Screened December 31 2008 on Image DVD in New York NY
John Carpenter’s second feature is often cited as an object lesson in tight, tense low-budget action filmmaking where not a single frame is wasted in conveying suspense and drama. The irony is that the majority of the scenes run longer than is necessary, lingering on deliberate silences or stage movements; the first half of the film is padded with wordless interludes taking in locations or gazing at people driving to those locations. In interviews Carpenter has admitted to extending shots and scenes in order to fill up a feature running length with a limited budget and fairly simple story, but whether by design or necessity, the laid-back exposition generates an seductive air of fateful, impending doom.
Viewers may not notice the slow editing pace due to Carpenter’s irresistibly cheesy but astoundingly effective synth score that pumps tension through a simple five note melody or a hanging chord. The slowness allows for characterizations both cinematic (police lieutenant Austin Stoker’s eyes taking in his surroundings, conveying an attentiveness that will serve his character well later) and dramatic (death row convict Darwin Joston’s Hawksian, jocular manner of sizing one person up after another with repeated requests for a smoke). Carpenter’s use of expansive ‘Scope frames would seem antithetical to shoestring filming, but they match the horizontal flatness of the Southern California setting, an urban wasteland conveying frontier desolation in which a ragtag police outfit finds itself utterly isolated. While the near-senseless seige of the police station by a seemingly suicidal army of gangsters is the film’s extended climactic setpiece, the film’s most disturbing moment is an earlier inciting incident, the notorious ice cream truck massacre, a uniquely random act of horrific violence in broad suburban daylight that charges the subsequent nighttime siege with paranoid dread over unlimited possibilites of mayhem.
Unfortunately, the second half feels more conventional, relying on flash editing and walls of noise to provide easy scares in the dark, offset by the pornographic video game pleasure of turkey shooting zombie-like mauraders. Carpenter’s innovation here is an ultraviolent intensification of the George Romero heroes-in-a-tincan setup that itself has been co-opted by any number of claustrophobic action thrillers since. Nonetheless, Carpenter remembers the power of anticipatory quiet in between rounds of bloodbaths, as the dwindling number of defenders regard each other with surprisingly touching gazes, a humanist admiration earned through cold, hard survivalist professionalism.
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Hopelessly violent but exceedingly well made police thriller (1976), short on motivation but long on paranoia. The second film by John Carpenter, it has wit, flair, and movement, even though the hommages to Howard Hawks get a little heavy at times.
– Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader
“Assault on Precinct 13” is a much more complex film than Mr. Carpenter’s “Halloween,” though it’s not really about anything more complicated than a scare down the spine. A lot of its eerie power comes from the kind of unexplained, almost supernatural events one expects to find in a horror movie but not in a melodrama of this sort.
The title tells the story, which is about a small group of people — a police officer, a couple of prisoners and several civilians — who find themselves besieged in a precinct station on the edge of a desolate Los Angeles slum. What makes the film so effective is that the attackers seem to be as motiveless, and relentless, as the zombies who stalk through “Dawn of the Dead.”
If the movie is really about anything at all, it’s about methods of urban warfare and defense. Mr. Carpenter is an extremely resourceful director whose ability to construct films entirely out of action and movement suggests that he may one day be a director to rank with Don Siegel.
– Vincent Canby, The New York Times, August 18, 1979
Before making the original Halloween into one of the most profitable independent films of all time, John Carpenter directed this riveting low-budget thriller from 1976, in which a nearly abandoned police station is held under siege by a heavily armed gang called Street Thunder. Inside the station, cut off from contact and isolated, cops and convicts who were headed for death row must now join forces or die. That’s the basic plot, but it’s what Carpenter does with it that’s remarkable. Drawing specific inspiration from the classic Howard Hawks Western Rio Bravo (which included a similar siege on disadvantaged heroes), Carpenter used his simple setting for a tense, tightly constructed series of action sequences, emphasizing low-key character development and escalating tension. Few who’ve seen the film can forget the “ice cream cone” scene in which a young girl is caught up in the action by patronizing a seemingly harmless ice cream truck. It’s here, and in other equally memorable scenes, that Carpenter demonstrates his singular knack for injecting terror into the mundane details of daily life, propelling this potent thriller to cult favorite status and long-standing critical acclaim.
–Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
He went from being one of the masters of horror (”Halloween,” ”The Thing”) to putting out loads of horrifyingly bad movies (”John Carpenter’s Vampires” and ”Ghosts of Mars”). But before director John Carpenter turned his attention almost completely to scary fare, he directed Assault On Precinct 13, a tight, tense thriller in which cops and cons join forces in an abandoned police station to fight off a mob of revenge-minded gang members. Sure, the acting (from never-really-heard-from-agains like Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston) is suspect, and certain plot points — such as the fact that the so-called assault actually takes place at Precinct 9, not 13 — range from confusing to nonsensical. Still, Carpenter’s eerie score and Douglas Knapp’s stylish cinematography give this low-budget shoot-out all the weight of an urban ”Rio Bravo” (although it should be noted no one here is named Stumpy or Feathers). And trust me, you’ll never look at an ice cream truck the same way again.
– Dalton Ross, Entertainment Weekly
Kent Jones of Film Comment has referred to horror maven John Carpenter as the last genre filmmaker working in America (indeed, while everyone else seems to move with the digital tide, Carpenter remains a resilient “analog man”). Joseph Kaufman, executive producer of Carpenter’s thoroughly-modern western Assault on Precinct 13, wrote in a 1994 essay: “People have noticed that both Rio Bravo and Assault on Precinct 13 take place in besieged and isolated police stations, and that moral codes of behavior are important in the two films.” Kaufman is careful to point out that Assault on Precinct 13 isn’t a literal imitation of Howard Hawks’s film, but there’s no mistaking the modern racial and sexual politics encoded in the distinctly western elements of Carpenter’s lean, mean, genre-defying masterpiece.
Less subtle though arguably more successful than Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the film evokes an ever-shifting political pecking order when a cultural cross-section of society trapped inside a Los Angeles police station wages war against a violent street gang named Street Thunder… Carpenter acknowledges that his protagonists are equally responsible for the choices they make. As a troubled black youth, Bishop walked out of the ghetto on his own, but thanks in part to the guidance of his father. Conversely, white prisoner Napoleon Wilson (the late Darwin Joston) turned to violence on his own, but no thanks to negative encouragement (a priest once told him: “You have something to do with death”). But what is the audience to make of Bishop fearfully observing a white officer as he loads his rifle, or the black prisoner, Wells (Tony Burton), who shoots his silencer at Street Thunder only to realize after one of the film’s many mini-battles that his gun wasn’t loaded? Carpenter’s doesn’t allow his characters to play any sort of blame games, and despite any lingering hang-ups they may have with each other’s color, the director acknowledges that our problems with race are obscuring larger issues dealing with misguided authority and rampant political deception.
Because Assault on Precinct 13 is among one of the most remarkably composed films of all time, it’s easy to look at Carpenter’s rigorous framing techniques as their own acts of political resistance. The film’s tight medium-shots position the characters in constant defiance of each other: blacks against whites, women against men, prisoners against officers. When Wells announces that he will attempt to escape Precinct 13 (he humorously calls his plan “Save Ass”), Bishop suggests a fairer approach. After a speedy lesson in trust and human decency, Wells and Wilson engage in a quickie game of Potatoes that positions Wells as the group’s potential gateway out of the police station. Despite the tragic but inevitable human losses, no one group comes out on top because only their capacity for kindness reigns supreme in Carpenter’s democratic kingdom.
– Ed Gonzalez, Slant
Carpenter had little time or money to meander off the point, so it possesses an expositional leanness that would not stand the loss of a single scene. Still, and as Carpenter observes more than once on this DVD’s commentary track, the film’s pace is slow; he takes almost a third of its 90 minute running time to set up his main characters and their relationships. Then, though he lets all hell break loose for the remainder of the picture, the action sequences maintain a deliberate, provocative spareness. For instance, the gang members use silencers on their weapons, and the repetitious thuds of their gunfire is more unnerving than the customary loud cracks of rapid fire weapons.
The cocky, expert shooter Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Justin), may be a convicted killer, but he does not lack for humanity or the desire to help others in peril. His repeated request for a cigarette appears to be his own way of assessing how fairly another person will treat him. And Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), the secretary, reminds one of the kind of unconscious insouciance that Hawks’ women possessed, for she takes care of her own needs even as she looks out for others, combining a sense of independence without losing of the needs of the group.
While Carpenter did recognize that the audience for low-budget cinema values aggressive action above all else, he made an effort not to allow violence to occur without a clear cause. While the plot contains a disturbing execution that sets out how amoral the protagonists’ assailants are, Carpenter rarely otherwise chooses to overplay savagery. Even if the three central characters take up arms out of necessity, not ideology or sadism, Carpenter refuses to reduce their violence to a sideshow of blood squibs or special effects pyrotechnics.
– David Sanjek, Pop Matters
Assault On Precinct 13 is one of the best low-budget action movies ever made and a model of good B-Movie filmmaking. It’s short, lean and agonisingly suspenseful, paying homage to its influences without ripping them off wholesale. Although it was only the second film directed by John Carpenter, it remains one of his most effective and it stands out as the movie where he began collecting together a reliable team of collaborators who stayed with him for the next few years, the period during which he made most of his classic films.
Carpenter’s use of real locations is masterful – the use of Venice Police Station as a location and the surrounding district of California, some kind of urban wasteland. The sense of sun-drenched day turning into seemingly endless night is beautifully evoked – the skies are often gorgeous – and this is something which links a number of Carpenter films, ranging from Halloween to Prince of Darkness. Indeed, the latter film is almost a remake of Assault on Precinct 13 with added supernatural bunkum. Also well in evidence is Carpenter’s ability to use the possibilities of the Panavision frame. This was his first film in 2.35:1 and his exploration of the far sides of the frame is one of the things which makes him a contemporary director as opposed to the directors who influenced him, most of whom hated having to use anything wider than 1.85:1 – and Ford and Hawks weren’t overly keen on anything wider than Academy ratio.
This attention to character is something which denotes all of Carpenter’s best work and even his least interesting films are often good in this respect – the oddball group of vampire hunters led by James Woods in Vampires for example. Again, this is a lesson learned from Howard Hawks and the three leading characters in the film are very much in the Hawksian tradition. Wilson, witty and reflective, is far from the usual stereotype of a killer bound for death row and becomes something of an anti-hero. Leigh, the secretary – presumably named in tribute to the screenwriter of The Big Sleep, El Dorado and Rio Lobo, Leigh Brackett – is a classic Hawksian woman, resourceful and fiercely independent. Lt. Bishop is humourous, wry, honourable and tough – not at all unlike a Wayne hero in one of Hawks’ westerns (among whom John T. Chance stands out, and Carpenter’s little tribute to this character is the editor credit).
Of course, Bishop is also black, and the fact that this is rarely an issue, with the exception of a joke he makes when Leigh offers him coffee, reminds the viewer of Night Of The Living Dead. Nor is this the only reminder, since the sequences in which the scarily numerous and anonymous thugs attempt to storm the police station through the doors and windows are highly endebted to the similar sequences in Romero’s film. There’s a certain amount of Hitchcock’s The Birds in these scenes too. You’ll also spot more than a touch of Straw Dogs, particularly in the plot line of a collection of brutal thugs wanting to get at a man who they perceive to owe them his life. I also have to point out the presence of Henry Brandon as the desk sergeant – Brandon played Scar in another of Carpenter’s favourite films, The Searchers.
– Mike Sutton, DVD Times
Carpenter strips the notion of what a Hawksian film entails down to its very essence for Assault On Precinct 13. His men are resourceful and no matter the danger that surrounds them, not only look like heroes but sound like them too. They may not be quite the match of the soldiers of The Thing From Another World for an ability to laugh in the face of certain death, although few could, but Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) is always ready with a, “Gotta smoke?” as the gunfire dies down. It becomes not only his refrain but also his way of assuring those around him that, for the moment at least, the danger has passed.
It’s that sense of danger that becomes what is best and most memorable about Assault On Precinct 13. For all the dozens of gang members who are shot and killed by Stoker and his makeshift cops, not one of them says so much as a word. Instead, they are the urban nightmare that Walter Hill promised but never delivered. Heavily armed and as relentless as the creature in Carpenter’s later The Thing or Michael Myers in Halloween, they just keep on coming, attacking several times, being forced back but always coming forward. For all those that Stoker shoots, a dozen more take their place with each glimpse outside of the station showing yet more gathering in the shadows. Even with a career that includes Halloween, The Thing and The Fog, Assault On Precinct 13 is one of the most unsettling of Carpenter’s films, be it in the gang members sitting silently cradling their weapons before their killing spree begins, in their cold-blooded murder of a young girl or their circling of the police station. Carpenter makes their assaults simply terrifying.
It’s not, though, as good a film as Rio Bravo but then few are. There’s a warmth to Hawks’ film that Carpenter’s lacks. Similarly, Hawks finds the time for a great number of asides in his story, whereas Carpenter, having stripped his film to the bone, deviates not an inch from the Street Thunder gang preparing for the siege and the assault itself. So, a different film, then, but it remains a great one. And with time having been so kind to it, it remains as entertaining and thrilling a film now as it has ever been.
– Eamon McCusker, DVD Times
Carpenter’s social commentary juices flow most strongly when he’s deconstructing the genre’s racial and gender roles, the Street Thunder gang being the great evil that forces our protagonists to join as one: black cop, white cop, black convict, white convict. Fate interplays, such as when death row convict Wells (Tony Burton) complains that he’s always had bad luck, not moments before a bitter death. American society remains flawed in Carpenter’s eye but the strive for justice is a victory all its own, the protagonists surviving only because of their ability to set aside their purported identities (male, female, etc.), remaining individuals as they unite as equals. Carpenter’s almost mathematically structured framework itself defies any sense of bias, his characters on equal footing whether they remain in defiance of one another, or, in a climactic and revealing shot, stand side by side as a single force.
Because Carpenter’s observations render Assault on Precinct 13 as one of the most transcendent of all action films, it’s almost easy to glance over the razor sharp narrative precision and the efficiency of its lean, mean setpieces; absorbing the space of their locations, the camera itself feels like an occupant of the police station fortress, bullets ricocheting while gangsters attack not unlike the zombies from Night of the Living Dead. Carpenter is more subtle than Romero in his evocation of social conflict but his insight is as profound as that film’s Vietnam-infused anger, the hopefully optimistic ying to Romero’s learnedly pessimistic yang. Points for humor, however, go to Carpenter, who achieves—through the great performance that is Tony Burton’s—what may be the most hilariously titled escape plan in movie history. Although there may be no greater isolated element than Carpenter’s own soulful synth score, Assault on Precint 13’s powerful exercise in democracy—which appropriately ends with our two male protagonists marching together up a flight of steps—is nothing short of one for the ages.
– Rob Humanick, The Projection Booth
The crime gang excepted (which is anonymous and expendable), no primary character in the film embodies his stereotype. The criminals exhibit trust and selflessness, the new policeman (the survivors’ hierarchal authority) is black, and the women are composed, always clothed, and never scream. It is responsible, dynamic characterization. Most every character is designed to contest traditional sexual and racial stereotyping. This ideology (or lack of stereotyping) dictates to some extent the film’s outcome: the survivors are reduced to an essential representation of the sexes, races, and opposing sides of law. (This racial and sexual acknowledgement also employed in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.) Success in their desire to live, in result, necessitates trust and collaboration between the party members, each of whom embodies traditionally segregated characterizations in ’70s film. As the body count escalates, notice the policeman’s face as it fills simultaneously with fear, desperation, and concern as he hands a loaded rifle to one of the convicts.
The suspense of this film relents only at the final minutes, once the smoke of gunfire clears to reveal the survivors without a bullet of ammunition between them. Survival is meaningless without a viewer’s sympathy — in Carpenter’s hands the latter trait is a transcendent element. Carpenter’s survivors are durable, and, as with those in this film, are not characterized by strength and determination inasmuch as they are by vulnerability and fear.
– Rumsey Taylor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You
Wringing tension from his water-tight premise, Carpenter goes on to deliver a template example of how to make the most out of your resources. Not a high-budget film by any stretch, Assault On Precinct 13 nonetheless uses its primary location in a wonderfully sinister way, with superb use of sound and light to ratchet up the tension at the right moments. Combined with shots of shadowy figures running around, and built on characters you end up giving a damn about (no matter how morally ambiguous they are), it’s a lean, exciting action thriller, and absolutely not the kind of film that anyone can make.
If you want proof of that, you can’t help but turn to the Ethan Hawke-headlined remake, which was released in 2005, and directed by Jean-Francois Richet. Remakes of Carpenter films are notoriously not very good, but Assault On Precinct 13 didn’t turn out too badly. That said, it lacked anywhere near the levels of tension and unease of its far cheaper predecessor, and it failed too to match the sheer feeling of claustrophobia of Carpenter’s original.
– Simon Brew, Den of Geek
Unfortunately, “Assault” is marked by one of the weaker scripts you’re going to find this side of George Lucas, and the acting isn’t much better. (What does it say when the most convincing line readings are given by Larry Burton as the convict Wells, an actor who is most famous as Apollo Creed’s trainer from the “Rocky” movies? Nothing good, I assure you.) Napoleon Wells is played by Darwin Joston, and while everyone acts like Wells is the ultimate hard case, Joston completely fails to inject any of the rakish charm into Wells that the script labors so mightily to achieve. Austin Stoker plays the straight “white hat” lead as the top cop in the Precinct fairly well, but again he’s handicapped by some incredibly wooden dialogue. Laurie Zimmer tries to inject some sultry sexuality into her role as Laurie, a secretary at the Precinct, but on a couple of moments you can actually see her looking at the floor to find her marks so she knows where to stand.
The gang members of “Street Thunder” are a mixed bag, as well. If you rate them against the gang members of “The Warriors,” to choose another period piece about the gangs, or against any recent flick about gangs, they come across as almost comically impersonal and robotic (with the powerful exception of the ice cream cone scene, of course). But for 1976, “Street Thunder” was probably a pretty scary bunch. And if you view “Street Thunder” as a representation of the mindless evil prevalent in the disintegrating American society of the 1970’s, they are pretty spooky as they just keep on coming in wave after wave. (But still, modern audiences may not be spooked by a gang where a couple of the members are clearly wearing pressed khakis.)
– Biohazard, The Deuce
“The film is a great way to jump into the John Carpenter filmography — it’s sort of a Carpenter-land travel guide. ” – Todd Doogan, The Digital Bits
“An inventive premise, lots of guns, heavy action, effective suspense, genuine laughs, a furious last half, and John Carpenter kicking B-Movie ass behind the camera while cracking skulls with his jiving score” – John Fallon, JoBlo.com
“If there was any indication of just how good a director John Carpenter was, Assault on Precinct 13 was a darn good sign.” – Gordon Justesen, DVD Movie Central
“John Carpenter’s cult classic may be low budget, but more than 30 years on it remains brilliantly claustrophobic and eerily entertaining.” – Maria Realf, Eye for Film
“Carpenter certainly knows how to play with his audience – he manages to supply the shocks that similar movies just can’t.” – Wayne Southworth, The Spinning Image
“The growing tension of never knowing where the enemy is coming from makes for some great cinema, and the heavy gore adds to the proceedings.” – Matt Paprocki, BlogCritics.com
“The film was quickly shot on little financing, and although certain scenes feel rushed and haphazardly put together, overall the film is brilliantly constructed and beautifully photographed in Carpenter’s patented 2.35:1 widescreen that always elevates seemingly mundane shots into iconic and grand statements, much like the classic westerns and horror films that continue to resonate today.” – Richard X., Cinephile Magazine
“Although ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is only John Carpenter’s second film and predates HALLOWEEN, it remains an entertaining movie, whose western influences have helped make it a cult classic.” – The Cinema Laser
Shot on a shoestring, the movie uses a patchwork of locations around Los Angeles, and the interiors were filmed at the Producers Studio, now Raleigh Studios.
The streets near the station are in Watts, Los Angeles’s often-troubled South Central area; the view across the street from the precinct is North Hollywood, but ‘Anderson Police Station, Division 14’ itself is the old Police and Fire Station of Venice, 685 North Venice Boulevard, on the northeast corner of Pisani Drive, Venice, which was the only art deco police station in Los Angeles, and is now the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), devoted to Los Angeles’s excellent tradition of multi-ethnic public art. Murals, that is.
– Patrick Naugle, DVD Verdict
One of the most controversial sequences in the film concerns the shooting of an ice-cream seller and his customer, a little girl. They are shot in cold blood by a gang member (played with chilling detachment by Frank Doubleday), and the staging of the deaths beside an ice-cream van in broad daylight seems to undermine the aspects of society we all presume to be safe & protected, in a similar way to the siege on the police station later that day.This sequence upset the US censors so much that they demanded Carpenter remove the scene of the girl being shot or it would get an X certificate: his answer was to cut the scene in just the print to be sent back to the censors, and to leave it in every print that was to be distributed across America!
– Graham Hill, The John Carpenter Website
ABOUT THE SCORE
Listen to main theme via embedded video:
Like his contemporary, Brian De Palma, John Carpenter is a master at borrowing, reinterpreting, and occasionally stealing things from the best filmmakers of the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. It’s apparent in Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 both in his filmmaking (he edits the film under the pseudonym “John T. Chance,” the name of John Wayne’s character in Rio Bravo, a clear Western influence) and in his music (he describes the soundtrack as a fusion of the theme from Dirty Harry and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”). The Halloween soundtrack draws on The Exorcist’s piano theme in the same way.
The original film’s soundtrack is essentially just two pieces, repeated at different lengths throughout the movie. The first is little more than a reedy ticking noise, like a baseball card in a bicycle spoke. Whether it blends into the film by counting off precious seconds or just mimicking broken machinery varies from scene to scene. The second piece is a thick, hazy synthesizer riff that plugs lazily through the occasional relaxed sequences in the film. It’s as minimalist as anything, but the approach is less a matter of deliberate artistry and more a product of Carpenter’s short composing time (just a few days) and low budget (he was working with old vacuum tubes that produced an unusual tone).
– Erick Bierlitz, The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola
It’s curious how an accomplished composer can sweat blood creating an intricate, detailed and rich score for a huge orchestra without notice while another with less education and range can create a simple five note riff in his home studio and immediately have a popular hit on his hands. John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 proves that size doesn’t matter. It’s landing the musical hook that counts. If you have that, you have the audience. At only twenty-four minutes with synthesizer and two simple themes, and I mean simple, Carpenter creates massive impact with not a lot of material. His score is tense, atmospheric, and classic. The film, of course, depends on the careful mix of relentless pressure and respite, and the score serves it superbly. It’s a score that has gained cult status.
In the album notes, Carpenter quotes Herrmann, that master of repeated short phrases as a basis for suspense, as his inspiration. If there’s one thing that has served Carpenter well, it’s the awareness to look to his idols (Howard Hawkes as a director; Herrmann as a composer) to work out how the job is done. He reads his idols well, works them out correctly, and using the lessons they teach, he executes beautifully.
– Steven Woolston, Music from the Movies
The score isn’t actually bad. Once Carpenter sinks you in slowly but surely into the film, the score mixes perfectly with everything else. The once-grating repetitive melody becomes akin to a heart beating profusely. You actually quite follow it — you dread the score that dictates tension, and you treasure when it levitates to something easing. It’s quite an effective score — nothing fancy, nothing extravagant, just purely supportive of whatever else Carpenter is cooking up onscreen.
As with most every John Carpenter film, Assault on Precinct 13 is complemented with a simplistic, minimalist score — it is his signature, exampled most famously by his three-note staccato for Halloween. Keep in mind that Carpenter is secondly a filmmaker, pursuing the profession after earning a degree in music. Directors customarily claim secondary credits, and Carpenter’s persists to be one of the more unique in “Director-Composer.”
For Carpenter, this has become a deteriorative element. His tactic in scoring is appropriate to suspense or horror and is attuned to the ’70s, favoring synthesizers and bass guitars. As with these instruments, Carpenter’s scoring has become an artifact of past decades.
– Rumsey Taylor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You
When “Assault” was made, synthesizers were not as common as they are today. In fact, the recording process was such that you had to record one track for each chord, or something along those lines. In other words, while now we would just use a keyboard, back then it was a long and arduous mixing process. With this information it makes the movie’s musical score all the more impressive. For while it sounds like the base line for a bad 80’s dance song, it is, in fact, pretty good considering what he had to work with.
– Jeremiah Sherman, ThreeGeek.com
ABOUT THE DVD
Sharpness seemed solid. The movie remained nicely detailed and crisp at all times. Never did I discern any significant issues connected to softness or fuzziness. Jagged edges and moiré effects also created no concerns, though a smidgen of edge enhancement showed up at times. As one might expect, print flaws caused a mix of problems, though they remained fairly minor. I noticed occasional examples of specks and marks, and grain seemed heavier than normal sometimes. I also saw some examples of reel change markers. However, the movie came across as reasonably clean during much of the film.
Colors never excelled, but they rarely became a liability either. The film showed some hues that were a bit dense at times, and they also looked somewhat flat on other occasions. Still, they mostly appeared acceptably concise and natural. Black levels could seem slightly inky sometimes, but they usually were reasonably deep, and shadows followed suit. The low-light shots periodically seemed somewhat too thick, but most of them appeared quite easy to discern. Though no one will mistake Assault for a “reference level” image, it held up well after all these years.
I felt the same way about the monaural soundtrack of Assault on Precinct 13. Despite the lack of stereo or surround audio, the mix sounded quite good much of the time. Speech sounded natural and crisp, as those elements seemed above average for the era. Music also was nicely rich and dynamic. High-end came across as a little shrill, but the score presented good bass response. Effects occasionally demonstrated a little distortion, mostly due to gunshots. Otherwise those elements were fairly accurate and concise. In general, the track sounded a little thin, but when I factored in the movie’s age and budget, I felt that Assault provided a positive auditory experience.
In a negative move, Assault presents no form of text for those with hearing issues. The movie includes neither subtitles in any language nor closed-captioning. In this day and age, that seems absurd.
– Colin Jacobson, DVD Movie Guide
Q&A With John Carpenter (23m07s): The actual content of this Q&A is fine. Unfortunately, it’s the presentation that lets it down. In this, Carpenter appears onstage beside Austin Stoker, filmed at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood in 2002. Much of Carpenter’s answers do dwell on Assault On Precinct 13 but he does mention other films of his in passing. He also offers a very welcome glimpse at how he went about making his film, not only in his setting up the action (and actors) but in his use of Panavision and the problems that came with it and in the instruments that he used in scoring the movie. The problem, though, is that this was filmed from a position in the audience with a camcorder. It’s in focus so long as it is zoomed in on Carpenter but, otherwise, tends to drift out of focus on wide shots. It also tends to drift around its subjects quite a bit and, at one point, gets switched off. Still, look past that and what Carpenter has to say and the questions he’s asked are interesting.
Commentary: Carpenter is on his own for this track and while it’s good enough, it’s not a patch on those where he has someone to work off such as Kurt Russell (on The Thing). But Carpenter is still head and shoulders above many others when it comes to commentaries and while he does leave some gaps in his track, he also talks in detail about his step up to shooting this off this student film Dark Star, about the influence that Hawks had on the film and about the limitations of the production, such as why the cast don’t just go upstairs to wait it out and how Carpenter tries to explain this with dialogue. Still an interesting track but it would have been very much better had it been a Carpenter and Stoker recording.
Production History (16m54s): This features pages of text explaining the production in between behind-the-scenes shots of the same, stills taken from the script and storyboards. The most interesting section of this feature is near the end where it shows news clippings from the UK, where it became much more of a success than it was in the US, and in Carpenter’s reaction to how European audiences reacted to it so differently.
Finally, there are two Radio Spots (32s and 33s) and a very scratchy Original Theatrical Trailer (2m04s).
– Eamon McCusker, DVD Times
ABOUT JOHN CARPENTER
John Carpenter is sometimes referred to as the “master of the horror film.” This is a reasonable title, bearing in mind that he has proved to be not only a director with a visually and thematically consistent body of work, but also a true visionary of the horror genre. Although usually misunderstood and under appreciated by audiences and film critics alike, John Carpenter has created some of the most intense, imaginative, influential and successful horror films in cinema history. Consider for example Halloween (1978), one of the most profitable independent films ever made. This one film spawned seven sequels, countless imitations, and ignited the slasher-film boom that flourished and dominated the horror film industry during the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the same time, it would be unfair to categorize John Carpenter as just a horror film director, as he has also created exceptional science fiction and action films. However, it is worth noticing that even if the majority of Carpenter’s films belong to a fantastic genre, they all bear a strong influence from the western. Regardless of their subject matter, the films directed by John Carpenter are characterized by his mastery of the cinematographical craft, and by the showcasing of engaging narratives that convey a profound commentary on the many social, racial, gender and sexual anxieties of our modern world.
– Marco Lanzagorta, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Bio
With themes that range from a distrust of authority and absolutism, complete with the rebellious anti-hero as a lead (They Live, Escape From New York), to paying for the sins of the past… or the future (The Fog, Prince of Darkness), to simply the coming of the end of the world, Carpenter has covered a lot of ground over the course of his career. His “Apocalypse Trilogy” (The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness) represent a body of work that all deal with Armageddon resulting from supernatural or alien forces causing humans to turn on each other in some fashion, with grim, dark-hearted results. You’ll also find recurring actors — it’s clear that he’s had some successful working relationships, some of which even would go on to become close friendships, with his actors. Kurt Russell (hell, half the cast of Big Trouble in Little China), Jamie Lee Curtis, Keith David and Donald Pleasence have all had roles in multiple Carpenter films.
– Pajiba Guide to John Carpenter