Case Number 15747: Small Claims Court


Image Entertainment // 1976 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // February 20th, 2009

The Charge

"Why would anybody want to shoot at a police station?" -- Julie

The Case

John Carpenter has made a name for himself as a "Master of Horror." While this is certainly a deserving title, I like to think of him as "The Master of Totally Kickin' Action Movies with Crazy Synth Scores." Sure my title doesn't look as good on a DVD package, but Carpenter has made just as many, if not more, successful action flicks as he has horror movies. One of his first was Assault on Precinct 13.

Debuting in 1976, Assault on Precinct 13 is a modern remake of the Howard Hawks classic Rio Bravo. The plot is pretty simple: police officers and convicts work together to survive in a decommissioned police station while an endless number of gang members sack the place. Like Night of the Living Dead and The Seven Samurai, the film is all about fighting back against relentless, impending doom.

The sense of dread found within Assault on Precinct 13 is amplified by the movie's deliberately slow pace. The audience, and the characters, has plenty of time to fret about the oncoming onslaught. The first half hour of the film is all setup; Carpenter jumps between four storylines that eventually come crashing together at the station. The inciting incident, a gang member shooting a little girl at an ice cream truck, feels like such the red herring, but in fact leads to the entire crazed assault. The justification doesn't matter. All that really matters is that a police officer, a secretary, and two convicted felons have to work together to survive...and at some point they play One Potato, Two Potato.

That's one of the reasons I really enjoy John Carpenter's action films. He always finds a way to work in just the right amount of humor. He weaves in awkward moments like the potato game, or that ridiculously long fight scene in They Live, just to remind the audience that movies are supposed to be fun.

Assault on Precinct 13 was made on a shoestring budget, but rarely is that extremely evident. Sure the movie is shot on cheap, grainy film stock, and there are a handful of rather awkward special effects, but I totally believed that there were hundreds of crazed gang members ascending on Precinct 9, Division 13. If you're a fan of John Carpenter, you'll certainly appreciate this early effort. It's a nice companion piece to later films like Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China. For some, however, the pacing and glut of unanswered questions may be a turnoff.

This "Restored Collector's Edition" boasts a newly remastered digital transfer of the original 2.35:1 widescreen film. The picture is still pretty grainy, with washed out colors at times and some chunky black shadows, but overall it looks about as good as it'll get. I actually prefer the cheap, grainy look; it's like the actual film stock is struggling to survive along with the characters. The sound is decent as well, and any of the real issues reside with the original film. Carpenter's minimalist synth score is pretty good, if a little bit repetitive, but there are some really spotty sound effects thrown in during that climactic battle in the precinct basement.

I can't really figure out why Assault on Precinct 13 got a double-dip, especially since all of the special features are just carried over from the previous release: a commentary track with John Carpenter; a decent, if poorly filmed, interview with Carpenter and Austin Stoker (who plays Lt. Ethan Bishop); a still gallery; radio spots; an isolated score; and a trailer. If you owned the previous release, you already have this stuff. If you missed picking up the previous special edition, then this one at least has some decent package design.

The Verdict

Assault on Precinct 13 is a simple, but effective, siege film only John Carpenter could nail on $100k. Check it out.

Review content copyright © 2009 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile
Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Interview
* Photo Gallery
* Isolated Music Score
* Radio Spots
* Trailer

* IMDb