Drive-In Review: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (Blu-ray)

Yes we realize that Assault On Precinct 13 is not a horror movie but it has such a raw and unrelenting story behind it that, for this reviewer, it’s a must watch film for any John Carpenter fan, let alone a horror movie fan. So let’s dig into this bad boy!

 

assault precinct 13Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)

Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers.

Directed By: John Carpenter

Format: Blu-ray

Distributed By: Scream Factory

Some would say this is a great B movie. Why? Well when Assault On Precinct 13 was released in 1976, it was so under the radar that it made Pearl Harbor look like a petting zoo. The original movie poster was a poor black and white, cheaply drawn picture of a group of gang members. When it played on HBO they used a still of a lady with a shopping cart in the crosshairs of a rifle scope. Sort of hard to sell with those images. You either stumbled on this one or someone told you about it. Those who did found a well-made urban western that delivered solid action and fun characters. Dark Star (1974) notwithstanding, John Carpenter had arrived with this film and the world would be forever changed. (Que Dramatic Theme).

Assault on Precinct 13 was one of Carpenter’s first efforts at directing. It shows. The movie is flawed, imperfect, both technically and otherwise (some of the dialogue in particular could have used fixing, and the acting is nothing incredible by any means). But it still has an addictive sense of urgency and frantic pacing that makes the movie feel like one long, nonstop, brutal assault–even though the setup for the film takes over forty minutes. It may not be a flawless film but it is one of my favorites.

It’s about a new cop named Bishop (Austin Stoker) who is put in charge of a transferring L.A. police precinct: number thirteen. As equipment is carried out of the building and last-minute closings are made, far away a bus load of convicts, including notorious murderer Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston), decide to stop at Precinct 13 due to the fact that one of the criminals seems to be coming down with a harsh cough. All the while, a young girl is shot by a ruthless gang member. Her father shoots the killer then flees to Precinct 13, hunted by the murderer’s gang, who eventually begin to siege the precinct in a suicide raid. Trapped with two killers, a few cops, and a jail warden, Bishop and company try to think of a way out of the place without getting shot by the vicious gang outside.

That’s basically it–people stuck inside a police station trying to get out without dying in the process. The movie is only ninety minutes long, give or take, which is a good thing, because if it had been any longer it might have lost some of its pacing and become tiring. Instead, there isn’t a single scene in Assault on Precinct 13 that I think should have been cut. I’m sure there are some that could have been tossed onto the editing room floor, but I’m glad that the movie is the way it is. It flows smoothly and we don’t ever feel like a scene has gone on too long or too short. In that sense, it’s just about perfect.

Now your favorite part and mine, Drive-In Totals

Over 25 Dead Bodies

0 Breasts

Machine Gun Fu

Shotgun Fu

Hammer Fu

Explosions

Blood Oaths

And a little girl who only wanted a Vanilla Twist ice cream cone.Assault on Precinct 13 1976 movie pic3

The special features for Assault On Precinct 13 are what you would expect. Some really good commentary from Carpenter and a great retrospective with most of the cast giving brand new interviews. Scream Factory sure knows how to pile on the goods, and we ain’t complaining. Let’s go over them.

 

The Video is at 2.35:1 ratio and it works. Previous editions had sections that were so dark you couldn’t see what was going on, particularly the prologue. Even broadcasts of the film left viewers trying to follow some of the action. Fortunately you can see every scene in the film this time out. Detail is good reflecting the initial photography. Black levels are nice and deep, allowing for improved contrast. There is plenty of filmic grain apparent but at no time does it lose its integrity and become flakey or noisy. Skin tones and colors all look good. Throughout the entire movie the lighting works. Even in the dark outdoor location shots you can spot the gang members running between the cars and trees in the distance.

Audio – DTS 5.1, Mono in English, Subtitles are offered in English SDH Carpenter’s distinctive keyboard style is apparent though not as propulsive as it would become. He has one relaxed music cue that sounds like the kind of jazzy electric piano that Clint Eastwood favored. In one of the extras he says that the main theme is lifted just a bit from Dirty Harry and Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song.” If you listen very closely…it sounds nothing like those but it is damn catchy.

 

Extras – Bishop Under Siege a new interview with Austin Stoker, The Sassy One, a new Interview with Nancy Loomis, a new commentary with Tommy Lee Wallace. Ported over from previous edition: Commentary with John Carpenter, Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker, Isolated score, Trailer, radio spots (the cover incorrectly lists the commentary with Tommy Lee Wallace as an interview and does not mention the new interview with Austin Stoker). The interview with Carpenter and Stoker gives a wealth of information on the film and really brings the set together.

This film is definitely a western by all accounts. It has the good guys in white versus the bad guys in black. Standoffs and showdowns, big talk and cool walks. Everything about this film promises more from its director. Remember, after this came Halloween

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