ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, John Carpenter (1976)

Whenever John Carpenter is mentioned, titles such as Halloween, Escape from New York or The Thing are doubtless essential references. They’re classic films, and anyone interested in sci-fi or horror loves his stuff.

Precisely in many of these conversations I came to the conclusion his most prolific years were concentrated on the decade from 1976 to 1986, to be more accurate, I’d say there were 7 splendid years, covering titles from Assault on Precinct 13 to Christine, Stephen King’s book adaptation.

Assault was one of the latest films I saw, I think a couple of years ago. I had tried to see it before, but for no apparent reason I ended up falling asleep or distracted. I think it’s a very dark movie and if you don’t know what the film is about, the beginning is not as catchy as others.

Anyway, before I start talking about it, I must say it’s one of my Carpenter’s favorites. I really enjoy those eighty something minutes of non-stop action.

After six gang members of Street Thunder were shot to dead by the Police while stealing a massive amount of rifles and guns, revenge is agreed by the members, decide to spread  chaos and terror  in Anderson, a dangerous neighborhood in South Los Angeles.

Lieutenant Bishop, on duty, is commanded to supervise the closing of the precinct 9, district 13 police station that night, an apparent quiet task, with 2 secretaries left packing stuff, the captain in charge and a couple of cops as the only staff.

However a gang member shoots a little girl and an ice-cream man and the father of the kid, in a moment of insanity, chases the punks and kills his daughter’s murderer, with consequences.

In the meantime Napoleon Wilson, a very dangerous criminal about to serve 30 years, and two other prisoners are being moved to a maximum security facility. But something changes their way and end up reaching the police station, waiting for a doctor to assist one of the prisoners, who is very ill.

The father, pursued by the gang, prepared for revenging their pal, also gets shelter at the same station.

Nobody can imagine they’ll be under siege for the rest of the longest night they’ll ever live…that if they manage to survive.

With very tight budget and really narrow timing, Carpenter offers around 85 minutes of craziness, chaos and action which cannot be underestimated, however box office wasn’t too successful and critics didn’t show much enthusiasm for the tape.

One of the most interesting features in the film is the gang. The way they organize and how they are able not to call the attention from the outside by means of silencers and hiding the corpses is almost supernatural. They move so subtle you don’t know where they will turn up from. On the other hand, they form part of a whole, none of them is shown as an individual nor stands over the others as a skip, just in the beginning, silent and impassive, few of them swear the oath with blood. When assaulting the station, they remind me of the scene when the pirates are attacking the people at the church in The Fog, the way they move and creep through the windows is more like they are zombies. Curious.

Napoleon Wilson is definitely the character in the film. We don’t really know what he did, but he’s dangerous and popular, and people are afraid of him. He’s impulsive, yet calm, he’s got the right sentence at the right moment, I particularly love when he says “I was born out of time”. Sexual tension among him and Leigh is evident, and the climax is that moment when he, after several times asks for a cigarette, and she just puts one in his mouth. I find it really cool, there’s no need of anything more explicit that that, and still it’s a relay hot moment.

Carpenter uses unknown cast of actors, yet they belong to his personal entourage, as many of them will appear in following films. Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis (I find it funny Mike Myers’ doctor’s surname is exactly Loomis), and John J. Fox, collaborated with the director in following projects.

What can I say about the soundtrack? I’m particularly fond of Carpenter as music composer. Always with his synthesizers which seem shabby Casio’s we used to have in our early years, but at the same time, providing tension and the proper atmosphere to develop the story, providing some sort of mystery and thrilling feeling.

Enough said, I think, now If you feel like turning your tv out loud and diving into an ocean of violence and non-stop shots, this is your movie, you’ll love it!

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