Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Kyes
Words – Joe H.
A director synonymous with horror, John Carpenter earned his prolific status with films such as Halloween (1978), The Thing (1982) and They Live (1988), inspiring and influencing generations of countless filmmakers. But before the landmark horror film of Halloween ripped through cinema screens and popular culture, was for many the director’s first standout feature – the 1976 classic Assault on Precinct 13.
We ride along with Lieutenant Ethan Bishop, as he is sent to oversee an LA police precinct in the final stages of closing down – now occupied only with a handful of staff.
Simultaneously, members of the notorious LA gang ‘Street Thunder’ swear a blood oath to take revenge in retaliation for the police having killed some of their members. While they cruise the streets of LA, an act of senseless violence drives a man seeking justice against them to the precinct in the process of shutting down.
Just as Lieutenant Bishop takes charge of the situation at hand, a prisoner transport, which includes death row convict Napoleon Wilson, must take temporary refuge at the nearest police station when one of the prisoners becomes ill.
At this moment, the pursuing LA gang converge on the precinct, and all hell breaks loose, as the handful of law-enforcers and law-breakers at the station find themselves under siege – with the power and phone lines cut, now in a desperate battle to survive the night.
The tension begins to rise, as Lieutenant Bishop asks himself if they have enough to keep their attackers at bay, and just how much can he trust the prisoners who they’re now forced to work alongside, in order to help defend against the ferocious attack that looms large from the increasing gang presence outside in the dark of night.
As the gang close in, the tension escalates to boiling point – accentuated by one of John Carpenter’s most iconic film scores.
From the opening title sequence – as a deep, eerie synth-driven score takes hold – an ominous tone builds, as the soundtrack almost acts as a warning of an approaching danger.
Known for his soundtrack work alongside his feature films, John Carpenter has produced music that has become so recognisable they take on a life of their own beyond the confines of the film, with his score to Assault on Precinct 13 being considered among the best of the directors work.
With elements of a classic Western – as the lone officer upholds the law and defends against a gang of outlaws – and the jeopardy of a Zombie feature – battling to survive the night until dawn breaks or help arrives, as wave after wave of criminals burst in through doors and windows – Carpenter produced one of the most effective exploitation movies of the decade.
A brutal and unrelenting cult classic, full of tension, desperation and memorable performances, Assault on Precinct 13 still ranks as one of John Carpenter’s finest.