26 years later and I finally discovered John Carpenter's masterpiece…Assault On Precinct 13.
PLOT - In South Los Angeles a blood thirsty street gang attacks several police officers and prisoners at an abandoned precinct the evening before it relocates. Unstoppable and armed, the gang viciously surrounds the building leaving the occupants faced with either fighting back…or becoming the gang's next victim.
LOWDOWN - I'm a massive and I mean massive John Carpenter fan. I was raised on his movies since my mother was such a huge fan. I remember it was a rite of passage the evening my sister and I were finally allowed to watch the original Halloween. In fact, I remember a video I seemed to religiously rent over and over again was The Fog, which was responsible for one of my first on screen crushes Mr. Tom Atkins himself. Or as I like to call him, the silver fox of the horror community. Years passed and I watched such classics as Escape from New York (one of my all time favorite movies), The Thing, Christine (my second favorite horror movie after Waxwork.), Big Trouble In Little China, the highly underrated Price Of Darkness, They Live, Village Of The Damned, In The Mouth Of Madness, Escape From LA, Body Bags, and even Vampires. In fact as a project in college, I had to direct a short play and used John Carpenter's soundtrack as the background noise. Carpenter has always been the cowboy of horror directors. Composing his own music, he's not only responsible for creating Michael Myers, but also directing one of the best Stephen King films ever made, as well as one of the best horror remakes as well. With his signature characters, flawless cinematography, and completely bad ass moments, as much as I love me some Sam Raimi, the honor of being the best horror and action adventure director hands down has to go to John Carpenter.
What can I say? I love that chain smoking SOB.
I was beyond lucky enough to meet Carpenter in early 2013 at HorrorHound. Clearly he was thrilled to have met me.
Anywho, I've always debated what is Carpenter's best film. He's always had double meanings with his films, let it be the darker side of suburbs, politics, religion, mental illness, pregnancy, society failing us, and even false idols. I mean the man's work was insanely ahead of it's time, and is often over shadowed by his horror work even tho his action adventure work held so much promise. It wasn't until about a week ago I discovered Assault On Precinct 13.
I had heard about this early Carpenter film, that sat between Dark Star, and the iconic Halloween. Ofter over looked, having been made two years before his 1978 slasher classic, Assault On Precinct was a small preview of what promise Carpenter held, mostly with his groundbreaking and beyond bad ass film Escape From New York which was made several years later.
I decided to catch this film watching it via Youtube one night while working in my office painting. I knew close to nothing about this film, but had heard the soundtrack several times before and really liked it. Yes, sadly I had seen the 2005 remake. I couldn't even tell you what the hell it was about, only that I knew it was a remake of a John Carpenter film. Seeing a photo of Kim Richards on IG, in her famous "I wanted vanilla twist!" scene, I could't believe my eyes. Instantly I knew I just needed to see this movie. Catching the first twenty or so minuets, I was blown away. I can't stress to you how much I adore Carpenter's work, and the fact it took me all this time to finally see this movie I was completely speechless. Yesterday I decided to catch the rest of it, and safe to say I now have a new top 3 favorite Carpenter movies. (Christine, Assault, and Prince Of Darkness.)
The movie tells a simple enough tale of a police station that's shutting down in a really bad area of LA. That our lead, Bishop has been transferred there and is asked to watch the station with the skeleton crew until morning. Sounds simple enough right?
A ruthless street gang that's stolen silencers and automatic weapons now are roaming the streets. In one of Carpenter's most brutal scenes, a young adorable Kim Richards (long before she was a Real Housewife, skips to an ice cream truck while her father is in the phone booth asking for directions. Here is where we witness flawless tension and pacing. The hotrod which holds several gang members are circling around, while an ice cream truck is pulled over. The driver of the truck notices, and becomes uneasy watching seeing if they are going to do anything. Kim hears the truck's music and slips on over after asking money from her father who's busy talking on the phone. The ice cream man relaxes after he sees the car disappear. Kim asks for a vanilla twist ice cream and after being handed the cone walks back to her father. That's where the gang members pop out and attack the ice cream truck driver, beating and shooting him with the silencers. Here Kim makes her fatal mistake after she notices the man got her order wrong and turns back. Looking into the truck, where on the other side the gang member stands emotionless. Here the famous line is uttered "I wanted vanilla twist." and just like that without so much as a second thought, the gang member turns, aims the gun and fires the silencer straight at Kim's chest. Blood squirts out, and her innocent stunned face just stares before she falls backwards dead.
A brutal scene which takes total balls to pull off. Now a days you would never seen something like this filmed. Carpenter did it flawlessly.
The timeline of the evening is show as times keep popping up, taking us through the night where the shocked and grief stricken father takes a handgun the ice cream man had in his glove box, and chases the gang members who murdered his daughter in cold blood. Chasing them to an empty parking-lot he by chance shoots and kills one of the members before running in complete panic to the police station that legit sits in the middle of nowhere.
I love the scene of Bishop first going into the station at sundown and notching how removed the station is from the rest of the city. It sits on a long stretch of road with no other buildings in sight. There's a field on one side, and a large empty parking-lot with a tree line on the other. With these shots, along with the beautiful and haunting score by Carpenter you can't help but feel isolated like these people.
Here the father runs into the station, completely in shock barley able to tell the officers what happened. Within minuets the phone and power are cut, and as one of the officers go out to see what's the matter (after notching that the street lights are still on.) he's killed. The use of silencers are brilliant since the only way the people inside know they are under fire is by the glass being broken. They can barley see outside, and know they are surrounded. Within no time at least sixty or seventy gang members surround the building and open fire, making a complete massacre. Forced the fight back, the few officers, and even prisoners have to bang together to survive the night. I love following the three different story lines (First the father and his daughter, then the prisoners being transported via bus, and being forced to stop at this station when one of the inmates becomes sick, and of course the officers at the station that's closing down.) it's almost like the perfect storm is made as a series of events lead them all to this one building where they are trapped.
It's Night Of The Living Dead meets Rio Bravo. A modern 1970's tale of a shootout in the old West. Here we follow the few survivors trapped inside with only a handful of guns to defend themselves. Noticing that this gang is much smarter than they think, they know at first there won't be any sounds of gun fire due to the silencers. Then when they finally begin to fight back (the scene where Bishop throws Wilson the shotgun is one of the greatest and most bad ass moments I've seen on films in years.) the gang members remove any of the fallen bodies and move the cars to make the street look perfectly normal in case anybody drives by or calls the police. From the outside the place doesn't even look like it's under attack. Needing to outsmart these crazed gunmen who honestly don't care if they live or die, they try to figure out how they can fight back, make their animo last, and make it until morning. Quickly finding out that the few prisoners are actually on their side, they team up and band together in order to fight back and think of a way until morning.
With awesome characters by the three leads of Bishop, Leigh, and Wilson, the film is action packed, brutal, and filled with one liners. I for one was a huge sucker for the sexual tension between Leigh and Wilson, and loved the final showdown at the end. The fight till the death in the scene gave me chills, and I down right loved the ending.
Darwin Joston, RIP. Total bummer after I learned he died. I still remember him stealing his one scene in The Fog. In this he completely stole the show. RIP man, wish you were in more Carpenter films.
Now becoming a huge favorite of mine, I'm currently watching it on Netflix, and planning on getting this baby on blu-ray and vinyl ASAP. A true Carpenter classic, that I count myself lucky that I had the pleasure of knowing nothing about until just a few days ago. This was an edge of my seat thriller, that delivered on everything. A true classic from start to finish, and now a new favorite.
Thank you Carpenter, you never cease to amaze me.