FRED Watch Quickie Review: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
JOHN CARPENTER’S EPIC ASSAULT!
I’m a Wayne Stellini and welcome to FRED Watch, where we review everything from the mainstream to the obscure. Today’s film is John Carpenter’s cult classic exploitation flick Assault on Precinct 13…
Left in charge of Precinct 9 in Division 13 on its last day of operation, Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) finds himself, as well as colleagues, prisoners, and a civilian, the target of an armed street gang.
Unprepared for the onslaught, Bishop holds out for a rescue while trying to keep the bandits at bay…
Having made Dark Star two years earlier and taking inspiration from Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo (1959), John Carpenter begins his immortalisation in genre cinema with Assault on Precinct 13. (This honour would be solidified when Carpenter redefined horror movies with Halloween in 1978.)
A bloody, no-holds-barred, and excessively violent exercise, Assault on Precinct 13‘s first act takes its time, running three stories simultaneously without any apparent strong connection. It isn’t until we reach about the half-way mark that these seemingly disjointed perspectives come crashing together and the film goes into overdrive—the bullets fly, and how!
It becomes evident quite quickly that Carpenter is less concerned with the characters as people or their backstories, but more so with how their personality traits contribute to the end goal of everyone involved. And why shouldn’t he be? For the most part, we know as much about them as they know about one another. The focus of the story is survival, where unlikely allies work together to overcome a shared threat.
In this case, that threat is in the form of a ruthless gang controlled by four warlords who are identified in terms of their respective ethnicities. To intensify the impact of their maniacal presence, these men and their thugs are depicted as nothing more than killing machines, particularly Frank Doubleday‘s White Warlord, who is involved in the film’s most shocking and (still) controversial scene. (No spoilers here, folks, but you’ll know it when you see it.)
As for the captives held up in the defunct precinct, Austin Stoker is in fine form as Bishop, whose leadership and rational thinking is displayed in the most erratic of circumstances. Two prisoners are by his side: death row inmate Napoleon Wilson (the charming Darwin Joston) and Wells (the always reliable Tony Burton), as well as precinct secretary Leigh (Laurie Zimmer). Additional characters are given less screen time, but each serves their purpose for the story perfectly. The film is also photographed and cut together rather stylishly.
Do not be mistaken, Carpenter never aimed to present a thought-provoking commentary on gang violence or the crumbling of society’s moral code. He did, however, strive to make an intense and entertaining action thriller that proves no one is beyond redemption. And Carpenter achieves this with flying colours. 4 / 5
Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis, Henry Brandon, Kim Richards, Peter Bruni, John J. Fox, Peter Frankland, Frank Doubleday, Gilbert De la Pena, Al Nakauchi, James Johnson, Marc Ross, Alan Koss.
Director/Writer/Music/Editor: John Carpenter | Producer: J. S. Kaplan | Cinematographer: Douglas Knapp
Let us know what you thought of this film in the comments!
I’ve been a Wayne Stellini and you’ve just experienced FRED Watch.