MOVIE REVIEW | Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

When Assault on Precinct 13 got remade a few years ago starring Ethan Hawke, there was a bit of an uproar from ironic movie nerds who thought the original’s legacy shouldn’t be desecrated by a slick, new millennium reboot.  That reaction really surprised me.  Not because I thought the remake would be any good, but because I had never even heard of the original.  It’s one of those cult classics that passed me by.  So seeing the original Assault on Precinct for the first time, without the aid of childhood nostalgia, the odds of me liking it or not was always going to be a coin flip.

First of all, before any of the story starts, this movie already rules purely for its John Carpenter score.  The man with the hardest working Casio in Hollywood delivers one of his signature synth drone masterpieces that makes even the basic ‘red text on black background’ credits seem exciting and ominous about what’s about to go down.  I like Carpenter as a director, but I love him as one of the most unique and recognisable composers of movie scores.

During an attempted night time robbery, three members of the Street Thunder gang are killed by the LAPD.  The rest of the gang swears revenge and declares war on the city.  The next day, Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker), a newly promoted LAPD Lieutenant, gets his new assignment, baby sitting an all but abandoned police station in its last days before it is closed for ever.

At the same time, convicted killer Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Jostin) is being transported from prison to his execution.  Soon enough, all of these ingredients converge on the empty police station.  As Street Thunder attacks, the new Lieutenant has to rely on the left behind station secretaries, and the condemned Wilson, along with another convicted criminal.

The story goes that Carpenter was given complete creative control, as long as he could stick to a miniscule budget.  He did, and the result is an infectiously fun genre and exploitation piece in all the best ways.

The violence is frequent, fake and over the top to the point of hilarious.  The performances are stilted, awkward and amateur to the point of strangely Oscar worthy.  And Assault on Precinct 13 moves at such a cracking pace, that even if you don’t like that kind of thing, you’ll be to busy recovering from the bullets, explosions and scenery chewing to ever be bored.

John Carpenter’s only made two movies since the turn of the century, and that’s a real shame.  For me, he goes in the same category as Terry Gilliam.  I don’t necessarily like that many of the things he’s made, but I love that he’s out there, doing is own wacky thing the way only Terry Gilliam can.  I think the movie world could only be better of Carpenter was still out there, doing his own wacky thing, the way only John Carpenter could do it.

Assault on Precinct 13
Direct By – John Carpenter
Written BY – John Carpenter

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