Back again kiddies and I can just tell you are all giddy at this. Hey how about an action movie shot in locations like Watts, South Central L.A. and Venice Beach back in the early 70’s? From a vicious gang against a finite amount of police in the area, this flick gets intense. So grab a seat, a few snacks and relax. This is Assault on Precinct 13th.
Spoiler! It’s a godd*mn spoiler!
Yes, I am referring to the original film of 1976 under Carpenter's reign vs the loosely based remake of 2005. A less than typical film with its flaws and imperfection that show the beginning of Carpenter’s film process and from this show the sense of style he is most commonly known for. John Carpenter has lucked out in locations more times than one can count. Venice Police & Fire Station Division 14 was scheduled to be demolished, armed with only a budget of $150,000 and the film was shot in all of 20 days. An ambitious re-creation of Rio Bravo, down to the camera angling to anamorphic shots felt like a project worthwhile.
Our story opens with a sting takes out a series of gang members in a bloody gunfire. Cannot even imagine how many shots fired forms they were filling out. The surviving gang members swear in blood oath that vengeance will happen. Lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker of Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Horror High, ‘Sheba, Baby ‘, Roots and Machete Joe) a recently promoted officer is scheduled to Precinct 13. A station being torn down, paperwork and supplies shipped to its future location. While this is not the best gig, it is Bishop’s first assignment as a Lieutenant and he will see it through.
Meanwhile in Los Cruzes, a notorious criminal named Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston of Eraserhead, The Fog, Coast to Coast, Time Walker and Airwolf) is being transported in a bus on his way to death row by Starker (Charles Cyphers of Halloween, Halloween II, Escape from New York, The Fog and Grizzly II: The Concert)
Back at the precinct, Bishop meets the remaining staff, desk sergeant Grumpy McStereotype, filing clerk Leigh (Laurie Zimmer of American Raspberry, A Dirty Story and Survival of Dana) and dispatch operator Julie (Nancy Kyes of Halloween, Halloween II, The Fog, Halloween III, Not in Front of the Children and Lady Boss)
One of the inmates on the bus is violently ill and the only station in route is Precinct 13, with that the bus pulls in assessing the situation and hope they can lay aid to the sick man.
Blocks away a father takes his daughter with him in order to scoop up and move her nanny (Oh Mr. Sheffield) in with them. Driving a high end Cadillac in South Central L.A. under the influence of being a dumb white guy this could get a bit dicey.
A shoot out later the father makes his way to Precinct 13 to safety but the combined forces of the gang follow him with their ill-gotten gains from a heist of the National Guard Armory depot, they have enough firepower to level six maybe seven city blocks. Equipped with silencers, the lack of neighbors in the rundown area and barely any public safety of any sorts the members of the precinct, two prisoners and the remaining transport troops have to hold off this mass army of lunatics until help arrives.
The dialogue gives the feel of a B-movie and this is Carpenter’s second film after Dark Star in 1974. Fewer dolly tracked shots and more hand held you really had to feel for those poor cameramen breaking their backs. Given its fairly violent nature and penchant for shock and awe, this movie does invoke fear and dread for the decent folk trying to live through the night and almost seething hatred for the gang members. In my humble opinion a gem that gets overlooked.