Sunday 6 November 2016


Celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 sees a group of cops and criminals held up in an abandoned police station as they face off against a group of bad guys out for revenge against one of their inhabitants. All that stands between them and the gang knocking at their door is their wits and a couple of shotguns.

Carpenter is currently riding a wave of popularity for his instantly recognisable scores, touring his music to fans young and old. Assault on Precinct 13 has one of those scores, his rich electronic tones a welcome addition to any cinematic experienceThere's a real possibility that this newly re-released package will be seen by an audience more familiar with the films that have drawn inspiration from it like Shaun of the Dead, From Dusk til Dawn or even the 2006 remake, but the original stands up on its own. I say original, for as Carpenter freely admits, this is for all intents and purposes a reworking of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo with its depiction of 1970s lawlessness harking back to the savagery of the old west. Likewise, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead can be seen as strong influence, with the film's black protagonist and the largely faceless horde eager to gain access to the station. There is no one true leader, just an angry, violent and ignored element of society.

Personally I've always worried that, barring a couple of exceptions, Carpenter's films are better in idea than in execution, but I would happily class Assault on Precinct 13 as one of those exceptions. Perhaps it's worth noting that this is "Assault on Precinct 13, a film by John Carpenter" rather than "John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13", made at an earlier point in his varied career when he wasn't (to draw on his recent tour for a metaphor) playing to an audience who knew all of his greatest hits. His second theatrical release (two years after Dark Star but two years before Halloween), there's still that raw quality to his filmmaking that has been understandably honed across the course of his career.

One thing that instantly stands out on this new blu-ray is how surprisingly good this 40 year old film looks. The film is much more than just the siege scenes, and a lot more scenes take place during the day than I remembered, taking its time in establishing the tone and characters before thoroughly pulling the rug out from underneath its heroes (and anti-heroes). Precinct 13 has some scenes that have grown in infamy over the last 40 years (I'm looking at you, Ice Cream Truck scene) and it's to the film's credit that they're still able to pack a real punch, even by today's standards of gratuitous and un-signposted violence.

Anchored by some solid performances by Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston as the excellently named Ethan Bishop and Napoleon Wilson, if this is your first experience or you are a Carpenter fanatic, this new package has a wealth of extra features that make it worth a look. Assault on Precinct 13 is Carpenter at his stripped down, action heavy best.

Extras include:

- Commentaries from John Carpenter and Tommy Lee Wallace
- Interview with star Austin Stoker
- Interview with Carpenter's right hand man Tommy Lee Wallace
- Interview with executive producer Joseph Kaufman
- Trailer
- The Limited edition box also includes art cards and a copy of Carpenter's electronic score

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