Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)




(director/writer/editor/music: John Carpenter; cinematographer: Douglas Knap; cast: Austin Stoker (Bishop), Darwin Joston (Wilson), Laurie Zimmer (Leigh), Martin West (Lawson), Kim Richards (Kathy Lawson), Tony Burton (Wells), Charles Cyphers (Starker), Nancy Loomis (Julie), Peter Bruni (Ice Cream Man), John “Red” Fox (Prison Warden), Henry Brandon (Sgt. Chaney); Runtime: 91; CKK; 1976)


“It’s a cult film that’s not as great as some would lead you to believe, but it has its amusing and ruthless moments of shock and schlock.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A remake of Rio Bravo, but switching the western setting to the ghetto of LA. This exploitation film directed by John Carpenter, his second feature, pays homage to a host of action programmers of the 1950s and 1960s. Its black comedy is derived from stealing the themes of films such as Night of the Living Dead–of innocents being attacked by an overwhelming force acting robotic-ally and kamikaze-like. There’s no sociopolitical messages intended, as this one is played for both the laughs and for the suspense.

Opens in a ghetto in Los Angeles in which the police for no apparent reason shoot down six members of a multiracial gang. This causes the ethnically diverse gangs in the community to make a vow of revenge, as they are willing to die in the siege of a nearly abandoned police station that is being relocated the next day.

Lieutenant Bishop (Stoker) is asked to take temporary charge of the 9th Precinct in division 13 for the night, while a police sergeant and two police secretaries Leigh and Julie stay on to redirect inquiries to the new station.

Meanwhile Special Officer Starker (Cyphers) is in charge of transporting three prisoners from LA to Sonora, but one of the prisoners takes ill forcing him to stop at the precinct. One of the prisoners is a convicted murderer on death-row, Napolean Wilson (Joston), the other is Wells (Burton), a hard-luck career criminal. All three are put in the holding-cells. Wilson has a few shticks going for him: he keeps asking everyone for a smoke, and he promises to tell in due time three things about himself — how he got the name Napoleon, why he killed the men he was sentenced for, and the second thing a man should never run away from. The joke is he, of course, never gets around to telling about those things.

A nervous man (West) bringing his young daughter (Richards) along to convince her granny to move out of this slum and live with him, is in the neighborhood and can’t find the address and stops to make a call. Meanwhile his daughter stops to buy ice cream from a truck, but is gunned down by a gang leader who also shoots the ice cream man. The father follows the gang leader and kills him with the gun he takes from the ice cream man, but the gang then chases him into the precinct where he becomes immobilized with fright and can’t tell what happened.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

The gang cuts the phone lines and electricity in the police station and comes after the father in the police station, and they end up killing five police officers, the secretary Julie, and the sick prisoner. They use silencers so as not to attract attention in their assault on the precinct. Bishop is left with only Julie and the two prisoners, as he decides to free them from their cells and give them guns to defend themselves from the gang’s siege.

There were a lot of awkward action scenes and clunky dialogue, interspersed with some funny moments like the cons playing potatoes instead of tossing a coin to see who should go seek help from the outside. It’s a cult film that’s not as great as some would lead you to believe, but it has its amusing and ruthless moments of shock and schlock.