John Carpenter is one of those few directors out there who manage to successfully take the audience on a giant roller coaster ride with his films without insulting their intelligence. Other directors like Christopher Nolan and James Cameron do that as well, but with Carpenter, he creates stories that go up to the fine line of taste and rides along it. In the case of Assault on Precinct 13, this is a unique hybrid of action and horror, and because of its unrelenting and foreboding atmosphere, this deserves to be placed alongside Dawn of the Dead or even Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Like those films, this is very low-budget, has a largely unknown cast, and places them within a terrifying situation without delving too deep into their backstories.
The way the film plays out is almost like clockwork due to how Carpenter manages to connect every piece together in a truly satisfying way, and this shows signs of a director that has a promising future ahead him (Halloween, Escape From New York, The Thing, etc.). Assault on Precinct 13 was one of Carpenter’s first feature films, and that is truly evident throughout; it’s flawed and imperfect on both a technical and a story-telling level (Carpenter himself admitted that the ice cream shooting scene was wrong).
However, there’s a frantic pace to it, as well as an addictive sense of dread and urgency, that makes this feel like some long, non-stop, brutal, full-frontal assault movie, and that is what makes it somewhat addictive to watch. What also makes it unique is that, at its core, is a simple yet effective premise: a small group of people trapped within a building, the building gets shut down, attackers storm the building, and the group has to try and get out without dying in the process. Of course, this formula would later get utilised in films like The Raid, Dredd and F, but this is where that began, and it flows smoothly and because it has a great pace to it, it doesn’t feel long or stretched out.
John Carpenter is a filmmaker who has had a very successful career, one that has spawned a legion of cult fans. Halloween is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, horror films of all time, as well as being one of the most influential. True, he has made some stinkers (Escape From LA, The Ward), but in this case, his greatest works outweighs the worst by far. Assault on Precinct 13 is no exception, offering a refreshing experience that maintains great tension and a solid pace, yet never cheats out on its audience, nor does it treat them like cattle. While it is unfortunate that a remake came our way in 2005, not even that could tarnish the memory of this film.
Dir: John Carpenter
Scr: John Carpenter
Cast: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Tony Burton, Laurie Zimmer, Nancy Kyes, Martin West, Charles Cyphers, Henry Brandon
Prd: J.S. Kaplan
DOP: Douglas Knapp
Music: John Carpenter
Run time: 91 mins
Assault on Precinct 13 is out on Blu-Ray November 28th