Blu-ray Review: John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (Collector’s Edition)

John Landis recently commented that there aren’t any original movie ideas. But what counts is how you retell the story. Such is the case of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. Carpenter openly admits that the film is his tribute to the Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo. But the film doesn’t just trace over the John Wayne and Dean Martin film. Carpenter creates a great tale of the last night of a police headquarters. He brings a bit of modern richness to the siege tale.

The weekend starts on a bad note for a group of gang members that get gunned down by the police force. The survivors swear revenge on the cops. Lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) gets assigned to be part of a skeleton staff on the last night before a precinct headquarters is decommissioned. It should be an easy task. Most of the equipment has been shipped out or boxed up. But this would not be a quiet night. First off a bus arrives needing medical attention for one of their three prisoners. One of the healthy prisoners is convicted murderer Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) on his way to death row. Turns out they aren’t the trouble. The gang members have targeted the precinct for utter destruction. As night falls, they surround the building and attack. Lt. Bishop is sealed off from the world when the phone lines are snipped. The gang members are unrelenting in their waves of attacks on the building. Is he willing to arm the killer in order to survive the night?

Assault on Precinct 13 was John Carpenter’s first solo directing gig after sharing the chair with Dan O’Bannon (Alien) on Dark Star. He quickly proves that he was his old partner’s equal in cinematic creativity. The movie really gets claustrophobic as often unseen gang members surround the building. Since there aren’t any major stars, viewers truly don’t have a clue who is really going to survive the night. There are plenty of brutal moments in the film including the ice cream truck massacre. This is so much better than the recent remake. Stoker and Joston make a fine team as a duo on extreme sides of the law brought together to survive the attack. Even with the limited number of sets, the film doesn’t get stuck. Of course it helps that most of the rooms get redecorated via shotgun blasts.

The new Blu-ray box cover done by James Rheems Davis is a variation on his poster for the screening at Raleigh’s Cinema Overdrive. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve had a print hanging on my TV room wall for a while. The more you love his artwork, the more prestigious my early artwork becomes.

Assault on Precinct 13: Collector’s Edition is an intense cop flick. While Carpenter might have lifted the theme from a classic, he was able to bring enough to the script to establish itself as a cult item. By the time the siege has broken, you’ll be panting for air.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The high definition transfer brings out the 1975 tone and textures of the film. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. You’ll heard the bullets ricochet around the house. There’s also a 2.0 DTS-HD Original Mono for those craving the original sound mix. The movie is subtitled.

Isolated Musical Score lets you appreciate John Carpenter’s soundtrack work.

Audio Commentary with John Carpenter has him break down the film and explain what was going on when they shot. He admits they didn’t do much coverage because of budget restraints. There’s also a commentary from Tommy Lee Wallace. He gets to tell his story from being art director and part of the editing crew.

Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker
(23:07) is from after a screening of the movie back in 2002. Carpenter remembers how this was the first time he shot a film from start to finish instead of stopping to raise additional funds. What’s rather astonishing is that the movie wasn’t a hit in America. This explains why Carpenter remained indie to make Halloween. Austin discusses how he met Carpenter.

Bishop Under Siege with Austin Stoker (7:48) gives his thespian history. He imagined himself more of a stage actor. Darwin Joston was his friend and set him up to audition for the role. His army background made him look efficient with weapons in the film.

The Sassy One with Nancy Loomis (12:43) reconnects with the actress who also made Halloween and The Fog with Carpenter. She discusses how he wanted to make a modern Western with Assault.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:03) is really scratched up, but the intensity shines through. How could people have not wanted to see the flick?

Radio Spots
(1:04) will scare you as you drive your car to the theater.

Still Gallery (3:36) is a montage of the production photos and promotional artwork.

Assault on Precinct 13: Collector’s Edition captures the flavor of a Western in the heart of modern Los Angeles. This is the ultimate way to enjoy Carpenter’s first solo feature film. It’s an indie classic.

Scream Factory presents Assault on Precinct 13: Collector’s Edition. Directed by: John Carpenter. Screenplay by: John Carpenter. Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer and Nancy Kyes. Running Time: 90 minutes. Rating: R. Released: November 19, 2013.

Tags: ,