Assault on Precinct 13 John Carpenter

Just in time to hold up against the reportedly lame new remake, this DVD edition of John Carpenter's second feature, released in 1976, is well worth its salt. With its brooding synthesiser score, barren L.A. scenery and flashes of brutal violence, Assault on Precinct 13, modelled on Howard Hawks' 1959 classic Rio Bravo, captures the dark, paranoid spirit of '70s cinema, the claustrophobic creeps of siege flicks (from Westerns to zombie horror) and the tough movie melodrama of the '30s and '40s. That's a lot to cram into a low-budget 90-minute film, but the results are incredibly effective. At a leisurely pace that Carpenter can't stop bemoaning in his intriguing but self-deprecating commentary, the film lingers on its introduction of key characters and opposing factions, namely a handful of convicts in the midst of a jail transfer, an L.A. gang seeking revenge against police for the recent slaughter of its comrades, an innocent father and daughter who get caught up in the action (hence the infamous ice cream scene), and the thin staff at precinct 13, an old cop station in its last hours before closure. The leader of the convict pack, forced to team up with top cop Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) once the gang declares war, is Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston), a slick bad guy whose oilier than oily signature line is "Got a smoke?" The duo's strongest ally is tough-as-nails secretary Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), who doubles as a film noir vixen and takes one in the arm as nonchalantly as the great wooden Western actors of old. The fear of the encroaching, invading gang, the unpredictability of the armed convicts inside, the sexual tension between Wilson and Leigh and the grudging buddy relationship between Wilson and Bishop are heightened by subtle, sparse lighting techniques, the eerie pops of silenced bullets and that minimal score, composed by Carpenter himself. (Vid Canada)