Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)
This low budget (100 000$) precursor to the action film genre is one of the most interesting movie made by director John Carpenter. Openly influenced by Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo and George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13 is the story of survival of a group trapped together just like in the aforementioned masterpieces. They must defend themselves in front of a gang of street killers that swore to revenge the death of six of them. While holding a cult status, it is also a very solid cinephile pick when it comes to references to previous films like Sergio Leone’s or stories by Alfred Hitchcock.
Written in eight days and shot in twenty, Caprenter’s film is pure entertainment, fun, and marks how the tsunami of action films of the 1980’s will be formulated. Films like Die Hard, John Woo’s Hong Kong films, and many other action heroes have some much to owe to Assault. At first, Carpenter wanted to write a Western like Rio Lobo or El Dorado, since the budget was limited to 100 000$ he decided to set the story of Rio Bravo in contemporary California.
It rapidly earned it’s letters of cultness amongst the European moviegoers. Years later, when rediscovered, it now stands as one of Carpenter’s best. Discovering a highly esteemed B-movie is always a little unsettling because of the expectations and the sometimes difficult immersion. In this case, Assault still looks very good and a thing that I love about Carpenter mise en scène is how he takes the small moments of four characters or group of characters and introduces them to us. This introduction is so well done just like his Halloween or The Fog. It gives us a view of the normal order of things and puts them all in chaos. This is a mastery few directors have and for Carpenter this is one of his greatest talents. He also knows how to shoot an action scene without being too loose or too restraint.
Overall, this is one of the films that I enjoyed the most from director Carpenter. It will lead him to direct plenty of solid movies. The legacy of Assault is so important that in 2005 it was remade with Ethan Hawke and Morgan Freeman. But please, watch the original first because it is a mandatory film for your knowledge and most of all for your pleasure.