Police ambush and kill several gang members in Los Angeles. Gang members make a pact of blood to strike back at police, and conduct a siege on the police station which is almost abandoned and due to be closed. Staff of the closing precinct and the criminals being held there while in transit must work together to fight off the attacking gang members.Written by
Scott McKenna <firstname.lastname@example.org>
on par with its inspiration(s); a must see Carpenter classic
Ackowledged by it's own creator on the DVD, Assault on Precinct 13 is a bit more of a hybrid than just a sheer homage to Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo. It has traces of that (editing name, ho-ho), and of the Western specifics in bits of the storytelling devices and stereotypes. But it also has traces of the horror film, of the basic theme of demise by outside forces that not only rests in the best of zombie films but also in a lot of Carpenter's later work. What makes the film seem fresh today, even if it takes its time to get started in the first half hour, is how focused the action is around the story. Even with these basic characters- those with speaking parts closer to archetypes than not- it all works. It's a practically-perfect midnight movie.
You've got your good guys, a mix of cops and criminals (one of them, Darwin Joston's Napoleon Wilson, has enough style as an actor without even flinching at times). And you've got the ravenous gang (achem, zombies) out for blood after a gun down by a vengeful father. What surprising about how this very simple premise is set up, of a showdown in the worst pit of Los Angeles, is how it's all close to being just a pure exploitation film. But there's some thought or maybe just music to the film (not the actual music, though that's cool in its way) just as relentless as in Carpenter's other work, maybe even more in its rough way. It is a violent film, but the violence comes and goes leaving more room for talk than one might expect given it's by-a-thread rating. It's quite clear where the visual style would end up lending itself to in later years too (i.e. Reservoir Dogs).
When taking aside the occasional misstep, like an unneeded (suggested) sub-plot (not that Joston or Laurie Zimmer are bad actors, but they lack chemistry), Assault on Precinct 13 comes out without many scratches at all. It's a lean film at 90 minutes, with enough tension for two more. When it is shocking it shocks, when it wants a cheap, solid laugh or (more often) grin it comes through, and it doesn't pull any punches in letting you know here and there this is nothing more than a genre exercise. That Carpenter is able to pull it off so un-pretentiously is a credit to his first inspiration, as well as to the spirit of the long boiled ingredients of older films. In short, the most cult you can find by the filmmaker without going to his previous effort Dark Star. Grade: A
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