ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13-United States-1976
Written and Directed by John Carpenter
Let’s play a game, you and I. It’s a simple game of word association. I’ll tell you a name and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Are you ready?
Now, I never said I was good at this game. But did you notice that there’s a pattern to my madness? We know John Carpenter for his horror and for his science fiction films; but do we always remember that he was also the director of one of the best low budget action films of the 1970′s, “Assault on Precinct 13?” Watching this film I began to see the thematic templates that Carpenter would follow throughout most of his career. A small group of people under siege by an unseen or alien (or both) force; an anti-hero who puts his life on the line for the greater good; a soundtrack created by Carpenter himself that throbs along with, and against the beat of the action. All of these things have been evident in Carpenter’s films for years and I truly believe that this is where they began.
After a gang member murders his young daughter, a father kills him in retaliation. When the man seeks refuge in Precinct 13, the gang lays siege to the station; shooting it up and killing anything that moves inside. After the smoke clears the only ones left standing inside the station are a cop (Austin Stoker, “Battle for the Planet of the Apes“), a secretary (Laurie Zimmer) and two convicts, Wells (Tony Burton, “Rocky”) and a death row bound Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston, “The Fog”). Outnumbered and outgunned, will they survive the assault on Precinct 9, District 13?
The highlight of this film would have to be Joston’s performance as Wilson. He takes a stereotypical character, the guy with nothing left to lose, and makes it completely his own. There’s a lot of Snake Plissken and R.J. MacReady in Napoleon Wilson.
“Assault on Precinct 13″ was inspired in part by Howard Hawk’s “Rio Bravo“. I’ve never seen “Rio Bravo”; but if it’s anything at all like ‘Precinct 13′ then I’m in for a treat.
Got a smoke?
Following the release of his first feature, Dark Star, John Carpenter was approached by a group of investors who gave him carte blanche to make whatever kind of picture he wanted, albeit with a very limited budget. Although Carpenter wanted to make a Western, he knew he wouldn’t have the resources to make a period piece. He wrote this film as a highly stylized, modern-day western, essentially remaking Rio Bravo, which was directed by Carpenter’s hero, Howard Hawks. Carpenter acknowledges this debt to Hawks and “Rio Bravo” by using the pseudonym of John T. Chance for his film editor’s credit, which was the name of John Wayne’s character in “Rio Bravo”.
The assault takes place on Precinct 9, Division 13. Many have noted the title misnomer, since there is no “Precinct 13″ in the film. At first, Carpenter wanted to call the film “The Anderson Alamo” (the original title of his screenplay), and, at one point, he changed the working title to “The Siege.” CKK, the film’s distributor, was responsible for the misnomer; they rejected Carpenter’s titles and came up with the name “Assault on Precinct 13″ (which they felt was more ominous sounding) during post-production.
The precinct’s new address, 1977 Ellendale Place (written on a sign erected in front of the building), was director John Carpenter’s real address when he first lived in Los Angeles.
John Carpenter has acknowledged Night of the Living Dead was an influence on the marauding street gang. Like George Romero’s zombies, they’re completely dehumanized. They hardly talk and almost seem supernatural in their ongoing resilience.
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When your mother is the victim of the most famous onscreen murder of all time, the shower scene in Psycho, and your father portrayed one of America’s most notorious serial killers, the Boston Strangler, how the hell can you not have a career as a Scream Queen? Jamie Lee Curtis was probably slapped on the ass by Michael Myers when she was a baby. She has made the role of Laurie Strode as iconic as that of Michael himself and has appeared in 7 of the films in the Halloween series. In addition Miss Curtis has screamed her way through John Carpenter’s The Fog (1978), had herself a bloody time on Prom Night (1978) and rode the Terror Train in 1980.
Curtis has also appeared in non-genre fare such as Trading Places (1983), A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and True Lies (1994). She is a published children’s book author and a blogger for The Huffington Post online newspaper. She is the wife of actor/director Christopher Guest and is the godmother of Jake Gyllenhaal. Written in Blood honors Miss Jamie Lee Curtis as our Scream Queen of the Month for October 2011!
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This is a filmography of John Carpenters’ theatrical films within the horror, sci-fi and action genre. It is not a complete filmography and that is why films that he directed for TV or Cable are not included.
John Carpenter directed several short films from 1969 to 1974, when he then directed his first full length feature film: DARK STAR. The film was co-written by Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon, who would go on achieve fame as the co-writer of ALIEN with Ronald Shusett. DARK STAR itself is now considered a cult classic.
Carpenter followed up DARK STAR with a modern day western entitled ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. The film is an homage to RIO BRAVO and to his hero, Howard Hawks. In fact, for his film editing credit he used the pseudonym “John T. Chance“. This was John Waynes’ characters name in RIO BRAVO.
In 1978 John Carpenter made the film that would establish him as a master of horror, would make Jamie Lee Curtis a scream queen for much of her career and would make October 31st the night he came home. Made on a very low budget (the leaves were spray-painted construction paper cut-outs and Michaels mask was a prototype Captain Kirk mask), it went on to gross around $47 million and would be his most financially successful film to date.
After helming two made-for-TV movies (SOMEONES’ WATCHING ME and ELVIS, the latter his first collaboration with Kurt Russell), Carpenter cast his then-wife Adrienne Barbeau and mother/daughter scream queens Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis for THE FOG. When THE FOG rolls in, the terror begins.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK-1981
Carpenter re-unites with his ELVIS star Kurt Russell for this futuristic action/adventure that is by far one of his most popular films to date. The names of some of the characters are the names of horror films great such as David Cronenberg and George Romero.
Once again teaming up with Kurt Russell, Carpenter made a film that was reviled upon its’ release but is now considered a classic of the horror/sci-fi genre. The all male ensemble cast is excellent in what is in my opinion Carpenters’ masterpiece as a film maker.
How do you follow up a masterpiece like THE THING? Carpenter did it by adapting Stephen King’s book about a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury. Keith Gordon, the actor who plays Arnie Cunningham, went on to be a successful director himself and has helmed several films and TV shows including A MIDNIGHT CLEAR and DEXTER.
In 1984 Carpenter directed Jeff Bridges in an Academy Award nominated performance as an alien who takes the form of a young widows’ husband in this sci-fi romance that also starred Karen Allen (RAIDERS of the LOST ARK).
Teaming again with Kurt Russell in 1986, Carpenter directed this action adventure comedy also starring Kim Cattrall. Due to poor promotion the film was a bomb upon it’s release. It has since become a cult hit due to home video rentals.
PRINCE OF DARKNESS-1987
Carpenter returned to horror with PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Donald Pleasance protrayed Father Loomis, an homage to the character he portrayed in HALLOWEEN.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was the star of Carpenters’ next film about a society where subliminal messages are planted by aliens who wear the guise of the rich and affluent. The five minute plus fight scene between Piper and Keith David would parodied blow for blow on the popular comedy SOUTH PARK in the ‘cripple fight’ sequence of episode 67.
MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN-1992
This was Carpenters first studio film since BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA and is based on the novel by H.F. Saint.
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS-1995
Carpenter directed Sam Neill in this Lovecraftian horror thriller from 1995. Sutter Canes’ popularity is clearly based on the real life following of author Stephen King.
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED-1995
This remake of the 1960 film by Wolf Rilla would be actor Christopher Reeve’s final film before the horseback riding accident that would leave him paralyzed until his death in 2004.
ESCAPE FROM L.A.-1996
In what would be his fifth collaboration with Kurt Russell, Carpenter directed this sequel to his brilliant sci-fi action film ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.
Carpenter directed James Woods as vampire hunter Jack Crow and his battle against the master vampire Jan Valek.
GHOSTS OF MARS-2001
This would be Carpenters’ last theatrical film until 2010 when he will be directing THE WARD.
- Indie Horror Month Video Interview: Master of Horror John Carpenter Reflects on the Early Days of His Career (dreadcentral.com)
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- “The Horror In Music Comes From The Silence” – John Carpenter Interviewed (thequietus.com)
- John Carpenter: Master of Horror (mysweetoasis.wordpress.com)
- The Thing (2011) – Movie Review (monsterscifishow.wordpress.com)