Review of Assault on Precinct (1976)

21 Sep

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) is an action/thriller/neo-western film about a group of people defending a police station from a gang attack.

Directed by John Carpenter (Dark Star (1974), The Ward (2010)).

Written by John Carpenter (Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Ghosts of Mars (2001)).

Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Nancy Loomis, Tony Burton, Henry Brandon, Kim Richards and others.

The first thing that pulls you into the movie is the cool theme music, which is not unusual for a John Carpenter movie. I love his synth-heavy film scores, in some ways more than the classical orchestral arrangements.

It starts by introducing various groups of people and all the introductions start with a time stamp, by the time I saw any of the time stamps, I had forgotten the previous one, so it didn’t help to lock the scenes in some time slot, but it helped to create the feeling, that it was all building-up to something. Having seen more than a few movies, it becomes immediately clear, that eventually all the groups will collide. The way they are brought together is actually really cool and natural.

Unusual for the time, the protagonist is a black cop. Here the resemblances to Night of the Living Dead start, which obviously has inspired the movie, besides the fact that it’s in a way a remake of Rio Bravo. The black cop goes to a police station that is closing – precinct 9. That’s right, 9, I guess 13 just sound so much better than 9 to marketing people.

The movie is really ruthless, the bad guys are set up by having one of them do a shockingly unexpected killing. This makes you think he’s going to be the villain, but he is more a symbol of the whole group. To further the comparison to Night of the Living Dead, the gang members that attack the police  station are a lot like zombies. They don’t have dialogue, they don’t hesitate to attack and kill and they just keep on coming, seemingly with no source.

At times it is kind of funny, because in a way it’s a parody of western archetypical heroes and anti-heroes and villains, having them deliver these absurd lines, that don’t make sense in the 70’s, yet at the same time it is a solid action film and not that cheesy. Also I cannot believe you can make a movie like this for just 100 000 dollars, I understand it’s 1976 dollars, but still, that’s a pretty low-budget for an action movie.

I guess, Carpenter could be called a successor of Hitchcock, not in acclaim, but in being another master of suspense, because,  Carpenter manages in his second movie to have the tension from the first minutes and last pretty much throughout the whole movie.

Overall, it’s a simple, cool and suspenseful low-budget action-thriller and I only say that because most of its shortcomings can be excused by the low production costs, which isn’t actually that noticeable. Recommended.

Gangs – bringing Che Guevara, Billy Dee Williams, a white guy and the Wolfman together since 1976.

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