Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) Review

Legendary writer, composer and director John Carpenter’s sophomore feature Assault On Precinct 13 might show its age stylistically, but narratively it more than holds up….for the most part. Some of it is very much of its time, but when that time is the 1970s, that’s hardly a bad thing at all.

Forty plus years on from its release the movie has received a restoration and a new Blu-ray (which also includes Carpenter’s completely crackers student film, Captain Voyeur), scrubbing up very nicely in the process indeed. And early doors Carpenter though it may be, it still lays the foundations for many of the traits he’d later become famous for with the likes of Halloween, The Fog and The Thing, including a memorable location, a synth heavy score, and visceral, disturbing imagery, trademarks that he would continue to pull out of his bag of tricks for decades to come.

Assault On Precinct 13 is single-minded in its approach. This is compact, self-contained, claustrophobic filmmaking – the kind we don’t tend to get enough of nowadays. It’s a siege movie that’s simple, yet effective in its telling. Lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker), a police officer tackling his first day on the job is sent to see out the final hours of the soon to be closed Precinct 13, an old station on its last legs. As you may have guessed already, it’s not destined to be the quiet shift that Bishop will have expected. Because heading his way is an armed gang of youths, the hilariously named Street Thunder. Though their choice in gang name may not strike too much fear in the heart, their horrific attack on the city of Los Angeles sure does – one of their early kills being genuinely shocking.

Austin Stoker as Lt. Ethan Bishop.
Austin Stoker as Lt. Ethan Bishop.

As if that weren’t enough for poor Bishop, he’s also got a bus load of convicts that are being transferred to a new prison arriving on his doorstep, including the death row inmate Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) – a hardened badass who wants nothing more than a smoke – the real star of the movie. He’s such a dude. As Street Thunder attacks the police precinct, killing indiscriminately, it’s up to Bishop and Wilson to form an unlikely bond and fight back against the violent miscreants whose fire they are under.

The initial assault in particular is a rip-roarer. An extended shower of bullets, heroism, and the most outrageous arm breakage I can recall ever seeing, courtesy of Wilson. Someone get that man a cigarette already! The level of creativity throughout this midsection of the film is pretty bonkers. But it’s a level that plateaus all too early, leaving lengthy scenes of windows getting endlessly shot in, and an oddly abrupt ending.

Still, if the journey is as effortlessly cool as Assault On Precinct 13’s, the destination can be somewhat forgiven.

Rating (out of 5):

3.5 Stars

**********

The newly restored edition of Assault On Precinct 13 is available on Blu-ray now.

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