Film of the Week: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

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John Carpenter directs Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston and Laurie Zimmer in this classic thriller about a police station under siege.

John Carpenter recently sued Luc Besson saying the French filmmaker’s Lockout was too close a rip off of his own Escape From New York… And was awarded a million bucks by the courts. I’m not saying he was wrong to point out the homage. You just have to wonder what Howard Hawks and George Romero made of this utterly winning but not all that original blend of Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead? This is a pared down sprint of claustrophobia, cool interactions and hardcore (for ’76)  violence. The killer gangs that lay siege are the fine line between those zombie hordes and later B movie classic The Warriors (an excellent double bill pair up with this). In the station there are great performances from actors who never broke out. Stoker is human and dignified as the different kinda sherrif in charge, Joston an absolute hoot as the smart and deadly sociopath more heroic than anyone ever gave him credit for and Laurie Zimmer as the secretary with more pluck and cold calm than anyone just absolutely tears up the screen. In an alternative universe this would be all of their first leap into continued beloved stardom. Carpenter proves his raw ability to say a thousand things in a silence and energise you with a single but aggressive shot. This is simple but overwhelming action movie mastery before the genre even took solid shape. And then we have that unrelentingly iconic synth score – ratcheting up the menace, making even the mundane seem epic. Pure brilliance.

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