Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) Poster

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Brilliant, Suspenseful and Beautiful
BrandtSponseller6 February 2005
Set in gang-riddled Los Angeles in the 1970s, director John Carpenter was inspired to make a film that was basically a combination of Rio Bravo (1959) and Night of the Living Dead (1968) with rookie cop Ethan Bishop in John Wayne's Rio Bravo role/Duane Jones' Ben, a recently vacated police precinct as the small town jail/farmhouse, and with gang members in place of Night of the Living Dead's zombies/Nathan Burdette's men.

For some viewers, that premise alone may be enough for them to not be able to grant this film a 10, but Assault on Precinct 13 is yet another example of why quality isn't correlated to having unprecedented ideas.

One of the first striking things about Assault on Precinct 13 is that it looks beautiful. It was made on a relatively low budget, and it looks like a large percentage of the money must have gone into camera rental, film stock and film processing. Douglas Knapp's color cinematography is crisp, innovative (I just love the shot with the camera mounted in front of the car headlight, with the sunset in the background) and marvelously portrays Los Angeles as a gritty, suburban wasteland as well, if not better, than any other film I can think of. What makes it effective isn't over-the-top, run down buildings and heavily populated streets, but vast, wide-open spaces, with squat, nondescript houses and buildings, all fading into nothingness. Knapp even manages to make the streets look like this, and a couple scenes are set in what is effectively a sand-logged desert, with a lonely, dangerous phone booth sitting in isolation. The police station also reflects the suburban wasteland look in terms of its spaces and their relationship to each other, its sparseness and its colors.

The low budget nature of the film forced a very successful straightforward, brutal and realistic approach to the action, especially the violence. Carpenter, on his commentary track on the DVD, notes that some scenes weren't as he would have liked because they didn't have the coverage they needed, and had to let them play out, longer than normal, from a single angle. Thank the heavens for a lack of time and funding! Despite the over-the-top mayhem in subsequent action films by other directors, the impact of many of the scenes in this film cannot be topped, and it's often because of the unusual, almost documentary-like feel of the film.

Also adding to the effect is Carpenter's score. Although it's technically primitive, it's just as good as any of his other music, and Carpenter is as talented as a film composer as he is as a director. His use of motifs, often in an almost trance-like repetition, is similar too, and just as effective as, both Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone.

The performances are all excellent, and the staging is even better. If you know anything about the premise of the film before you begin watching it for the first time, you may have difficulty figuring out how they're going to pull off the central situation of the film. The logistics seem to be against creating a prolonged tense situation. Carpenter and company create the perfect scenario with just a couple ingenious moves, and the unending threat, combined with the unusual pacing of the zombie-like menace make Assault on Precinct 13 as frightening as any horror film could be.
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Awesome Assault
MovieAddict20166 June 2004
John Carpenter is one of few directors who can successfully transform their movies into giant roller coaster rides without insulting the audience. James Cameron does this, sometimes, but usually adds more plot to his stories. Carpenter just takes simple premises, throws some characters together, and lets everything evolve and unwind on their own. "Assault on Precinct 13" deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as "Dawn of the Dead," or perhaps the overrated "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," as a very low-budget horror/thriller that takes a cast of unknowns, places them together, doesn't really delve into their backgrounds, but lets everything just work itself out like clockwork. There's an eager new cop, an infamous death row murderer, and a relocating precinct, all stuffed together into a movie about a vicious gang assault. It's brilliant in a very subtle way; a sign of things to come for a director who has implemented some of the most oft-used camera tricks in the horror world.

He pioneered the first-person killer perspective in "Halloween" - an effect sorely missed on full screen TV and VHS versions, to once again be savored on the wide screen DVD presentation. Carpenter received quite a number of critical jabs in 1978 for his use of the POV technique, explained to be too voyeuristic and potentially dangerous to be shown in a mainstream motion picture. Hitchcock used the POV technique very subtly in "Psycho's" famous shower sequence, but in "Halloween" it was far blunter, resulting in an uproar of moral complaints.

No matter. "Halloween" became movie horror legend, casting a spell over its viewers, inspiring major knock-offs such as the "Friday the 13th" series (which has overall made more money than the "Halloween" franchise due to more sequels than "Police Academy").

"Assault on Precinct 13" was one of Carpenter's very first efforts at directing. It shows. The movie is flawed, imperfect, both technically and otherwise (some of the dialogue in particular could have used fixing, and the acting is nothing incredible by any means). But it still has an addictive sense of urgency and frantic pacing that makes the movie feel like one long, non-stop, brutal assault - even though the setup for the film takes over forty minutes. It may not be a flawless film but it is one of my favorites.

It's about a new cop named Bishop (Austin Stoker) who is put in charge of a transferring L.A. police precinct - number thirteen. As equipment is carried out of the building and last-minute closings are made, far away a bus load of convicts, including notorious murderer Wilson (Darwin Joston), decide to stop at precinct 13 due to the fact that one of the criminals seems to be coming down with a harsh cough. And downtown, a young girl is shot by a ruthless gang member. Her father shoots the killer, and then flees to precinct thirteen, hunted by the gang members, who eventually begin to siege the precinct in a suicide raid. Trapped with two killers, a few cops and a jail warden, Bishop and company try to think of a way out of the place without getting shot by the vicious gang outside.

That's basically it - people stuck inside a police station trying to get out without dying in the process. The movie is only ninety minutes long, give or take, which is a good thing, because if it had been any longer it might have lost some of its pacing and become tiring. Instead, there isn't a single scene in "Assault on Precinct 13" that I think should have been cut. I'm sure there are some that could have been tossed onto the editing room floor, but I'm glad that the movie is the way it is - it flows smoothly and we don't ever feel like a scene has gone on too long or too short. In that sense, it's just about perfect.

Carpenter has had one of the most successful careers of all time, followed by a legion of cult fans. His "Halloween" is one of the greatest horror films of all time, and one of the most influential. He occasionally makes his duds, like any director, but in this case, the good far outweighs the bad. "Assault on Precinct 13" is an utterly refreshing film experience that manages to maintain a fast speed but never appears to be cheating its target audience, or treating them stupid. The movie is being remade in 2005, with a considerably higher budget, bigger names, and probably worse directing. I don't really look forward to this remake because I can almost guarantee that, given the age it is being made in, there will be many pointless plot explanations, worse dialogue and bad direction. "Assault on Precinct 13" does not really need to be made again because the first one works so well. History has taught us that most remakes are not at all on the same level as their influences - just look at Hitchcock's "Psycho," then Van Sant's. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. "Assault on Precinct 13" is not broken and it does not need to be fixed.
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Violent and witty
jbarnett7617 August 2004
This is rightly considered a classic cult movie from the 1970's by the once reliable John Carpenter (who also composed the edgy early synth score). Basically it's a faint mish-mash of other movies, the dialogue is reminiscent of great westerns as a black policeman and a white convict battle against gang members in a Night of The Living Dead re-working. It's also tempting to draw Vietnam allegories (as with many American movies of the mid 1970's and after); the faceless, nameless gang members die in the droves but keep attacking the besieged police station and the lawmen and the lawbreakers, black and white, must unite to defeat them and escape with their lives.

The real joy of this movie, however, is the playing of the two virtually unknown leads, Austin Stoker and the late Darwin Joston. They have a great, almost wry chemistry and use Carpenter's stripped-down witty dialogue to great effect. Because there are no 'stars', there are no real expectations, and the shocks when they come (including the famous ice cream sequence) are more shocking for it.

The representation of women leaves a little to be desired (the two female characters obviously shop at the same sweater store!) but the character Lee shows some inner strength and resolve, and even has time for some kind of upper hand in terms of sexual tension between herself and Joston's Napoleon Wilson.

If you haven't seen this movie I urge you to watch it; in terms of B movies and cult thrillers it's the yardstick in my opinion; simple, stylish, violent, witty and not remotely sentimental.
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A 1970s suspense classic. Absolutely brilliant!
Infofreak1 July 2002
Watching John Carpenter's latest 'Ghosts Of Mars' recently I couldn't help but wonder what happened to Carpenter's vision. 'Assault On Precinct 13' was made 25 years earlier on probably a tenth of the budget and is basically the same movie only ten times better! Carpenter self-consciously uses Hawks' 'Rio Bravo', adds a touch of Romero's 'Night Of The Living Dead' and comes up with arguably the most exciting siege movie of all time. This gem is a perfect example of superior low budget film making. Relative unknowns Austin Stoker ('Abby') and Darwin Joston ('Eraserhead') are both outstanding as the stars of this taut and unpredictable thriller, and the supporting cast includes Laurie Zimmer (sadly her only movie), Nancy Loomis ('Halloween'), Kim Richards ('The Car' - in the movie's most controversial and memorable scene), and Carpenter semi-regular Charles Cyphers ('Escape From New York'). One of Carpenter's best efforts and overall an extraordinarily underrated movie. 'Assault On Precinct 13' is a classic! Add this to your "must see" list immediately!
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intense to say the least
moviemeister114 July 2004
This is possibly one of Carpenter's best films,with the exception of The thing.It is one of the great siege films of all time.The scene with Kim Richards(escape to witch mountain) is one of my favorites.This movie proves you don't have to have a multimillion dollar budget and big name stars to make a great movie.The performance by Laurie Zimmer was incredible.I can't believe she was never cast in another film(but thats Hollywood for you).If you like action and thrillers this film is definitely worth a look.Its not perfect, the plot has some holes, the premise is at times shaky, but all of the actors produce believable performances,especially Austin Stoker,Darwin Joston, and of course Zimmer.
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Classic Carpenter
KnightsofNi1128 October 2011
I long for the days when John Carpenter was ingenious enough to make such excellent films as his classics like Halloween, Escape From New York, and of course, The Thing. He's gone way downhill since those glory days but thankfully he built himself enough of a legacy that the aforementioned films will be the one's he is known for, along with a little film called Assault of Precinct 13. This is one of Carpenter's very first films, made back in 1976. It tells the story of a group of people holed up in a police station that is under siege by a ruthless South Los Angeles gang. It is a wicked film full of intense action, riveting suspense, and an incredible score written by Carpenter himself. It is a brief 90 minute flick that has a very low budget indie feel to it, but this only adds to the experience which makes this film into something truly remarkable.

It's hard to place exactly why I love this film. It is one of those that seems like it shouldn't be nearly as enjoyable and excellent as it is. There's plenty of cheese and its a very small scale low budget flick that doesn't possess any kind of pizazz, no remarkable production value, and no big name stars to carry the film. But it might just be all of these things that combine to make this film so much fun and so incredibly compelling. Carpenter makes the most out of what little he has and makes a uniquely awesome film. Herein lies a style that you either love or hate. If you can stand low budget action then you should love this film, as I do. If you long for something bigger then chances are you won't get much out of this. It's a matter of personal preference, but my preferences make me enjoy this film almost too much.

Something else that makes this film work is its overall tone. It's a very serious and hard hitting film. It is brutal and unapologetic when it comes to the level of violence, and it doesn't hold back. The immense darkness of the film makes us believe in what we are seeing and draws us deep into the film's driving emotion and sincerely intense action. This film is not satire, it's not a farce, it's not a parody. It is it's own type of film, managing to be utterly serious and absolutely wicked. This is a must see whether you are a John Carpenter fan or not.
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Basic but very effective and fun
bob the moo31 May 2004
When a man and his daughter drive down the wrong street they get into the middle of a gang shooting. The little girl is killed and the father left distraught, but armed with another victim's gun. He catches up with the gang and kills the leader before seeking refuge in a local police station. However the station is only manned by a few staff as it is in the process of being shut down. A prison wagon also arrives at the station with sick prisoners for temporary holding – however it is then that the street gang launch their attack with stolen and silenced automatic weapons.

I had half watched this film several years ago and didn't review it then because I knew I had been distracted and not able to give it enough attention to be able to form a fair opinion of it – however I didn't really enjoy it then. Giving it another chance produced a much more enjoyable film, even if it seems very basic on the face of it. The plot seems very simple and, in fairness, it is – gang outside, people inside, people try to keep gang out and stay alive. This is doing it a disservice of course because it creates an enjoyable tension from this simple set-up and delivers some enjoyable (if basic) action and thrills. The direction is good; my personal favourite shot being the shot near the end where the smoke clears! This effective delivery is also aided by Carpenter's own score that is nicely pulsating and still sounds great even if it is dated – the important thing is that it still fits the film and therefore works.

The dialogue is trashy but this fits the slight b-movie feel the film has. The characters are also quite simple (very basic backgrounds and personalities for each) but again this seems to work really well. The strength of having a mostly unknown cast is that you can't be sure who will live or die by the end of the film. Despite being mostly unknowns (to me anyway) the performances are generally very enjoyable even if no Oscars are being given out. Stoker and Joston lead the film really well and give good, natural performances with an overflow of charisma. I don't know the other's outside of these two but the rest were good as well, even if the film belongs to Bishop and Wilson. I was a bit let down by the lack of a central bad guy but in one regard the film also uses this well by making the gang an unseen threat that could be an isolated group or an army.

Overall this is a very basic film in several regards, but it is also a very effective and enjoyable one. If you are looking for film references then there are some to be had but for most of us the film's charismatic leads, action and effective tension will be what we stay for – and luckily it has all those with some to spare.
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"Can't argue with a confident man"
ackstasis15 September 2010
The gritty, stylish 'Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)' is my first experience with American director John Carpenter, labelled an "auteur" by the French and a "bum" by his compatriots. At this early stage, I'm siding with the French. This is one of the definitive "siege films," a deft, low-budget blend of the American Western (let's say '3:10 to Yuma (1957)') and a zombie movie ('Night of the Living Dead (1968)' being an obvious influence). In modern-day Los Angeles, the lone inhabitants of a closing-down police station – among them police officers (Austin Stoker), secretaries (Laurie Zimmer), and prisoners (an ice-cool Darwin Joston) – are affronted by dozens of armed gangsters, who are waging a bloody war with the authorities as payback for recent gang-member deaths.

After an extended prologue, in which disparate story lines fatalistically converge on each other (and featuring one particularly nasty moment than nearly landed the film an X-rating) the siege scenario begins… and the tension rarely lets up. One sequence in particular, a tense crawl towards a parked car, had me holding my breath for minutes, its conclusion a veritable kick in the guts. Carpenter, assisted by his own low-key but insistent synchronised score, manipulates the film's urban setting to his advantage: isolation becomes so much more unbearable when civilisation is so near, and yet so unattainable. Chillingly, most of the antagonists themselves remain faceless shadows in the darkness, representing an incomprehensible force of evil, consumed by bloodlust, and unafraid of the consequences.
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on par with its inspiration(s); a must see Carpenter classic
Quinoa198416 April 2006
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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little girl killing aside, the movie needs quicker start
SnoopyStyle19 October 2014
Police members ambush and kill six gang members in the gang ravaged Los Angeles. Gang leaders swear a blood oath to take revenge on the police. Newly promoted Lieutenant Ethan Bishop is put in charge of precinct 9 division 13 during the last few hours before it is permanently closed down. The station is short-staffed with Captain Chaney and the station's two secretaries Leigh and Julie. Starker is in command of a prison bus transporting Napoleon Wilson and Death Row inmate Wells. They stop at the precinct to get help for sick prisoner Caudell. The gangs go on a rampage chasing Lawson to the precinct where they lay siege.

It takes too long for the movie to get going. There are way too many separate stories that have to gather into the precinct. It's usual to see a little girl with an ice cream cone get shot in the chest but that could have been done without doing a long story with the father. The point is to get these people into the precinct like a fort in the old west. John Carpenter wrote and directed this strip down action thriller. The gun fights aren't that exciting. All the gangsters use silencers which makes for less exciting sound effects. Also the slow moving cars is not that effective in driving the excitement. The acting is pretty stiff. I don't really understand why the characters just stand around. They could at least barricade the station. Plenty of bad guys get killed but nobody thinks to strip them of their weapons. In general, this movie would make more sense if this is some small town police station. It would be a much better fit for the wild west fort. Nevertheless, it's still a relatively good low budget B-movie action after a slow start.
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The "Assault" began in 1976, and hasn't let up yet
dee.reid13 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
With the release of the 2005 remake of John Carpenter's classic action film, "Assault on Precinct 13," rapidly approaching, I took a chance and managed to purchase the last DVD copy of the special edition at my local video store and I must say that Carpenter's second directorial feature ranks amongst some of the director's finest work.

The first film by Carpenter that I really liked was "The Thing" (1982), because it utilized its claustrophobic setting and escalating tension by focusing on the paranoia of the characters rather than splattering the screen with pointless action.

"Assault on Precinct 13" has much in common with "The Thing" in this sense, the mounting tension and fears between the characters, which of course help to further the plot and heighten a slight emotional attachment to the leads.

I'll say that Carpenter's film is a perfect example of what's wrong with a lot of movies today, and how Hollywood has grown less skillful and daring over the years. For those that don't know what I mean, just watch the scene in "Precinct" with the "wrong-flavored ice cream" to get an idea of just HOW far Carpenter was willing to go with this picture.

Though the primary setting for the action in this movie takes place at the abandoned police station in Precinct 9, Division 13, it opens with the shooting deaths of six Los Angeles gang members by the police. News breaks on random radio stations inform the audience that a large cache of weapons was stolen from a facility and the police are overworked with the rapid rise in crime over the last 24 hours.

The camera then centers on four sinister-looking individuals in their living room, weapons and ammo boxes strewn about, they each sit, like warlords at a tribal counsel, plotting what evil deeds they're about to unleash. They then enter into a blood oath, to the death, but for what is largely unknown.

Across town, Bishop (Austin Stoker), the newly promoted lieutenant, is on his way to work for his first assignment and is ordered to head over to Precinct 9, where there are only a few people working. Already many of the supplies and ammunition have been moved across town to the new police station, which is located far away.

At a local jail across town, Nathaniel Wilson (Darwin Joston) is on his way to prison to face the death penalty for several murders, of which the nature is presumably extreme since he's being put to death. We know it had to be something horrific, since he informs one of the officers supervising him that a preacher once told him that he had seen death in his eyes.

It would seem that fate, or the "Street Thunder," the largest, most powerful and deadliest gang in Los Angeles, brings them all together at Precinct 9, where the few police officers on duty and a few convicts are forced to make a stand, as the murderous gang members lay siege to the police station with heavy-weapons fire.

Carpenter's second feature is heavy on wall-to-wall action and vicious violence, but surprisingly there's a strong center about the characters and the dire situation they're trapped in. Only a handful of people remain in the police station to ward off the seemingly hundreds of faceless, murderous gang members that want into the place, and aren't afraid to die in the process.

Carpenter owed a lot to the apparent source material, "Rio Bravo," which had a similar plot about everyday people who are forced to make not-so-everyday decisions when they become trapped in a nightmarish situation with some very upset people looking for their blood.

I can only hope that the remake of this 1976 action classic is as bold and daring as its predecessor, or we'll have one hell of a flop on our hands.

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Neat thriller from John `Claustrophobia' Carpenter
Aidan McGuinness5 July 2002
`Assault on Precinct 13' shows Carpenter in the fine creative form of his earlier days, when he produced such thriller and horror gems like `Halloween', `The Thing' and this little movie. As usual he eschews a complex plot in favour of a great little central concept - in this case a group of civilians, prisoners and police trapped in a deserted police station under siege from a mysterious gang who want to get at one man inside.

The acting in these movies is generally bland, but Carpenter at least breathes some dimension into his characters. The lead role goes to Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker), the cop in charge of minding the building for the night. Naturally he's honourable but there's also a good sense of pragmatism to his character. Similarly the prisoner Napoleon (Darwin Joston) isn't just a criminal - there's something quite human to him. The same goes for the civilians caught up - despite their disparities the characters become a relatively cohesive unit that's quite believable, enjoyable without veering into grating sentimentality ever. Naturally a lot of them are cannon fodder but the loss of individuals in such movies is one of the anticipations you expect in the genre.

Carpenter did a great service by making the protagonists of the piece silent. They never utter a word. They have nothing in common, hailing from all races. We have no motivation for their actions and thankfully we're spared weak, and frankly pointless, excuses. Instead their blank faced determinism, and the manner in which they mete out death, lends them a horrific cold bloodedness that is far more memorable than typical thriller character building. There's not so much a sense of palpable evil but a much more terrifying sense of complete inhumanity. Carpenter also uses his great skills with claustrophobia - even the outdoor scenes are deserted, lonely, isolated. The actual station under siege is well designed - we're made aware of the layout quickly, before the action starts, so that the action sequences make sense without confusing us on issues of location. The darkness of the proceedings - pale lighting and so forth - add to the edgy mood of the characters. And Carpenter once again has a nice musical score accompanying his movie - it may sound dated, but it suits the ambience and atmosphere to a tee.

`Assault on Precinct 13' is hardly clever. It's not claiming to be. It's a low budget work with a central `siege' idea. It works because of the claustrophobic element, the feeling of desperation in the characters, some neat villains and fairly well fleshed characters. It may not be the pinnacle of its type, but it sure is enjoyable while it lasts. 6.8/10.
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Assault on Precinct 13 works as it's basically a thriller made like a horror: tense & unpredictable, but exciting
RforFilm15 November 2017
The light of the police siren shines upon the infested streets of a metropolis. As it searches for potential trouble, darkness hides beyond the reach of the men in uniform. One threat could be the Crips, another could be the Gambino crime family, and yet another could be the Japanese mafia. The search to find a way to take down these gangs can be a frustrating issue, given how not only large they are, but of how connected they could be to the neighborhood. Just getting rid of the troublemakers could spell the end of street that had been operating in that manner for years. So how do we take them down?

The problem in a lot of major cities is that these groups aren't just big, but can often have hundreds of members that are trained to blend in with society. The man selling hot dogs and even fellow police could be a possible member. This is certainly not a new thing as federal forces have had to deal with this for years. Today's movie takes us back to the 1970's in a crowded, yet secluded area of Los Angeles that involves few fighting many in Assault on Precinct 13.

Within the Anderson ghetto of South Central, a local gang called Street Thunder has just stolen a large amount of ammunition. The LAPD manages to kill a bunch during an ambush, but that was just opening the floodgates. Recently appointed CHP officer Ethan Bishop (played by Austin Stoker) is assigned to supervise the last day of the thirteenth precinct before it moves. In there are Sergeant Chaney and two secretaries, Leigh and Julie. At the same time, a bus with three prisoners is forced to stop at the precinct as one of them is sick. While their waiting for medical attention, a shell-shocked man bursts in.

It turned out that his daughter was gunned down by Street Thunder gang members and he retaliated by shooting a warlord. They in turn chased him and saw that he ran inside the precinct. Just before help can be called, the phone and power is cut as possibly a hundred more members reign a hail of gunfire. Several people are hit, with Bishop, Leigh, and two of the prisoners, Wilson (Played by Darwin Joston) and Wells surviving. With much of the bodies and blood mysteriously cleaned up by Street Thunder, those in the thirteenth precinct have to try to survive before they get in.

For his first movie, John Carpenter hit a home run with Assault on Precinct 13. While not having any big stars and mostly confined to this one location, the movie makes up by having a tense tone throughout. And this is even before everyone is trapped. The sequence involving Street Thunder just looking through a gun scope to find people to kill gives you that sense that there is nothing redeemable about these people. That's probably why when they descend onto the police precinct, they seems like living zombies from Night of the Living Dead.

As he probably couldn't afford anyone major, this forces all the main characters to have some well- defined personalities that made you root for them. I really got into Austin Stoker as the new guy on the block, trying to figure out the best way to make do with the few weapons they have. He's an example of how a leader is done right in this situation. This balances out well with Darwin Ioston, who seems relaxed about the situation, as if he's seen far worse, and is a likely, though unsure ally. This makes for some interesting banter.

Along with the good script is some great, even frightening action. The film is smart to never have a leader of Street Thunder, causing us to view the villains more as a force rather then as a character. All they do is create a marker on the precinct and that's all you need to know that they have nothing to lose. I won't spoil what makes them a challenge (believe me, it's more then the gunfire), but when it happens, you know that our heroes are in a tight spot. This creates a constantly moving plot that seems to act like a time bomb; you never know what's going to strike.

I'll give this nine Ice Cream trucks out of ten. Those that want to understand how a tense tone should work needs to view Assault on Precinct 13. The best way to describe why I enjoy this is that it's a thriller that's made like a horror; unpredictable, but fast paced. This is one dangerous neighborhood that's worth going through.
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Few Against the World
hellraiser74 January 2012
Siege battles have always been my favorite type of battle, there is just always something gratifying and exhilarating seeing few overcome or at least try to overcome against innumerable odds which seems almost hopeless. And just the sheer intensity of being alone against the world and whatever means you use to stay alive and win. This is my second favorite film from my favorite movie director John Carpenter, it's also one of my favorite action movies and films in general.

This was his first silver screen film, I'd say it was one helluva start and has aged well over the decades, yeah there has been many movies and TV shows that have utilized this formula but this film, does it with perfection and I still feel is the best.

I love the fact that it's done on a low budget which is fine by me because that helped give the film the right look and feel, it also feels like the filmmakers really put effort to their work. From the locale down to the enviorment it takes place, it feels like any place else that I've passed by. And as usual with Carpenter, this film has one of the best damn scores I've ever heard and is memorable. From the music that goes on in the film down to the theme song.

I like the plot it really does feel plausible, makes me wonder if any gangs or crime organization might of thought of doing something like this in the back of their mind. The action is great, looks and feels realistic, doesn't look as though it was perfectly choreographed as any Jackie Chan film would, which gives the action a slight sense of unpredictability.

The two protagonists Biship and Napolion (played by Austin Stolker and Dawrin Joston shame both didn't have more) are great like the chemistry between them, which makes this film also kinda a buddy cop movie, so in a way this film helped pave the way for future buddy cop films like "Lethal Weapon" and the underrated "Drive". Like in most those movies both characters are dynamic opposites and yet they have and form a bond. It's true that both characters don't have much depth, but you get little hints of depth which make them all the more interesting, sometimes what you don't say says a lot about a person and sometimes I find when you know a character so well they tend to be less interesting.

Biship is the figure of authority but I think is pretty cool, just has sort of that easygoing attitude where you can easily be friends with the guy, I like his leadership quality the way he conducts things in the situation I can't help but feel he's can make Captain, I'd follow him. We also in one scene see Biship use to be a rebel and even lived on the wrong side of the tracks, just seeing him as a police lieutenant now just shows that not everyone that lives on those tracks turns out bad.

Napolion is a figure of anti authority. He's rebellious, doesn't take crap from people that give him crap, a real butt kicker, but also kinda a passive aggressive type. But what I like is just the sense of mystic of his character, he is a death row inmate that has killed people but how he talks and the way he composes himself were not sure if those people he killed were really innocent. I also can't help but feel he could be an ex army or marine, just from the way he handles that shotgun, I don't know your theories are as good as mine but still you have to wonder.

The Street Thunder are great opponents for the two, I really like how this gang is handled their scary because they feel like they could exist. It's true they never say anything in the film but it's really in their actions and behavior that make them all the more menacing; they have no movie for their killing, it's like these guys are just doing it just to have fun or mere boredom. I also like how their sort of like game hunters, in some parts of the film they don't do anything at first but when their moment comes you know they will. One scene which really disturbed me was when one member took out a sniper rifle and as they were driving by, this guy was either practicing or thinking of killing whoever walked on the sidewalk, I'll admit that was scary because it made me wonder it made me wonder if someone ever put cross hairs on me whenever I walk on the streets.

What I like the most is the sense of suspense which is does great. I like the use of darkness in the film, it really creates a sense of unseen danger, that someone could just come out of the shadows or hit you and you wouldn't know where. The sounds of the silencers and where the gangs are positioned, but worst of all just the mere quiet really gave that sense of isolation, dread and sometimes impending doom.

Assault on Precent 13 has plenty of ammo and firepower.

Rating: 4 stars
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Not without its charm
byght17 June 2004
John Carpenter's no-budget pseudo-remake of "Rio Bravo" (with heavy doses of "Night of the Living Dead" thrown in--the zombies replaced by inhuman hordes of street toughs) set in a besieged 1970s LA police station scheduled to be closed the next day, is a flawed but worthwhile 90 minutes from a flawed but worthwhile filmmaker.

The best thing about "Assault" is its bare-bones construction. There's precious little backstory, no real explanation for the heinous actions of the gang members, no extraneous "character development" for the protagonists, no scenes where they talk about how they have a wife and kids at home or are retiring tomorrow, and very few cutaways from the main action once it gets going (the lone exception being a few sequences with couple of clueless cops patrolling the neighborhood who keep missing the siege on the supposedly abandoned precinct). The only music is Carpenter's cheap-but-effective synth score, which only serves to heighten the action rather than distract us from it. It's the kind of minimalism big-budget Hollywood just doesn't have the patience for.

The film delivers some memorable sequences, to be sure. The office being shot up by silenced gunfire, so that the windows, papers, and furniture seem to be popping and jumping of their own accord; the image of the mob of gangsters silently and fluidly sliding across our line of vision in the shadows; and, of course, the incredibly jarring and appalling "ice cream" scene.

When all is said and done, however, "Assault" doesn't quite add up to a completely satisfying movie. While the psychology of the siege is well-executed, the final action sequence is a bit anticlimactic and doesn't quite live up to it. Also, the movie's less-is-more aesthetic is a bit punishing for the first 20-odd minutes before the good stuff starts--it comes across like the uninspired and weakly constructed beginning of an MST3K movie. I kept expecting a giant insect to gobble up one of the characters.

At its best, then, "Assault" is lean and mean. But at its worst, it's a bit thin.
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An Early Carpenter Classic
Minus_The_Beer5 September 2013
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), directed by John Carpenter. 91 minutes


A run-down Los Angeles police station is seized by a ruthless gang of murderous criminals on the eve of its decommissioning. A rookie officer is left in charge of a few stray employees and an assortment of prisoners who must band together to battle the intruders, lest they be mowed down in the path of their endless destruction.


As Carpenter's second directorial effort, "Assault" stands as a prime example of the director's skill at turning something into nothing. Crafting such an intense movie with very little resources was a skill that would pay off big time a few years down the line with the release of his seminal slasher flick, "Halloween." There are other hints at future Carpenter-isms, such as his bleak world view which would be further exploited in "Escape From New York" and "They Live." In typical Carpenter fashion, very little time is wasted, and when one of cinema's biggest taboos in trampled underfoot within the first 30 minutes, you know you're in for a one-of-a-kind experience. But rather than resorting to pure shock value, Carpenter cuts through the ultra-violence with a dose of good humor and over-the-top action. The last block of film itself plays like George Romero's "Night Of The Living Dead," only with thugs rather than zombies cornering our beloved characters.


Austin Stoker plays the wholesome hero officer, in sharp contrast to the self-assured and cool-as-a-cucumber alpha-criminal, as played by Darwin Joston. While Stoker oozes the necessary likability, Joston hams it up a bit, making his character sound better on paper. No matter, though, as the two play off of each other beautifully and you find yourself rooting for each individual equally. Future Carpenter regulars Nancy Loomis and Charlie Cyphers have bit parts, but are inconsequential to the plot. As far as the villains of the piece go, they are a dime-a-dozen, and by the end of the film, there are literally dozens of them coming from out of nowhere. There isn't really a single villain you could pick out of the crowd, as they are mostly faceless.


A classic Carpenter scores pulses through the film at key moments, but is never over-bearing in the slightest. Within one viewing, you'll find yourself tapping and humming along, a sure-fire clue that you are watching a prime Carpenter film.

The Bottom Line(s):

"Assault On Precinct 13" is a rather under-appreciated classic, though a minor one at that. It features a streak of ultraviolence and cynicism that could only have been produced in a post-Vietnam culture. Any fan of Carpenter, or thrillers in general, should see this ground-breaking little film at least once.

Lessons Learned:

1. Never ask a black man if he likes his coffee black, unless you are prepared for a witty comeback.

2. If an ice-cream man gets your order wrong, it's probably best to cut your losses and not go back.
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"Anyone got a smoke?"
mazec6661 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
As the director behind such horror masterpieces as HALLOWEEN and THE THING, John Carpenter's first shot at the action film is nothing short of amazing. Based on Howard Hawks' classic Western RIO BRAVO, the original ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is sort of an urban take on the genre but it succeeds quite well as a survivalist story.

Police Officer Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is about to have a not-so memorable night as he along with fellow cops and convicts must team up in order to fight for their lives. Hiding out in an abandoned police station, they are unexpectedly surrounded by a vicious multi-racial gang led by the sadistically homicidal Frank Doubleday.

The lack of dialog and motivation certainly makes his character more menacing despite having a short amount of screen time. Of course, Doubleday's head warlord involves himself in the most controversial scene in all of cinema. The actions will raise a lot of questions like: Why is he doing these murderous acts? Why is his gang brutally attacking innocent people? We may never know, and frankly we don't want to know.

Darwin Joston has been given one of the coolest names in movie history as slick jailbird Napoleon Wilson. The running gag involving Joston asking people for a cigarette may be considered an obsolete character trait today, but it stands as an example of clever screen writing on Carpenter's behalf.

Armed with a higher budget than DARK STAR, the film achieves its realistic edge with unrehearsed choreography, resourceful editing strategies and the always remarkable Panavision cinematography. However, the slow pacing may turn off novice viewers who are more used to fast-rhythm action. But I think it helps build the suspense within the economical storyline.

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is a near perfect example of low-budget filmmaking and a template of what is to come from John Carpenter.
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Vintage Carpentar film.
randymiles-6330926 June 2018
Assault on Precint 13 is a great film. Independent in quality and execution but better than many studio films. Young John Carpentar had already made Dark Star which is a comedy sci-fi better known for being the source for Ridley Scott's Alien in many ways and yet had Halloween ahead. This is great direction- there isn't much dialogue and the sequence of attack on the police station is very good.All actors are character types which only add to the atmosphere and realism.
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Carpenter's first masterpiece
rdoyle2918 August 2017
Carpenter's first proper feature is an amazingly taut and efficient action film equally inspired by "Rio Bravo" and "Night of the Living Dead". Carpenter lays out the plot setup and draws out his characters in about 15 minutes and then focuses on the siege of the precinct by a faceless horde of gang members. There's zero fat in this film. It's not all violence ... character relationships develop and deepen ... but it happens inside the structure of his action plot developing on the characters he laid out during the setup.
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Quickie Review: Assault on Precinct 13
The-Social-Introvert24 August 2015
Precinct 13 is what Carpenter considers to be his first real film. Despite being so, it contains some very impressive camera angles and use of shadows, as well as a score that, although technically simple, epitomises the word 'cool'. Made on a shoestring budget, it was unfairly gnawed at by critics and yet eventually cemented itself as a cult classic (which is a sentence that can be attributed to half of Carpenter's filmography) The plot, like all the best Carpenter movies, is a simple one – A group on inhabitants in an abandoned police station find themselves under attack from an unstoppable street gang.

The lack of funds available meant that coverage of scenes had to be played out from a single angle longer than normal. This gives the movie a straightforward, brutal and almost documentary-like approach. Pretty violent for its time, Precinct 13 grips you as you will for the goodies to make it out of this sticky situation alive. You also don't need to be a genius to see all the nods and reverences to Carpenter's favourite westerns. The acting quality varies between cast members, but the dynamic duo of Police Officer Austin Stroker and anti-hero Darwin Joston make up for the relatively sub-par supporting cast. The tension present in the film is just one of the many Carpenter trademarks that he would be later known for. Not much is known about the huge, almost cult-like, street gang – they are as enigmatic as any Carpenter villain, and the tautness of the movie is improved because of this.

Best Scene: That ice cream truck scene, which completely shocked me. A young girl who looks around only seven walks to the truck to replace her ice-cream but unbeknownst to her it have been boarded by the street gang. One member, without even looking, just points her gun at the sweet girl and blows her away. There's no dramatic music or anything; it's done in a matter-of-fact kind of way, which makes it all the more disturbing.
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Assault On The Sensible.
buckaroobanzai504 April 2003
A lot of people have critisised this movie, because they have missed the point of what John Carpenter was trying to do. He is so influenced by the westerns of the John Ford era, especially ones made in the '50s and '60s when Carpenter was young, starring actors like John Wayne and his ilk, that HE wants to make films like that. Which sometimes may result in wooden acting, as some have commented on. I think he almost...well, he did his own pastiche of Rio Bravo when he made 'Assault...'. In those old time westerns people didn't always show their true emotions. I particularly think that the scene where Laurie Zimmer's character is hit in the arm works because she is so busy pretending not to be scared, that she doesn't realise she's injured. Carpenter even took lines of dialogue directly from Rio Bravo; When one of the prisoners threatens to make a break for it, Austin Stoker says, 'I can't let you do that.' which is what John Wayne says to someone in one of his westerns. Let's not forget this is also an action movie, and people don't always act sensibly in those. 'Die Hard', another fave of mine, is full of mistakes I haven't time to type out right now. And the plot holes that someone also mentioned before? Well, as Carpenter didn't have a massive budget, he went overboard to be stylish, and I think he succeeded. He simply could not afford to film a massive police shoot out with hundreds of extras and cars. Also plotwise, the gangmembers would have been outnumbered in a shoot out. Gangs do not have helicopters as far as I know.

As for Carpenter's brilliant music, I could sing his praises all day. Many thrillers beforehand like 'Dirty Harry', used jazz or even funk music on their soundtrack. But since then the likes of 'Beverley Hills Cop' and 'Stakeout' have had electronic scores. In fact, they became de rigeur for a while in movies.

I'm not a blind fan of John Carpenter, and will readily admit that he's made some of the lamest turkeys out there. But when he made 'Assault...' he was just on the cusp of his talents. I certainly hope he returns to form.
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darwin joston will not be forgotten
ddazzo22 January 2001
I remember seeing ASSAULT uncut on television back in 1982. I was a Carpenter fan before then, but he won my respect for this low-budget classic. How many exploitation films from the seventies are this memorable. It obviously got lost in the double-feature shuffle of gang and biker pictures. I won't go on about the plot. The atmosphere and ingenuity this film shows is the key. I've been a fan of this film for almost twenty years and consider it John Carpenter in his absolute purist form. Everything you need to know about this man's style is in this compact little 90-minute gem. Darwin Joston was very, very memorable to me. Back in 1984, I ventured to look in an L.A. phonebook and found Darwin's phone number. After all, how many people have that name. It had to be him. We had a wonderful discussion about Carpenter and the film. Darwin was shocked that I even knew who he was, let alone that I was a fan. He was witty and warm. I'm saddened to hear of his passing in June, 1998. He deserved better than Hollywood gave him. I'm sure that he had more fans than he realized. I hope his family realizes that. ASSAULT isn't the greatest film ever made, but it is definitely the best use of $100,000 I've ever seen.
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cult classic
trashgang27 August 2009
Just before the rise of the slashers and the rise of John Carpenter as a horror director, remember Halloween and The Thing he made this gem. After the SF turkey Dark Star it wasn't simple for John to proof himself. It is nowadays that he is much more appreciated then in the 70's. Even with the much acclaimed The Thing John was spit out by the press, The Thing was a flop at the box offices and failed to have a great support, well we know better these days, what a classic that is, the effects, but back to Assault. That one too was not a favorite of the public. It was a bit the time of cop revenge movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish but Assault had one problem, the murder of a child in front of the camera. Even up to today standards that scene is explicit. But in his first major attempt you already can feel the atmosphere that he created for Halloween, the way he uses the camera and the score, excellent. Due the remake, won't bother to see it, the movie is now available at last. A must have in your collection.
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Night of the Living Dead
tieman6429 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"Assault on Precinct 13" is a deliciously sadistic low budget movie from schlock-master John Carpenter.

The plot is simple: A black criminal, a white criminal, a black policeman and two women, attempt to defend an abandoned police station from a gang of faceless criminals. Why do the gang want to attack the police station? That's not important. Carpenter wears his George Romero influences on his sleeves, opting to treat the gang as a horde of mindless zombies.

What the film does best is take the kind of sadistic pleasure one gets from bad, B movie westerns (cowboys holed up and slaughtering marauding Indians), and places it in an urban environment. Carpenter is a smart guy, though, and so thwarts any racist misreadings by making the bad guys a pack of multiracial zombies and the good guys a similar ethnic cocktail. End result: cowboys vs Indians without the guilt.

Well, maybe not all the guilt. Carpenter goes deliciously over the top in a number of scenes. He has a little girl shot point blank in the chest and ends his film with seemingly hundreds of gangsters being mercilessly gunned down. It's brutal stuff, but pales in comparison to some of the more violent films that were commonplace in the mid 70s. Peckinpah and Siegel had opened the squib floodgate five years earlier, and from then on, seemingly every exploitation film and B-movie was ridiculously bloody, bullet riddled bodies the raison-d'etre to most of these underground pictures.

Beyond the violence you're left with a couple of hastily sketched characters (Carpenter wrote the script in 20 days). None of them are particularly well written, but their monosyllabic prose and simple dialogue works in an archetypal way. Howard Hawks' "Rio Bravo" is the template here, Carpenter trying to resurrect gruff cowboys for his urban frontier.

7.9/10 - Moody atmosphere, taunt action and a memorable score by Carpenter (who always uses electro and synth tunes to great effect) make this an excellent low budget actioner in the vein of "Duel", "Mad Max", "Terminator", "Day of the Dead", and "The Warriors".

Worth one viewing.
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Hard-boiled action from start to finish
Coventry21 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
You can say a lot about John Carpenter ....but not that his visions as a director are limited. He's responsible for milestones in two of my favorite genres of cinema. Horror ( Halloween, the Thing ) and Action ( Assault and Escape from New York ). Carpenter was a multi-talented director around the time this movie was shot. He was a master in creating unique suspense and atmosphere and he was way ahead of his time. The futuristic image his portrays here is exceptional, depressive and disturbing. Therefore, Assault on Precinct 13 is an absolute MUST for action-fans and cult freaks.

Small SPOILERS coming up !!!!!!! The plot of Assault is surprisingly simple. Several characters are introduced briefly and after a certain incident they get united in an abandoned police station. From that moment on, these different types of personalities have to fight for their lives and stick together. They're kept under siege by violent gang-members who set their mind to slaughtering everybody inside the station. How simple this may sound, it's a lot more effective than most other far-fetched movies. Carpenter manages to create a claustrophobic atmosphere in his movie that lasts for almost the entire movie ( also thanks to his intense and creepy musical score ). The bad acting is a bit disappointing you have to keep in mind that Carpenter worked with a limited budget and rather inexperienced actors. The little weaknesses in Assault are widely compensated by the explicit violence shown on screen. For several sequences in this movie, you need to have a pretty strong stomach…

Especially when watching his most recent films ( like Ghost of Mars and Vampires ) you can't help wondering what the hell happened to John Carpenter !! He seemed to have lost every bit of his ancient talent. His modern movies are uninspired, pointless and not at all memorable. You can't go wrong if you stick to his classics…like this one. Highly recommended… Oh, one more thing….Assault on Precinct 13 contains the most brutal and shocking slaughtering sequence I ever saw !! You'll know which one I'm talking about when you see it. Enjoy !!!
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