Assault on Precinct 13


1h 31m 1976
Assault on Precinct 13

Brief Synopsis

A group of individuals trapped in a police station fight off a horde of murderous gang members.

Film Details

Also Known As
Anderson Alamo, The, Assaut, Attack mot polisstation 13
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Action
Crime
Thriller
Release Date
1976
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.; Overseas Filmgroup
Location
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Metrocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

It's the night before the headquarters of Precinct 13 will be closed for good, and the only ones left in the building are a few criminals being transferred and the officers guarding them. But a vicious street gang has the cops in its sights, and the isolated building is about to become a battle zone.

Photo Collections

Assault on Precinct 13 - Movie Poster
Assault on Precinct 13 - Movie Poster

Film Details

Also Known As
Anderson Alamo, The, Assaut, Attack mot polisstation 13
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Action
Crime
Thriller
Release Date
1976
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.; Overseas Filmgroup
Location
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Metrocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Assault on Precinct 13


Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) is not John Carpenter's first feature--he made his debut with Dark Star (1974), a college project he began at USC with fellow student Dan O'Bannon and expanded for theatrical distribution--but it is Carpenter's first real solo outing. As writer and director, it's his project from start to finish, and you can see it as a transition picture, between the hungry young student filmmaker of Dark Star, tossing together a project on a shoestring with friends, and the assured, commanding young professional of Halloween (1978) crafting a fully-realized feature with the control of a master storyteller. Assault on Precinct 13 is where he announces his influences, finds his strengths, and begins to develop his style.

Ostensibly an urban crime thriller of street gangs gone wild, Assault on Precinct 13 is a siege picture, a cross between a Howard Hawks western and a horror film. The model for the screenplay came from Hawks' 1959 classic Rio Bravo, specifically the setting of a small group of lawmen and civilians holed up in a sheriff's office under siege from a gang of gunfighters. "Assault on Precinct 13 came together very quickly," Carpenter told Robert C. Cumbow. "An investor from Philadelphia had some money and said, 'Let's make a movie.' And I said, 'Let's go,' and I wrote the script in eight days. I wanted to do a western, but I wasn't able to do a western, and it was the closest thing to it." For Assault, Carpenter transforms the sheriff's office into a small police station in a desolate, nearly abandoned Los Angeles neighborhood. The station is in the process of being shut down while the personnel is being transferred to a new station across town, and this practically abandoned building becomes the fort where a group of cops, criminals, civilians and office workers barricade themselves against an attack by a nearly faceless gang.

George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) is the other major influence on the film, as Carpenter has noted in numerous interviews. The attack is an act of revenge by a local multi-ethnic gang in retribution for the massacre of its members by vigilante cops, but as far as our heroes are concerned, it comes without explanation. The gang is almost mindlessly driven to attack, like the zombies of Night of the Living Dead, but unlike Romero's undead this force has a unity. They are like worker ants in a colony swarming its prey, unfazed by wounds or comrades falling dead around them as they sacrifice themselves for the group, not individuals so much as cells in a single mass organism working as a unit for a single goal. That single-minded purity of focus recurs through such subsequent Carpenter films as Halloween, The Thing (1982), and Prince of Darkness (1987), among others.

Austin Stoker plays the newly-promoted Police Lieutenant Ethan Bishop, who suddenly finds himself taking command during what is essentially a siege, and Darwin Joston is Napoleon Wilson, a convicted killer being transferred to Death Row who ends up taking refuge in the station and teams up with Bishop to hold off the assault. Where Bishop is the committed man in an impossible situation who rises to the challenge, Wilson is the good bad man with a dry sense of humor, the first draft of a character that will return in more confident and engaging form in Escape from New York (1981) as Snake Plissken.

Darwin Joston was actually a neighbor of Carpenter's who he thought would make a charismatic anti-hero. Austin Stoker remembers that it was Joston, a friend and colleague in his actor's workshop, who suggested him to Carpenter. Stoker had starred in Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) and Sheba Baby (1975) and played a police detective in Abby (1974) and Carpenter had seen him on the screen. He arranged a lunch meeting and gave him the role without even an audition. Nancy Loomis, who made her film debut as the station receptionist (and doubled as wardrobe mistress), went on to roles in Halloween and The Fog (1980), and Charles Cyphers, who plays Starker, went on to play the Sheriff in Halloween, Sam Phillips in Carpenter's TV movie Elvis (1979), and the Secretary of State in Escape from New York, among other Carpenter films. There were no stars in the cast but Henry Brandon, who has a small role as the police officer assigned to the station on its last night, whose career had spanned over fifty years. It was mostly in small roles but he earned cult status playing Chief Cicatriz, aka Scar, in John Ford's The Searchers (1956). Carpenter said he simply saw him in a casting file and said, "I want to cast him immediately."

Carpenter pieced together the visual landscape from numerous locations around Los Angeles. He used the Venice Police Station, which had been shut down and left standing vacant, for the exteriors, intercut with South Central Los Angeles for the surrounding neighborhood. The interior of the police station was constructed on a sound stage. With a relatively small budget (about $100,000) and a 25-day shooting schedule, Carpenter faced his first professional production (Dark Star was made over the course of years while he was a film student). He also edited the film himself, using the pseudonym John T. Chance as tribute to Rio Bravo (it's the name of John Wayne's character), and composed and performed the score on synthesizer, still a relatively novel electronic instrument in 1976. And Carpenter shot the film in Panavision, his first foray into what would became his format of choice. The widescreen frame emphasizes the emptiness of the desolate locations and the sense of isolation of the characters.

Assault on Precinct 13 is filled with references to Rio Bravo and his other influences. Bishop and Napoleon (freed from his cell as the gang members attack) toss guns and comments back and forth under fire, just like John Wayne and Dean Martin in Rio Bravo, and Napoleon's constant refrain "Got a smoke" (sharing cigarettes is the defining currency of friendship in Hawks films) finally gets one from Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), the station's administrator and the film's answer to the Hawks woman. A reference to "sunspotting" on a radio newscast calls out Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Napoleon Wilson borrows a line from Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West when he tells a cop, "A man told me, 'You've got something to do with death'."

Carpenter kept much of the violence and spectacle off screen, suggested in fragments or hidden in shadow or simply described by the characters hiding out in the station, and saved his budget for a few complicated, carefully choreographed action sequences. But the seriousness of the threat is established early on with the gruesome massacre and the startling murder of a child and the film was threatened with an X-rating by the MPAA unless he removed the latter scene. Carpenter confessed years later that he got around the issue by cutting the scene on the print screened for the ratings board and then leaving it in the release prints.

It was not a financial success in the U.S. but it found an audience in England and Europe, and gave Carpenter the cache and confidence to make Halloween, which became the most successful independent feature of all time. It gave Assault on Precinct 13 a new lease on life and attention from American film critics, including a belated review in the New York Times. Vincent Canby praised the film and its director: "Mr. Carpenter is an extremely resourceful director whose ability to construct films entirely out of action and movement suggests that he may one day be a director to rank with Don Siegel." On that score, he was quite correct.

Sources:
Order in the Universe: The Films of John Carpenter, Robert C. Cumbow. Scarecrow Press, 2000.
"Q&A with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker," Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, January 25, 2002.
"Bishop Under Siege: An Interview with Austin Stoker," Assault on Precinct 13: Collector's Edition Blu-ray. Shout! Factory, 2013.
IMDb

By Sean Axmaker
Assault On Precinct 13

Assault on Precinct 13

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) is not John Carpenter's first feature--he made his debut with Dark Star (1974), a college project he began at USC with fellow student Dan O'Bannon and expanded for theatrical distribution--but it is Carpenter's first real solo outing. As writer and director, it's his project from start to finish, and you can see it as a transition picture, between the hungry young student filmmaker of Dark Star, tossing together a project on a shoestring with friends, and the assured, commanding young professional of Halloween (1978) crafting a fully-realized feature with the control of a master storyteller. Assault on Precinct 13 is where he announces his influences, finds his strengths, and begins to develop his style. Ostensibly an urban crime thriller of street gangs gone wild, Assault on Precinct 13 is a siege picture, a cross between a Howard Hawks western and a horror film. The model for the screenplay came from Hawks' 1959 classic Rio Bravo, specifically the setting of a small group of lawmen and civilians holed up in a sheriff's office under siege from a gang of gunfighters. "Assault on Precinct 13 came together very quickly," Carpenter told Robert C. Cumbow. "An investor from Philadelphia had some money and said, 'Let's make a movie.' And I said, 'Let's go,' and I wrote the script in eight days. I wanted to do a western, but I wasn't able to do a western, and it was the closest thing to it." For Assault, Carpenter transforms the sheriff's office into a small police station in a desolate, nearly abandoned Los Angeles neighborhood. The station is in the process of being shut down while the personnel is being transferred to a new station across town, and this practically abandoned building becomes the fort where a group of cops, criminals, civilians and office workers barricade themselves against an attack by a nearly faceless gang. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) is the other major influence on the film, as Carpenter has noted in numerous interviews. The attack is an act of revenge by a local multi-ethnic gang in retribution for the massacre of its members by vigilante cops, but as far as our heroes are concerned, it comes without explanation. The gang is almost mindlessly driven to attack, like the zombies of Night of the Living Dead, but unlike Romero's undead this force has a unity. They are like worker ants in a colony swarming its prey, unfazed by wounds or comrades falling dead around them as they sacrifice themselves for the group, not individuals so much as cells in a single mass organism working as a unit for a single goal. That single-minded purity of focus recurs through such subsequent Carpenter films as Halloween, The Thing (1982), and Prince of Darkness (1987), among others. Austin Stoker plays the newly-promoted Police Lieutenant Ethan Bishop, who suddenly finds himself taking command during what is essentially a siege, and Darwin Joston is Napoleon Wilson, a convicted killer being transferred to Death Row who ends up taking refuge in the station and teams up with Bishop to hold off the assault. Where Bishop is the committed man in an impossible situation who rises to the challenge, Wilson is the good bad man with a dry sense of humor, the first draft of a character that will return in more confident and engaging form in Escape from New York (1981) as Snake Plissken. Darwin Joston was actually a neighbor of Carpenter's who he thought would make a charismatic anti-hero. Austin Stoker remembers that it was Joston, a friend and colleague in his actor's workshop, who suggested him to Carpenter. Stoker had starred in Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) and Sheba Baby (1975) and played a police detective in Abby (1974) and Carpenter had seen him on the screen. He arranged a lunch meeting and gave him the role without even an audition. Nancy Loomis, who made her film debut as the station receptionist (and doubled as wardrobe mistress), went on to roles in Halloween and The Fog (1980), and Charles Cyphers, who plays Starker, went on to play the Sheriff in Halloween, Sam Phillips in Carpenter's TV movie Elvis (1979), and the Secretary of State in Escape from New York, among other Carpenter films. There were no stars in the cast but Henry Brandon, who has a small role as the police officer assigned to the station on its last night, whose career had spanned over fifty years. It was mostly in small roles but he earned cult status playing Chief Cicatriz, aka Scar, in John Ford's The Searchers (1956). Carpenter said he simply saw him in a casting file and said, "I want to cast him immediately." Carpenter pieced together the visual landscape from numerous locations around Los Angeles. He used the Venice Police Station, which had been shut down and left standing vacant, for the exteriors, intercut with South Central Los Angeles for the surrounding neighborhood. The interior of the police station was constructed on a sound stage. With a relatively small budget (about $100,000) and a 25-day shooting schedule, Carpenter faced his first professional production (Dark Star was made over the course of years while he was a film student). He also edited the film himself, using the pseudonym John T. Chance as tribute to Rio Bravo (it's the name of John Wayne's character), and composed and performed the score on synthesizer, still a relatively novel electronic instrument in 1976. And Carpenter shot the film in Panavision, his first foray into what would became his format of choice. The widescreen frame emphasizes the emptiness of the desolate locations and the sense of isolation of the characters. Assault on Precinct 13 is filled with references to Rio Bravo and his other influences. Bishop and Napoleon (freed from his cell as the gang members attack) toss guns and comments back and forth under fire, just like John Wayne and Dean Martin in Rio Bravo, and Napoleon's constant refrain "Got a smoke" (sharing cigarettes is the defining currency of friendship in Hawks films) finally gets one from Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), the station's administrator and the film's answer to the Hawks woman. A reference to "sunspotting" on a radio newscast calls out Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Napoleon Wilson borrows a line from Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West when he tells a cop, "A man told me, 'You've got something to do with death'." Carpenter kept much of the violence and spectacle off screen, suggested in fragments or hidden in shadow or simply described by the characters hiding out in the station, and saved his budget for a few complicated, carefully choreographed action sequences. But the seriousness of the threat is established early on with the gruesome massacre and the startling murder of a child and the film was threatened with an X-rating by the MPAA unless he removed the latter scene. Carpenter confessed years later that he got around the issue by cutting the scene on the print screened for the ratings board and then leaving it in the release prints. It was not a financial success in the U.S. but it found an audience in England and Europe, and gave Carpenter the cache and confidence to make Halloween, which became the most successful independent feature of all time. It gave Assault on Precinct 13 a new lease on life and attention from American film critics, including a belated review in the New York Times. Vincent Canby praised the film and its director: "Mr. Carpenter is an extremely resourceful director whose ability to construct films entirely out of action and movement suggests that he may one day be a director to rank with Don Siegel." On that score, he was quite correct. Sources: Order in the Universe: The Films of John Carpenter, Robert C. Cumbow. Scarecrow Press, 2000. "Q&A with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker," Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, January 25, 2002. "Bishop Under Siege: An Interview with Austin Stoker," Assault on Precinct 13: Collector's Edition Blu-ray. Shout! Factory, 2013. IMDb By Sean Axmaker

Assault on Precinct 13 (Restored's Collector's Edition) - The Restored Collector's Edition of John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)


For his second feature film and first production utilizing rented soundstage space, professional actors and an actual shooting schedule, John Carpenter attempted to pay homage to Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo (1959) but wound up with something closer kin (by his own admission) to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). (Splitting the difference, Assault on Precinct 13 also bears a striking relationship to The Thing from Another World [1954], which is commonly believed to have been directed by Howard Hawks even though he took credit only as a producer.) Happily, this siege scenario is, despite influences intentional and otherwise, its very own animal and an essential 70s action flick. Made for $100,000 (nearly double the budget of Carpenter's Dark Star [1974]), Assault on Precinct 13 was nonetheless a grueling experience for all involved, who endured around-the-clock shooting, stifling soundstage temperatures, frigid exterior night shoots, the lack of professional stuntmen, squib misfires, potentially lethal loads of firearm blanks and showers of shattered window glass (the real thing being cheaper than "candy" glass) – but the result speaks for itself. A box office failure at the time of its November 1976 release, Assault on Precinct 13 nonetheless benefited from avid word of mouth in the years before Carpenter broke the bank with his mega-successful Halloween (1978). The film proved to be the breakout hit of the 1977 London Film Festival, was hailed by The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film as a "modern exploitation classic" five years later and in 1999 was dubbed by Premiere magazine one of "50 Unsung Classics."

Despite the influence of Assault on Precinct 13 on future generations of filmmakers, what most Carpenter copycats miss in their rush to ape the Kentucky-born, USC-educated filmmaker's style is his classic aesthetic. (Carpenter has admitted to interviewers that he would have felt at home as a studio director in the Forties and Fifties.) True to form, Assault is deliberately paced, taking its own sweet time to layer plot points and character details before bringing the principals together no earlier than the 40 minute mark. Prizing "the old tradition of heroism" but exhibiting an invigorating lack of sentiment, Carpenter keeps the film's long first act tense and upsetting with the (still) shocking point blank murder of a young girl (Kim Richards, between starring roles in Disney's Escape to Witch Mountain [1975] and Return to Witch Mountain [1978]) – murder doesn't get any more cold blooded than this. Although Carpenter's initial use of actual South Central Los Angeles locations give the proceedings a sun baked verité and the employment of date and time stamps echo the foreboding "You Are There" feel of vintage Peter Watkins (particularly 1971's Punishment Park), Assault on Precinct 13 is essentially a dark fairytale. Sloughing off any obligation to accurately depict police procedure or race relations in America (the invading youth gang is multi-racial and better choreographed than a Fosse kickline), the film adheres to nightmare logic only, alternating money saving dialogue scenes (in which the actors react to offscreen business too expensive to stage) with suspenseful setpieces and bursts of ultra-violence that plunger-push the narrative to a somewhat pat but engaging and memorable conclusion. On its surface, Assault on Precinct 13 seems obvious and simple to the point of childishness... until one considers how impossible to duplicate its formula has proven over the past thirty years.

Assault on Precinct 13 has been well represented in the home video market. Image Entertainment's new "Restored Collector's Edition" follows two prior DVD releases (the last in 2003) and a previous laserdisc. This remastered high definition edition preserves the film's original Panavision framing, letterboxing the anamorphically enhanced image at the correct 2.35:1. Colors are brighter than in past transfers, and although there is a discernable level of film grain (appropriate for a film of this vintage and modest means), the overall presentation is highly satisfying. The new disc offers an audio assortment of the film's original mono track plus a more robust (albeit gimmicky) 5.1 Surround mix. John Carpenter's folksy audio commentary has been ported over from a past edition. Devoid of ego, the track is informative and congenial, although the filmmaker falls back on play-by-play descriptions of things the viewer can plainly see for himself. Carpenter points out one scene shot during a big Los Angeles fire and notes that the address of the relocated police precinct used in the film was actually his first Hollywood apartment. A bit fresher is a 2002 video Q&A with Carpenter and leading man Austin Stoker conducted after a screening of Assault on Precinct 13 at The Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard; of amateur quality (and with Stoker's comments being difficult to hear), the clip is nonetheless valuable and welcome. The assortment of bonuses is rounded out by a scratchy 2-minute theatrical trailer (complete with a dialogue snipped that uses the word "goddamn"), two radio spots ("A white hot night of hate!") and a 17-minute slide show "Production Gallery" that includes Carpenter's storyboard panels, black-and-white and color production candids and stills, promotional materials and pages from the original script, titled The Anderson Alamo.

For more information about Assault on Precinct 13, visit Image Entertainment. To order Assault on Precinct 13, go to TCM Shopping.

by Richard Harland Smith

Assault on Precinct 13 (Restored's Collector's Edition) - The Restored Collector's Edition of John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

For his second feature film and first production utilizing rented soundstage space, professional actors and an actual shooting schedule, John Carpenter attempted to pay homage to Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo (1959) but wound up with something closer kin (by his own admission) to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). (Splitting the difference, Assault on Precinct 13 also bears a striking relationship to The Thing from Another World [1954], which is commonly believed to have been directed by Howard Hawks even though he took credit only as a producer.) Happily, this siege scenario is, despite influences intentional and otherwise, its very own animal and an essential 70s action flick. Made for $100,000 (nearly double the budget of Carpenter's Dark Star [1974]), Assault on Precinct 13 was nonetheless a grueling experience for all involved, who endured around-the-clock shooting, stifling soundstage temperatures, frigid exterior night shoots, the lack of professional stuntmen, squib misfires, potentially lethal loads of firearm blanks and showers of shattered window glass (the real thing being cheaper than "candy" glass) – but the result speaks for itself. A box office failure at the time of its November 1976 release, Assault on Precinct 13 nonetheless benefited from avid word of mouth in the years before Carpenter broke the bank with his mega-successful Halloween (1978). The film proved to be the breakout hit of the 1977 London Film Festival, was hailed by The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film as a "modern exploitation classic" five years later and in 1999 was dubbed by Premiere magazine one of "50 Unsung Classics." Despite the influence of Assault on Precinct 13 on future generations of filmmakers, what most Carpenter copycats miss in their rush to ape the Kentucky-born, USC-educated filmmaker's style is his classic aesthetic. (Carpenter has admitted to interviewers that he would have felt at home as a studio director in the Forties and Fifties.) True to form, Assault is deliberately paced, taking its own sweet time to layer plot points and character details before bringing the principals together no earlier than the 40 minute mark. Prizing "the old tradition of heroism" but exhibiting an invigorating lack of sentiment, Carpenter keeps the film's long first act tense and upsetting with the (still) shocking point blank murder of a young girl (Kim Richards, between starring roles in Disney's Escape to Witch Mountain [1975] and Return to Witch Mountain [1978]) – murder doesn't get any more cold blooded than this. Although Carpenter's initial use of actual South Central Los Angeles locations give the proceedings a sun baked verité and the employment of date and time stamps echo the foreboding "You Are There" feel of vintage Peter Watkins (particularly 1971's Punishment Park), Assault on Precinct 13 is essentially a dark fairytale. Sloughing off any obligation to accurately depict police procedure or race relations in America (the invading youth gang is multi-racial and better choreographed than a Fosse kickline), the film adheres to nightmare logic only, alternating money saving dialogue scenes (in which the actors react to offscreen business too expensive to stage) with suspenseful setpieces and bursts of ultra-violence that plunger-push the narrative to a somewhat pat but engaging and memorable conclusion. On its surface, Assault on Precinct 13 seems obvious and simple to the point of childishness... until one considers how impossible to duplicate its formula has proven over the past thirty years. Assault on Precinct 13 has been well represented in the home video market. Image Entertainment's new "Restored Collector's Edition" follows two prior DVD releases (the last in 2003) and a previous laserdisc. This remastered high definition edition preserves the film's original Panavision framing, letterboxing the anamorphically enhanced image at the correct 2.35:1. Colors are brighter than in past transfers, and although there is a discernable level of film grain (appropriate for a film of this vintage and modest means), the overall presentation is highly satisfying. The new disc offers an audio assortment of the film's original mono track plus a more robust (albeit gimmicky) 5.1 Surround mix. John Carpenter's folksy audio commentary has been ported over from a past edition. Devoid of ego, the track is informative and congenial, although the filmmaker falls back on play-by-play descriptions of things the viewer can plainly see for himself. Carpenter points out one scene shot during a big Los Angeles fire and notes that the address of the relocated police precinct used in the film was actually his first Hollywood apartment. A bit fresher is a 2002 video Q&A with Carpenter and leading man Austin Stoker conducted after a screening of Assault on Precinct 13 at The Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard; of amateur quality (and with Stoker's comments being difficult to hear), the clip is nonetheless valuable and welcome. The assortment of bonuses is rounded out by a scratchy 2-minute theatrical trailer (complete with a dialogue snipped that uses the word "goddamn"), two radio spots ("A white hot night of hate!") and a 17-minute slide show "Production Gallery" that includes Carpenter's storyboard panels, black-and-white and color production candids and stills, promotional materials and pages from the original script, titled The Anderson Alamo. For more information about Assault on Precinct 13, visit Image Entertainment. To order Assault on Precinct 13, go to TCM Shopping. by Richard Harland Smith

Assault on Precinct 13 - ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13


Sometimes a film's premise is good enough to sustain you through the dead spots in the narrative, a low budget or less than stellar acting. That's certainly the case with Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), John Carpenter's second directorial effort (after his collaboration with Dan O'Bannon on Dark Star, 1974). An urban reworking of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo (1959) with elements of Night of the Living Dead (1968) woven into its nightmarish scenario, the story focuses on the closing day of a police station, situated in an isolated ghetto of Los Angeles. As the few remaining employees pack up to move to their new location, they receive some unwanted visitors - a van load of Death Row convicts who are ordered into quarantine due to a sick and highly contagious prisoner amongst them. As night falls, the situation becomes increasingly tense with the arrival of a hysterical man who sets in motion an organized siege on the precinct from the surrounding neighborhood gangs.

Though slow and deliberate in its pacing by current action film standards, Assault on Precinct 13, now available in a new special edition from Image Entertainment, is still a lot of fun for film buffs and Carpenter fans. Shot in Panavision ("My favorite aspect ratio," the director states in his commentary), it's a very accomplished looking feature considering its meager budget (approximately $100,000) and lack of major stars. Some of the plot twists are truly unpredictable (the scene with the little girl and the ice cream vendor isn't exactly a "Disney moment"), the nighttime assault sequences are genuinely creepy, and Carpenter's maddeningly minimalist music score actually helps build a mood of claustrophobic menace. Most of the actors are acceptable in their roles but lack genuine charisma, particularly Darwin Joston as Napoleon Wilson, the badass convict turned hero. It doesn't help that his dialogue is particularly lame tough-guy banter with the oft repeated line, "Got a cigarette?," offered up as a witty retort to any comment. But you can see the rough sketch for Kurt Russell's Snake Plissken character (from Escape From New York, 1981) in Joston's pivotal role.

One of the most entertaining aspects of this special edition DVD of Assault on Precinct 13 is the running commentary by Carpenter who's become an old pro at this sort of feature. He's succinct and informative in his observations. Plus, he has a sense of humor about himself and is quick to point out his mistakes as well as his more inspired moments in the making of this film. We learn that the gang members killed in the film's opening moments were college friends of his and not professional stuntmen; that the editor credited as John T. Chance (an alias for Carpenter) was an homage to John Wayne's character in Rio Bravo; that Kim Richards, the young actress in the ice cream vendor incident, was a veteran of such Disney fare as Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), and really enjoyed performing her infamous death scene.

Other DVD extras include a filmed interview with Carpenter and lead actor Austin Stoker (filmed at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles), Carpenter's isolated music score, radio spots, a still gallery and the original theatrical trailer. Assault on Precinct 13 is presented in its original 2.25:1 Panavision aspect ratio, enhanced for 16:9 TVs.

For more information about Assault on Precinct 13, visit Image Entertainment. To purchase a copy of Assault on Precinct 13, visit TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford

Assault on Precinct 13 - ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13

Sometimes a film's premise is good enough to sustain you through the dead spots in the narrative, a low budget or less than stellar acting. That's certainly the case with Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), John Carpenter's second directorial effort (after his collaboration with Dan O'Bannon on Dark Star, 1974). An urban reworking of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo (1959) with elements of Night of the Living Dead (1968) woven into its nightmarish scenario, the story focuses on the closing day of a police station, situated in an isolated ghetto of Los Angeles. As the few remaining employees pack up to move to their new location, they receive some unwanted visitors - a van load of Death Row convicts who are ordered into quarantine due to a sick and highly contagious prisoner amongst them. As night falls, the situation becomes increasingly tense with the arrival of a hysterical man who sets in motion an organized siege on the precinct from the surrounding neighborhood gangs. Though slow and deliberate in its pacing by current action film standards, Assault on Precinct 13, now available in a new special edition from Image Entertainment, is still a lot of fun for film buffs and Carpenter fans. Shot in Panavision ("My favorite aspect ratio," the director states in his commentary), it's a very accomplished looking feature considering its meager budget (approximately $100,000) and lack of major stars. Some of the plot twists are truly unpredictable (the scene with the little girl and the ice cream vendor isn't exactly a "Disney moment"), the nighttime assault sequences are genuinely creepy, and Carpenter's maddeningly minimalist music score actually helps build a mood of claustrophobic menace. Most of the actors are acceptable in their roles but lack genuine charisma, particularly Darwin Joston as Napoleon Wilson, the badass convict turned hero. It doesn't help that his dialogue is particularly lame tough-guy banter with the oft repeated line, "Got a cigarette?," offered up as a witty retort to any comment. But you can see the rough sketch for Kurt Russell's Snake Plissken character (from Escape From New York, 1981) in Joston's pivotal role. One of the most entertaining aspects of this special edition DVD of Assault on Precinct 13 is the running commentary by Carpenter who's become an old pro at this sort of feature. He's succinct and informative in his observations. Plus, he has a sense of humor about himself and is quick to point out his mistakes as well as his more inspired moments in the making of this film. We learn that the gang members killed in the film's opening moments were college friends of his and not professional stuntmen; that the editor credited as John T. Chance (an alias for Carpenter) was an homage to John Wayne's character in Rio Bravo; that Kim Richards, the young actress in the ice cream vendor incident, was a veteran of such Disney fare as Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), and really enjoyed performing her infamous death scene. Other DVD extras include a filmed interview with Carpenter and lead actor Austin Stoker (filmed at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles), Carpenter's isolated music score, radio spots, a still gallery and the original theatrical trailer. Assault on Precinct 13 is presented in its original 2.25:1 Panavision aspect ratio, enhanced for 16:9 TVs. For more information about Assault on Precinct 13, visit Image Entertainment. To purchase a copy of Assault on Precinct 13, visit TCM Shopping. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

Look at that, two cops wishing me luck. I'm doomed.
- Wells
There are no heroes anymore, Bishop. Just men who follow orders.
- Captain Collins
Can't argue with a confident man.
- Napoleon Wilson
In my situation, days are like women - each one's so damn precious, but they all end up leaving you.
- Napoleon Wilson
I believe in one man.
- Napoleon Wilson

Trivia

Following the release of his first feature, Dark Star (1974), John Carpenter was approached by a group of investors who gave him carte blanche to make whatever kind of picture he wanted, albeit with a very limited budget. Although Carpenter wanted to make a Western, he knew he wouldn't have the resources to make a period piece. He wrote ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 as a highly stylized, modern-day Western, essentially remaking Rio Bravo (1959) directed by Carpenter's hero, Howard Hawks. Carpenter acknowledges this debt to Hawks and Rio Bravo by using the pseudonym of John T. Chance for his film editor's credit. John T. Chance was the name of John Wayne's character in Rio Bravo

as one of the gang members shot trying to climb in through a window

The precinct's new address, 1977 Ellendale Place (written on a sign erected in front of the building) was director John Carpenter's real address when he first lived in Los Angeles.

'John Carpenter' has said that he based his score to this film on both 'Lalo Schifrin''s (qv) score to Dirty Harry (1971) and Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song".

Darwin Joston's portrayal of convict Napoleon Wilson is inspired by Charles Bronson's character "Harmonica" in _Once Upon a Time in the West (1969)_ ; when asked to explain themselves and their actions, both respond "Only at the point of dyin'.."

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall November 5, 1976

Released in United States 1998

Shown at Vancouver International Film Festival September 26 - October 12, 1998.

Released in United States Fall November 5, 1976

Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Vancouver International Film Festival September 26 - October 12, 1998.)