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Assault on Precinct 13

Original theatrical promotional poster.
Directed by John Carpenter
Produced by J.S. Kaplan
Written by John Carpenter
Starring Austin Stoker
Darwin Joston
Charles Cyphers
Nancy Loomis
Laurie Zimmer
Tony Burton
Music by John Carpenter
Cinematography Douglas Knapp
Editing by John T. Chance
Distributed by CKK
Release date(s) November 5, 1976
Running time 91 min.
Country United States
Language English

Assault on Precinct 13 is a 1976 American action/thriller film inspired by the Howard Hawks western classic Rio Bravo and the George A. Romero horror landmark Night of the Living Dead. It was written and directed by John Carpenter. The film depicts a fictional attack on a police precinct by a criminal gang in retribution for the death of their comrades. The film received mixed reviews with an unimpressive box-office return in the US, but it won critical and popular acclaim in Europe.

A remake appeared in 2005, directed by Jean-Francois Richet and starring Ethan Hawke, Lawrence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Maria Bello, Ja Rule, and Drea de Matteo.

Contents

Cast

Plot

The story takes place on a saturday in Anderson, a crime-infested ghetto in South Central Los Angeles. Members of a local gang, called Street Thunder, have recently stolen a large number of automatic rifles and pistols. The film begins the night before, as a team of heavily armed LAPD officers ambush and kill several members of the gang. In the morning, the gang's warlords swear a blood oath of revenge, known as a "Cholo", against the police and the citizens of Los Angeles.

During the day, three sequences of events occur in parallel in and around Anderson: First, Lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Stoker), a newly promoted CHP officer, is assigned to command the old Anderson police precinct during the last few hours before it is permanently closed. The station is manned by a skeleton staff composed of one officer, Captain Chaney (Brandon), and the station's two secretaries, Leigh (Zimmer) and Julie (Loomis). Second, a member of Street Thunder shoots and kills a little girl and the driver of an ice-cream truck. After the hoodlum is killed by the girl's father, his fellow gang members chase the man into the Anderson precinct. In shock, he is unable to communicate to the officers what has happened to him. Third, a prison bus commanded by Starker (Cyphers) stops at the station to find medical help for one of the three prisoners being transported. The prisoners are Napoleon Wilson (Joston), a convicted violent killer on his way to Death Row, Wells (Burton), and Caudell (Frankland), who is sick.

As the prisoners are put into jail cells, the telephone lines go dead, and when Starker prepares to put the prisoners back on the bus, the gang opens fire on the precinct with heavy weapons fitted with silencers. In seconds, they kill Chaney, the bus driver, Caudell, Starker, and the two officers with Starker. Bishop unchains Wilson from Starker's body and puts Wilson and Wells back into the cells. When the hoodlums cut the station's electricity and begin a second wave of shooting, Bishop sends Leigh to release Wells and Wilson, and they help Bishop and Leigh defend the station. Julie is killed in the firefight, and Wells is killed after being chosen to sneak out of the precinct through the sewer line. Meanwhile, the gang members remove all evidence of the skirmish in order to avoid attracting outside attention. Bishop hopes that someone has heard the unsilenced police weapons firing, but the neighborhood is too sparsely populated for nearby residents to pinpoint the location of the noise.

As the gang rallies for a third assault, Wilson, Leigh, and Bishop go down to the basement, taking the still-catatonic Lawson with them, and stage a "last stand". The story's climax occurs when the gang rushes into the station and Bishop shoots a tank full of acetylene gas, which explodes violently, killing the hoodlums in the basement. Finally, two police officers in a cruiser radio for backup after discovering the dead body of a telephone repairman hanging from a pole. When more police officers arrive and secure the station, the only survivors are Bishop, Leigh, Wilson, and Lawson.

Street Thunder

As with most of Carpenter's antagonists, Street Thunder is portrayed as a force that possesses mysterious origins and almost supernatural qualities. The gang members are not humanized and are instead represented as though they were zombies or ghouls since none of them have any dialogue, and Carpenter has acknowledged the influence of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead on his portrayal of the gang.[1]

The "Cholo" is the term describing a blood oath ritual/vendetta specific to the Street Thunder gang, the material symbol of the oath, and the subsequent attack. The Cholo is essentially a vow not only to destroy the gang's designated enemies, but also to carry out this vendetta relentlessly and with full force, even at the cost of the gang members' lives. It is initiated when the gang warlords draw their own blood and collect it in a glass bowl, which is then delivered to the gang's intended victims. This blood-filled bowl, which symbolizes the oath and the gang's intent to fight to the death, is also called a Cholo.

Production

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Development

After Dark Star failed to secure a directing career for Carpenter, an investor from Philadelphia, the CKK Corporation, took a gamble on Carpenter and put up the money for a new explotiation film he was planning and gave him free rein to make any kind of picture he desired. Carpenter had hoped to make a Howard Hawks-style western like El Dorado or Rio Lobo, but when the $100,000 budget prohibited it, Carpenter refashioned the basic scenario of Rio Bravo into a modern setting.[2]

Screenplay

Carpenter joked "The script came together fast, some would say too fast."[1] Carpenter spiced the screenplay with a variety of in-jokes. For example, the character named "Leigh", played by Laurie Zimmer, was a reference to Rio Bravo scribe Leigh Brackett.[3]

Principal Photography

Carpenter assembled a main cast that consisted mostly of experienced but relatively obscure actors. The two leads were Austin Stoker, who had appeared previously in Battle for the Planet of the Apes and Time Walker, and Darwin Joston, who had worked primarily in television and was also Carpenter's next-door neighbor.[1] After an open casting call, Carpenter added Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis to the cast.[2] Behind the scenes, Carpenter continued to work with art director Tommy Wallace, property master Craig Stearns and future wife Debra Hill as the film's script supervisor.[2]

Working within the limitations of a $100,000 budget[4], the film was shot in only 20 days.[5] The film was shot on 35mm Panavision in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.[6] The interiors of the police station were shot in a studio set while the exterior shots were of Venice Police station.[1] According to Carpenter, Zimmer "hated herself" after seeing her performance in the dailies. Carpenter, however, thought she did "a great job."[1]

Carpenter refers to this film as the most fun he has ever had directing.[7]

Post-Production

Carpenter also edited the film using the pseudonym John T. Chance, the name of John Wayne's character in Rio Bravo. Carpenter also employed the John T. Chance pseudonym for his original version of The Anderson Alamo script, but he used his own name for the writing credit on the completed film.[8]

According to Carpenter, the editing process was very bare bones. One mistake Carpenter was not proud of was one shot "cut out of frame," which means the cut is made within the frame so a viewer can see it. Assault was shot on Panavision, which takes up the entire negative, and edited on Moviola, which can't show the whole image, so if a cut was made improperly (i.e., frame line not lined up properly) then one would cut a half of a sprocket into the film and "cut out of frame," as happened to Carpenter. In the end, it didn't matter because he said "It was so dark no one could see it, thank god!"[1]

Distribution

Although the film's title is Assault on Precinct 13, the action mainly takes place in a police station referred to as Precinct 9, Division 13, by Bishop's staff sergeant over the radio. The film's distributor was responsible for the misnomer. Carpenter originally called the film The Anderson Alamo, and, at one point, he briefly changed the title to The Siege. During post-production, however, the distributor rejected Carpenter's title in favor of the film's present name. The moniker "Precinct 13" was used in order to give the new title a more ominous tone.[8]

The most infamous scene in the movie is the one in which a gang member deliberately shoots and kills a little girl standing near an ice-cream truck. The MPAA threatened to give the film an X-rating if the scene wasn't cut. Following the advice of his distributor, Carpenter gave the appearance of complying by cutting the scene from the copy he gave to the MPAA, but he distributed the film with the "ice cream truck" scene intact.[1]

For reasons unknown, the German title of the original theatrical release was "Das Ende" (which, quiet obviously, translates back to "The End"), a title completely unrelated to the movie's content.[5]

Reception

Release

The film was originally released in the United States in 1976 to mixed critical reviews and unimpressive box office earnings. The following year, however, it was screened at the 21st London Film Festival, where it was one of the festival's best-received films and garnered tremendous critical and popular acclaim. The overwhelmingly positive British response to the film led to its critical and commercial success throughout Europe. Subsequently, the film underwent a reassessment by American critics and audiences, and it is now generally considered one of the best action films of the 1970s. John Carpenter has said that the British audiences immediately understood and enjoyed the film's similarities to American westerns, whereas American audiences were too familiar with the western genre to fully appreciate the movie at first.[1][7]

Critical response

Critics and commentators often note how Assault is a cross between Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo and George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead.[9][10][11] Carpenter acknowledges the influence of both Hawks's and Romero's films.[1][5]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 96% fresh rating.[12] In his book The Horror Films of the 1970s, John Kenneth Muir gave the film three and a half stars, calling it "a lean, mean exciting horror motion picture... a movie of ingenuity, cunning and thrills."[9] Leonard Maltin, who also gave it three and a half stars, calls the film a "knockout."[13] Brian Lindsey of Eccentric Cinema gave the film 6 out of a scale of 10, saying the film "isn't believable for a second — yet this doesn't stop it from being a fun little B picture in the best drive-in tradition."[10]

Legacy

Assault was remade once in 2005 by director Jean-Francois Richet. It opened to mixed reviews.[14]

Premiere Magazine put Assault in its list of 50 Unsung Classics in the July 1999 issue.[5]

Soundtrack

Assault on Precinct 13
Soundtrack by John Carpenter
Released 2003
Recorded 1976
Genre Electronic
Film score
Length 24:36
Label Record Makers

One of the film's distinctive features is its score, composed and recorded by Carpenter. The combination of synthesizer hooks, electronic drones and drum machines sets it apart from many other scores of the period and creates a distinct style of minimalist electronic soundtrack with which Carpenter, and his films, would become associated. The score consists of two main themes: the main title theme, with its familiar synthesizer melody, and a slower contemplative theme used in the film's more subdued scenes. Besides these two themes the soundtrack also features a series of ominous drones and primal drum patterns which often represent the anonymous gang gathering in the shadows. Carpenter made roughly three to five separate pieces of music and edited them to the film as appropriate.[1]

The main theme was partially inspired by both Lalo Schifrin's score to Dirty Harry and Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song".[1][5] Carpenter was assisted by Dan Wyman in creating the musical score.[3] The score, according to Carpenter, was written in three days.[1]

Beyond its use in the film, the score is often cited as an influence on various electronic and hip hop artists with its main title theme being sampled by artists including Mark Schreeve, Afrika Bambaataa, I-F, Dead Prez and Bomb the Bass, whose song "Megablast" featured a sample of the score and was used in the soundtrack to the video game Xenon 2 Megablast. UK punk band The Exploited also utilized the main theme as a bass riff in the song "Don't Blame Me", which appears on their 1996 album Beat the Bastards.

Despite this influence, except for a few compilation appearances, the film's score remained available only in bootleg form until 2003 when it was given an official release through the French label, Record Makers.[15]

Track listing

  1. "Assault On Precinct 13 (Main Title)"
  2. "Napoleon Wilson"
  3. "Street Thunder"
  4. "Precinct 9 - Division 13"
  5. "Targets / Ice Cream Man On Edge"
  6. "Wrong Flavour"
  7. "Emergy Stop"
  8. "Lawson's Revenge"
  9. "Sanctuary"
  10. "Second Wave"
  11. "The Windows!"
  12. "Julie"
  13. "Well's Flight"
  14. "To The Basement"
  15. "Walking Out"
  16. "Assault On Precinct 13"

DVD and Blu-ray releases

Assault on Precinct 13 is available on both DVD and Blu-ray Disc as a "Restored Collector's Edition." It contains all of the special features found on the previous "Special Edition" DVD.[16]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Q & A session with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker at American Cinematheque's 2002 John Carpenter retrospective, in the 2003 special edition Region 1 DVD of Assault on Precinct 13.
  2. ^ a b c Muir, Pg. 10
  3. ^ a b Muir, Pg. 11
  4. ^ IMDb.com Business Data for Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
  5. ^ a b c d e IMDb.com Trivia page of Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
  6. ^ IMDb Technical Specifications for Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
  7. ^ a b Muir, Pg. 12
  8. ^ a b Still Gallery feature, included in the 2003 special edition DVD of Assault on Precinct 13.
  9. ^ a b John Kenneth Muir, The Horror Films of the 1970s; Pgs. 376-9; ISBN 0-7864-1249-6
  10. ^ a b Eccentric Cinema | ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976); Written by Brian Lindsey; Accessed Nov 30, 2009
  11. ^ Movies: Repeat Assault, with Vigor; Time Magazine; Richard Corliss; Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005
  12. ^ Rotten Tomatoes - Assault on Precinct 13; Access Date Nov, 30, 2009
  13. ^ Leonard Maltin, Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide; Pg. 64; ISBN 978-0-452-28978-9
  14. ^ Rotten Tomatoes - Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)
  15. ^ Assault on Precinct 13 Soundtrack - Record Makers; Access Date: December 13th, 2009
  16. ^ IMDb DVD Details on Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

References

Muir, John Kenneth (2000). The Films of John Carpenter. McFarland and Company Inc. ISBN 0-7864-0725-5.  

External links


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