**** Out of 5
Tagline- The Gang Swore a Blood Oath to Destroy Precinct 13 and Every Cop in It!
Release Date- November 5th, 1976
Running Time- 91-Minutes
Writer/Director- John Carpenter
Starring- Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis
Released in 1976 Assault on Precinct 13 was John Carpenter’s 2nd feature film, but in many ways it was his first. Starting with Assault on Precinct 13 many members of the cast and crew would become Carpenter regulars and a lot of what made Carpenter such a great filmmaker can be seen here. The 70s were my favorite era of filmmaking and I just love 70s exploitation films and this fits in with the exploitation film and Carpenter crafts a gritty low budget film that while a little rough around the edges is also a truly excellent film and in my opinion one of Carpenter’s best films. The film isn’t without it’s flaws as Carpenter was a young filmmaker who was still learning his craft, but like I said a lot of what made Carpenter such a great filmmaker is here in its early stages.
The influence on this film was Rio Bravo as well as other westerns and Carpenter many times has stated his love of the western genre and Assault on Precinct 13 is very much a western just set in modern times and this also reminds me a little bit of Night of the Living Dead just without zombies as the gang members often lurk around almost zombie like and I remember reading part of the influence on this was in fact Night of the Living Dead.
The screenplay by John Carpenter is mostly strong with solid characters, but there really isn’t much of a plot, which can slightly hinder the first 30-minutes. Also even though I did quite like the main characters they don’t feature the depth that many later characters did in other Carpenter films and that can lead to an ok start to the picture, but with that said it was never boring or anything, but if you lost the first 30-minutes you really wouldn’t be lost at all since in someways it almost feels like filler until the action kicks in. Overall the script was solid if not flawed, but Carpenter shows flashes of brilliance with the script and despite the shortcomings it’s still an excellent script only slightly bogged down by the first half.
As director John Carpenter crafts one hell of a great film; while there were some problems with the script, but the direction more than makes up for it as Assault on Precinct 13 is a tense action packed thriller. The first half as I mentioned did lack a little bit in terms of writing, but direction wise Carpenter is able to keep things interesting, but once the attack happens Carpenter elevates the film from good to great. John Carpenter stages some truly great action scenes and than stages some of the best suspense scenes in his career. The main characters are basically trapped in the precinct and their out-numbered and out-gunned and we the audience feel as trapped as the characters do. As it becomes a life and death struggle to survive, Carpenter delivers a really tense film that will often keep you guessing. Despite the first half pacing is always strong and Assault on Precinct 13 at 91-minutes feels way shorter than that.
In my opinion Assualt on Precinct 13 is one of Carpenter’s very best films as it features likable characters, great action scenes, great suspense and tension and this for me is probably top 5 John Carpenter films. With an excellent cast and characters and Carpenter’s spot on direction Assault on Precinct 13 is a classic film that’s a must see.