In our increasingly innumerate series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams, we present John Carpenter’s urban western: Assault on Precinct 13.
People are always trying to remake John Carpenter’s films. There’s been a bunch of Halloween sequels, a The Thing remake and an Assault on Precinct 13 remake. It’s probably his own fault. His The Thing was after all a remake that managed to surpass the original Howard Hawks picture The Thing from Outer Space. Even Assault on Precinct 13 is a kind of remake. It’s basically Rio Bravo – again Howard Hawks – remade as urban nightmare.
Austin Stoker plays Lieutenant Ethan Bishop, a cop whose first command is a deserted station house in the middle of a rough ghetto in Los Angeles. The police station is being mothballed and Bishop just needs to sit out the night, but unbeknownst to him a criminal gang with a large cache of weapons have sworn a blood oath against the LAPD, a child is about to be murdered and a bus transporting a high profile prisoner is about to stop off. Before you can say – Night of the Living Dead – the criminal hoards are descending on the Alamo style holdout and the cop and criminal and civilian must work together to survive.
Carpenter crafts his low budget thriller with amazing style and discipline. A sequence involving a murderous gang and an ice cream van is an exercise in building tension. And then with a pay off that to this day packs a horrific punch. Although the script was the work of a mere 8 days, it has some genuinely witty dialogue, especially with the character of the infamous prisoner Napoleon Wilson and his wise-assery. A similarly cheap and cheerful approach went with the soundtrack but it’s one of Carpenter’s best.
The tension and violence begins to dissipate rather than escalate as the lack of budget begins to show. But such sniping is unworthy. This is a brilliant genre exercise in less is more.