Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Part I in a John Carpenter film quest.

Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer
Written by: John Carpenter
Directed by: John Carpenter

It's been said that the Western would pop up in several movies throughout John Carpenter's career. But his sophomoric effort, Assault on Precinct 13, remains his love letter to the genre.

The story unfolds in the "Anderson ghetto", a gang-ridden neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. CHP Lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is assigned to oversee the neighborhood police precinct on its last night in operation. This is on the same day that the members of Street Thunder have sworn a blood oath against the police, following a raid that kills several of their own. Adding to that (in the grand tradition of coincidence), a prison bus on its way to Sonora is using the precinct as a way station until one of the prisoners can receive medical treatment for a sudden illness ..... thus setting the stage for the night's onslaught.

On the surface, Assault on Precinct 13 is your standard siege movie. Most of the action takes place in and around an aging police station, undermanned and out gunned. But it's the mishmash of genres going on here that sets the movie apart from other actioners of the time: part noir, part exploitation, and part zombie movie (with the largely unseen gang members stalking outside).

And there is the distinct homage to Howard Hawks, as well. Not only to the great Rio Bravo, but also to his entries into the noir genre. Evidenced by the tough-as-nails secretary Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), the anti-hero prison inmate Napoleon Wilson (played by the late Darwin Joston), and even the slashed lighting of the venetian blinds in the station.

And just like the Western, Assault on Precinct 13 takes its time setting up the characters and the locale. If the movie were done today (there was indeed a remake in 2005), much of the slow pace of the first 30 minutes would be sped up, and a lot more would be happening. But in slowing down the pace of the first half, the action breaks out in parts, and becomes one of the movie's distinct strengths. You're not continuously "assaulted" by a siege. But once things get going, the action comes out of nowhere, often relentlessly. And you're left with the all-too-rare feeling of wanting more.


No comments:

Post a Comment