Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter
Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers
Simplicity in filmmaking while lacking the frills can provide some incredibly fun and raw storytelling. By also having a master of simple filmmaking at the helm and penning the script, you just know that an enjoyable experience will be on the way. Assault on Precinct 13 delivers just that with the way it takes influences from other genres and puts it together for a controlled and compact thrill ride.
After several gang members get killed by the LAPD, the leaders vow revenge. Concurrently, Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) gets sent to Precinct 13 as it’s set to be decommissioned and only a skeleton staff remains as it shuts down. After a flurry of events occur, Bishop and the rest of the folks still at the precinct must fend for themselves as they’re ambushed from all sides by this gang with the building and their limited firearms being their only protection.
The buildup to the story within this film succeeds because of its simplicity. The premise and the backstory don’t really matter because the film sets up for blood-thirsty gang members trying to kill everyone within the precinct. Due to the location of the precinct, it lands in a sparsely populated area of Los Angeles, which means the gunshots will not be that widely heard, therefore eliminating the possibility for assistance. In the building, we have some police officers, secretaries, and prisoners that were escorted to the precinct initially for a quick stop but now got stock in this messy situation. The rest of the film details the efforts to survive the potential onslaught that awaits them.
The film comes together through the mind of John Carpenter, who knows how to take a simple premise and make it shine. He would do this similarly and more famously two years later with Halloween. His work in this film shows that he can build a tense atmosphere and put his characters up against a wall. These characters are outmanned and have far less weaponry to take on their foes. While watching it, I could not help but feel the influences of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, but instead of zombies, put in gangsters. It creates that fear for the unknown and the feeling that they could break-in at any minute.
The only way to survive the night comes from true collaboration from everyone in the building so there comes the time when the officers need to uncuff the prisoners for their assistance. It creates the illusion of mistrust that soon dissipates because human survival instincts kick in. When it comes to surviving an incident like this, all preconceived notions and prejudices must be thrown out the window. That leads to the best results. It also certainly helps that the brutality at hand makes itself evident early on in the film. No one is safe from this attack, therefore differences must be put aside if they want to live to see the next day.
Assault on Precinct 13 definitely looks and feels like a 70s film. Whether it be the very 70s hairstyle to the typical grunge aesthetic employed at that time. Also, add in an incredible soundtrack and it all comes together for something that belongs in that decade but still carries its entertainment value more than 40 years later. The narrative tells a simple story of survival, where no real character growth occurs because they just need to get through this night. With no help in sight, all they have is each other. It provides the thrills and a nice compact story that seeks to entertain and certainly accomplishes just that.