47 FILMS: 54. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13

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.

For more of our 47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams CLICK HERE.

THE MAKING OF THE THING

HOLLYWOOD – In our ‘The Making of…  Series’ we turn our attention to the classic science fiction/ horror remake: John Carpenter’s The Thing.

The Idea

John Carpenter had wanted to make another Science Fiction film following his debut Dark Star in 1974. He made Escape from New York in 1981 and then immediately started work on The Thing I Like About You, a musical comedy written by Burt Lancaster’s son Bill Lancaster. Kurt Russell, who had just finished working with Carpenter playing Snake Pilsen in Escape, was immediately cast as the shoes salesman who becomes hopeless involved with a millionairess and a Sheik. It was obvious to Russell that Carpenter wasn’t inspired by the story:

To begin with, he immediately had us move the production from New England to British Columbia. Before we knew it all the women and the musicians got fired and the script was changing every day. It soon became obvious  that John had an old Science Fiction film in mind but everything was on the hoof. The funny thing was – if you’ll excuse the pun – the title didn’t change. And in fact the first full cut of the film still had the title card the The Thing I Like About You. It was actually a note from a Universal Exec that had us abbreviate it.

Production

Filming in sub-zero temperatures was a challenge for the cast and crew as John Carpenter revealed in his autobiography ‘Everything Looks Like a Nail’:

We would film from seven in the morning and go into the night. But the next morning I would find Kurt Russell had frozen solid. At first we rushed him to hospital but the doctors assured me that he was perfectly preserved and no damage had happened. Apparently it happens all the time in Canada. So it became a thing. We’d send a guy to Kurt’s room an hour early so he could defrost Kurt. Then we’d film and that night Kurt would freeze again. Someone suggested we should move him to room with heating, but what with the freezing and unfreezing Kurt didn’t have to eat for the whole shoot and we saved a lot of money on rice and beans.

The special effects to create the monster were particularly difficult. Stan Winston was called in to do some work:

Most of the work was done before I even got there but there was one particular creature they couldn’t get right. And they were very pushed for time. This was described in the script as a dog. Now I assumed the dog had been taken over by the alien, so that’s what I created, but when I showed John he said no it has to look more like a dog. I went away, had a think and then did it again. By the third or fourth time, I decided as a joke just to show him a real dog. He said that was perfect and in the end that’s what appears in the film. Just a dog!

The ending of the film proved particularly difficult and John Carpenter was forced by the studio to shoot an alternative ending which has Kurt Russell waking up and realizing the whole thing was a dream.

Reception

The film was released in a double bill with E.T. and proved to be both a financial and critical failure. Vincent Canby in the New York Times complained that his seat wasn’t comfy and the popcorn he was given was slightly stale, whereas Roger Ebert wrote: ‘Watching John Carpenter’s The Thing, I had this air current on my neck. I don’t know if it was the air-conditioning or what but by the time I came out I had this really sore neck. It was irritating.’

Now the film is a cult classic and the air-conditioning has been fixed.

The Thing was released in 1982.

For more of The Making of… CLICK HERE.

KURT RUSSELL’S MUSTACHE REVERSES CLIMATE CHANGE

HOLLYWOOD – No one is quite sure how it happened – the studies are yet to be completed, and scientists squabble over different theories – but one thing is certain: Kurt Russell’s mustache has reversed climate change.

The gestation of Kurt Russell’s mustache has been a long glacial process, emerging from the full beard of The Thing, retracting into the stubble of Escape from New York, and first touching the air as the wonderful clipped beauty of Tombstone. The year Tombstone was released – 1993 – there was a a 35% rise in fertility and fistfights, such was its masculine magic. And now with Kurt Russell persuaded to hedge over his upper lip for Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight the benefits to mankind and planet Earth can be felt everywhere.

Resident ecologist Joaquin Phoenix popped into the Studio Exec Bungalow to explain:

We’re not sure how this is happening but it looks like following the appearance of Mr. Russell’s hairy handle bars that the ice caps have in fact fully re-frozen. Sea levels have fallen and the air quality is delicious.

How is this happening?

Some say that carbon is being captured from the air and sucked into the follicles, is one possible explanation. Or perhaps Mother Earth has just got a glimpse of the kind of man that she’d be missing and has decided to right her ways.

Of course now that the wonderful side effects of Mr. Russell’s lip ‘brella are readily apparent, many are calling on President Obama to legislate to protect the top beard. The White House were quick to quieten such proposals, stating that ‘It would be a brave administration that ever told Mr. Kurt Russell what to do and what not to do with his own face’.

The Hateful Eight will be released in 2016.