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Assault on Precinct 13
1976 - R - 91 Mins.
Director: John Carpenter
Producer: John Carpenter
Written By: John Carpenter
Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Charles Cyphers
Review by: John Ulmer
John Carpenter is one of few directors who can successfully transform their movies into giant roller coaster rides without insulting the audience. Carpenter takes simple premises, throws some characters together and lets everything evolve and unwind on their own. "Assault on Precinct 13" deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as "Dawn of the Dead" or perhaps the overrated "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" as a very low-budget horror/thriller that takes a cast of unknowns, places them together, doesn't really delve into their backgrounds but lets everything just work itself out like clockwork. In "Assault", there's an eager new cop, an infamous death row murderer and a relocating precinct -- all stuffed together into a movie about a vicious gang assault.

"Assault on Precinct 13" was one of Carpenter's very first efforts at directing. It shows. The movie is flawed, imperfect, both technically and otherwise (some of the dialogue in particular could have used fixing, and the acting is nothing incredible by any means). But it still has an addictive sense of urgency and frantic pacing that makes the movie feel like one long, non-stop, brutal assault - even though the setup for the film takes over forty minutes.

A rookie cop named Bishop (Austin Stoker) is put in charge of shutting down L.A. police precinct 13. As equipment is carried out of the building and last-minute closings are made, a busload of convicts, including notorious murderer Wilson (Darwin Joston), decide to stop at precinct 13 due to the fact that one of the criminals seems to be coming down with a harsh cough.

Meanwhile, downtown, a young girl is shot by a ruthless gang member. Her father shoots the killer, and then flees to precinct 13, hunted by the gang members, who eventually begin to lay siege to the precinct in a suicide raid. Trapped with two killers, a few cops and a jail warden, Bishop and company try to think of a way out without getting shot by the vicious gang outside.

That's basically it - people stuck inside a police station trying to get out without getting killed in the process. The movie is only ninety minutes long, give or take, which is a good thing, because if it had been any longer it might have lost some of its pacing and become tiring. Instead, there isn't a single scene in "Assault on Precinct 13" that I think should have been cut. It flows smoothly and we don't ever feel like a scene has gone on for too long or too short.

"Assault on Precinct 13" is an utterly refreshing film experience that manages to maintain a fast pace but never appears to be cheating its target audience.

The movie is being remade in 2005 with a considerably higher budget and bigger names. But check out the original -- it's a movie that doesn't need any awkward facelift.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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