John Carpenter is perhaps one of my favorite task masters of the cinematic realm. He’s a man who can change form and tone on a dime, and loves film so much he creates his own tribute to certain genre tropes without relying on them as a crutch. Much as I love Quentin Tarantino, he can force much of his inspiration for his films down audiences throats. Carpenter has always been so much more subtle in his love for the classic films he adored. He never quite had the budget to make westerns nor the studio backing, so he opted to make his own Westerns but in their contemporary settings. Hence, Snake Plissken. John Carpenter is the type of director I’d love to be should I ever lens a film someday. His films garner a style all their own and deliver in action and entertainment.
John Carpenter is a master of action, science fiction, horror, and molds his own version of a “Rio Bravo” in “Assault on Precinct 13,” an exceptional, exciting, and sometimes creepy tale about a relentless gang out for blood on a small group of officers and secretaries in an abandoned precinct. When his daughter is shot by one of the gang members, a man strikes back at the gang killing one of their own. Seeking refuge from them, he ends up at the precinct, seeking help. Unaware that they’re closing down and are not connected to any form of rescue, the precinct has to scramble to make sense of this strange event. Concurrently, they have one last deed before they leave: house a vicious convict, Napoleon Wilson, for the night before they close down.
The vengeful dad has killed some very important gangsters and now literally hundreds and hundreds of gang members have followed him to the precinct prepared to make him suffer. With the phone lines down, their walkie talkies off, all the weapons locked up, no contact from the outside world, and all points of escape blocked, the officers now realize that all the deadly gangs have declared war and have marked each of the people inside the building not only for being police officers, but for hiding the murderer of their team. Now the officers, with very little artillery at their disposal have little option now and must fight for their lives as the hordes of gang members attempt to break into the precinct to kill them.
The fight for survival becomes especially desperate when they must free Napoleon Wilson and his friends, and form an uneasy partnership in their plea to escape and live another day. Wilson is a convict motivated by self preservation and worried for his own life, he helps them incidentally becoming their best weapon. Darwin Joston as Wilson is a vicious guiltless warrior fighting against gang members whom will stop at no cost to get into the building. A contemporary re-working of another Howard Hawks classsic, “Assault” originally titled “Anderson Alamo”, also takes some inspiration and atmosphere from “Night of the Living Dead.”
Which is evident in many of the scenes where the gang members attempt to break into the building, smashing through windows and crawling along the sills like zombies as the officers frantically fight them off. Pulled into a situation beyond their control, Carpenter’s film is truly exciting and extremely tense, especially in many of the scenes where one of Wilson’s friends attempt to sneak across the parking lot to steal a car to drive off. There’s also the instance when the officers must decide to entrust a shotgun into Wilson’s hand as a gang member smashes his way into a window, which leads to an incredible action scene.
Against the legion of gang members that form a hive like form of attack, director Carpenter induces the casualties and tension with every minute, and never makes it easy for our characters to live through this ordeal. Carpenter knows how to make alleviate tension and suspense along with an immense feeling of urgency throughout the film first starting off the story slow and then injecting it with all out excitement. Though the budget is extremely low, Carpenter, a master, doesn’t show it, and proves how very under-used and under appreciated he was and still is as a director. He has a surefire knack for dialogue as well as talent for directing suspense, implanting elements of horror into the action genre resulting in to one heck of a ballsy, exciting genre mash-up that still entertains and excites.