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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