Sunday, April 27, 2008

Assault on Precinct 13

Assault on Precinct 13

Following the release of his first feature-length film, the comedic space film Dark Star (1974), low-budget superstar, John Carpenter, scraped together $100,000 to create his homage to Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo (1959). The result was Assault on Precinct 13, a grim thriller which was shot in beautiful Panavision.

Not limiting his homage to just Rio Bravo, Carpenter also uses this opportunity to reference Howard Hawks films such as The Dawn Patrol (1930), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), and Red River (1948), as well as Cecil B. DeMille's Unconquered (1947).

In Rio Bravo, John Wayne's character, John T. Chance (a pseudonym used by Carpenter for the film's editing), must defend a small jail from a violent gang of outlaws attempting to free a prisoner.

Assault on Precinct 13 features Austin Stoker as Ethan Bishop, a police officer who must defend a Los Angeles police station against a vengeful and well-armed gang.

Austin Stoker as Ethan Bishop (Top)
Laurie Zimmer as Leigh (Left)
Darwin Joston as Napoleon Wilson (Right)

When the gang attacks, Bishop finds himself surrounded by an interesting crew. Two female secretaries, Leigh, a badass-under-pressure (Laurie Zimmer) and Julie, a complaining stick-in-the-mud (Nancy Loomis). Two prisoners, Wells, a dangerous felon with a knack for finding bad luck (Tony Burton) and Napoleon Wilson, an anti-hero like no other who's headed for Death Row (Darwin Joston). This ragtag crew defends themselves against a group of determined killers armed with stolen weapons, all of which are equipped with silencers.

The film's conflict really begins when a father and his young daughter are introduced, driving through the dangerous Los Angeles neighborhood. Kathy, the young girl, is played by Kim Richards, a Disney actress best-known for her role as Tia in Escape to Witch Mountain (1975).

Kim Richards (left) from Disney's Escape to Witch Mountain

A run-in with the gang members sets the story in motion, leading to a chain of events, that no one could have expected. Carpenter states in an interview that "the movie is driven by random violence, chance, and fate." It this element of randomness and the gang's mysterious motivations that gives Assault its charisma.

The first time Assault was presented to the MPAA it earned an X rating. This was mostly due to the infamous "Ice Cream Sequence." The Ice Cream Sequence (posted below) was deemed too violent for U.S. audiences. They informed Carpenter that he would have to cut it out to receive an R. Not wanting to lose edit such an importance scene, he talked to his distributor about his problem. The distributor arrived at a simple solution: cut the scene out for the MPAA and release the film intact to theaters. The con worked. Theater-goers experienced the film with the Ice Cream Sequence intact.

[This clip contains major spoilers!]

[This clip contains major spoilers!]

A group of strangers with little in common are forced to band together to overcome unsurmountable odds. With the power and phone lines cut, the band of unlikely heroes carefully shoot off their limited rounds at the killers crawling through the windows. One by one, they keep coming. Parallels are often drawn between John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). Carpenter is quoted as saying, "Everyone who's made a low-budget film has been influenced by [Night of the Living Dead] and if they say they weren't, they're lying."

In what Carpenter would call "one of the grimmest shooting experiences" of his life, the cast and crew shot for 24 hours straight, 8AM to 8AM. The crew moved quickly, shooting the principle photography in twenty days. Once principle photography was completed, they shot the finishing piece of the puzzle, the film's prologue which followed various members of the gang as they take a disturbingly graphic blood oath. This gang, whose members seem more like machines than human beings (in a good way), will not be stopped.

Anyone who has seen Assault remembers the remarkable score. Just like Dark Star, Halloween, and well...pretty much all of his films, the music was created by Carpenter, himself. Keyboards. Synthesizers.

Dun-nun-nun-nunun. Dun-nun-nun-nunun. Dun-nun-nun-nunun. Dun-nun-nun-nunun.

The director/writer/editor/composer based this memorable theme on the score from Dirty Harry and from the baseline of Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song."

Here's the film's theme. A gift. Give it a listen, put it on your iPod, press it onto wax, give it to a neighbor, whatever you want. That's the nice thing about a gift, you can do what you want with it. Feel free to re-gift it. I won't mind.

Assault on Precinct 13 - Main Theme (MP3)
Download (Rapidshare)
Download (zShare)

This is one of those films where all of the elements come together to create a film of such solidity that one would be hard-pressed to find many faults in either its form or content. The story works. The look works. The music works overtime. Plus, the British like it, so it's got to be good. When the film was released in America, critics deemed it too violent. But when Carpenter took it to England for a screening at the British Film Institute it was received extremely well. Carpenter affirms that the European support for his films is the reason his career took off. "In America, I'm a bum." If that's true, then he's a bum who made a kick-ass siege movie worthy of praise world-wide.


Matt said...

I was expecting a little more of your opinion of the movie. The tag line of the site led me to think you were posting movies that you recommend others to watch. A plot summary, who played who, and even behind the scenes facts seem to fit better on wikipedia.

As someone who has never seen this movie before, I would like to know why it's any better than the plethora of other movies available to me. As someone who has seen this movie and many others similar to it, you should review this movie and personalize your blog.

elgringo said...

Thanks for the feedback. I tried to include behind-the-scenes info more for the readers who were already fans of the movie, so they could learn a little more about it.

The next post will definitely be more personal. It will still contain interesting (I hope) facts about the production for the fans of the movie but the unfamiliar moviegoer will get more attention this week. said...

Dude, excellent first blog post and a cool blog! MP3's AND youtube clips? Why you gotta show off like that...

Taylor said...

All I can say is that the ice cream scene makes me want to see this movie soon.

Jonny said...

Scott, excellent first post! For the record, I'd like to say that John Carpenter is one of the most underrated directors of our generation. Not only is Assault on Precinct 13 great, but Halloween is an absolute clinic on filmmaking.

Nice work! I'm already a fan.

PS: I felt like I haven't seen you in years.

Anonymous said...

Great review ! It's still a film that holds up, even surpassing it's modern remake ( BTW - the a guy who's lived in Detroit for 35 years , theres NO FORREST IN DOWNTOWN DETROIT !) . Head over to my blog to DL a Carpenter compilation I put together....