If it takes you that long to realize you have the wrong ice cream just live with it.
Following the killings of several gang members by members of the LAPD, an interracial and heavily armed street gang go on the rampage. After the witness to a gang-murder runs into a police station about to be shut down, the gang declares war on the station. Now a cop, the secretaries and inmates must join forces if they want to live.
Despite its now-dated and clearly low-budget appearance with a cast consisting mostly of virtual unknowns, ‘Assault on Precinct 13′ is a gripping thriller based heavily on western classic ‘Rio Bravo’ (1959) and sharing traits with the ‘Rio Bravo’ inspired horror favourite, ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968). Director John Carpenter may be more renowned for his horror film outings such as ‘Halloween’ (1978) and ‘The Thing’ (1982) and therefore it may be of little surprise that ‘Assault on Precinct 13′ makes copious use of many horror movie themes, from the foreboding atmosphere, crescendo of suspense and moody lighting.
There is an uneasy brutality to ‘Assault on Precinct 13′ and an active dehumanisation of characters. The antagonists of the piece are largely presented as emotionless; lacking human feeling and it is here that we see the most clear-cut connection to Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ as the hordes of faceless gang members slaughtered en masse by our desperate, rag-tag group of unlikely heroes thematically are akin to zombies, showing little in the way of humanity save for dashes of intelligence allowing them to pose a convincing threat.
Even the early antagonists whom act as the catalyst for the movie’s second-half at best seem to be basic creatures, killing indiscriminatingly and ruthlessly, seemingly taking no joy from their actions but doing so out of their compulsion to their violent cause and among the mystery there is a sense of an almost cult-like ritualistic nature to their behaviour.
These early scenes of irrational, indiscriminate violence act as the emotional trigger for the viewer as the heinous and repugnant actions undertaken by the gang of thugs promote an honest reaction of utter hatred toward them. Carpenter masterfully exploits our natural reactions and fears to such random acts of extreme, remorseless violence, ensuring our support for their opposites and fearing for their safety.
‘Assault on Precinct 13′ is a truly nerve-racking vision of urban terror. Nods are abound to its influences yet it stands on its own merits as a gripping action thriller as unsettling as any horror film. The movie is a testament to Carpenter’s ability to take a simple premise and turn it into such a remarkable piece of film. While criticism could be levelled at it for minor things but the reality is this is as good as low-budget film-making can get and despite a difficult initial release, ‘Assault on Precinct 13′ is rightly regarded as a (cult) cinema classic.
Vintage ’76 trailer on YouTube.