentary storyline, two-dimensional  characters enunciating pulp dialogue, Equity-rate actors of variable talent, low-fi production values and blunt scene-by-scene directing.  Sometimes it’s so bad that you want to laugh, sometimes you just want to shake your head in disbelief at the cavalier disregard for credibility. Whether this is good or bad depends on whether or not you are able to enjoy the skilful appropriation and tongue-in-cheek humour underpinning the apparent expediency with which the film is realized.

Assault On Precinct 13 was shot in two weeks on a budget of $100,000 with Carpenter writing, directing, editing and composing the score. That makes Carpenter a kind of Tarantino avant Tarantino and deserves credit. .

FYI: The film was given a slick, big budget makeover in 2005 with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne in the leads (reversing race roles), managing to jettison the charms of the original for no gain whatsoever.




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