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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer
Director: John Carpenter
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Shout! Factory
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: November 19, 2013

“Still have the gun?”

“Two shots. Should I save them for the two of us?”

“You save them for the first two a**holes who come through that vent.”

Film ****

If there was any indication of just how good a director John Carpenter was, Assault on Precinct 13 was a darn good sign. It was the director's second outing as a director, following his first try, Dark Star, and the film that would be followed by his landmark breakthrough, Halloween, in 1978. Even though I was never able to see the film until after seeing all of Carpenter’s following work, thanks to a very small run in the early days of DVD, I nevertheless acknowledged it as one Carpenter’s truly best after my first viewing.

There are several genres of film that Mr. Carpenter has perfected, one being horror, another being sci-fi, and the other being action thriller. Assault on Precinct 13 not only makes for a creepy and effective thriller, but for a dynamic illustration of pure, gritty low budget filmmaking. And since it came out in 1976, that made it a very, very low budget film.

About 85% of the film takes place at night, and mostly at one setting. Given these advantages, Carpenter succeeds at letting the atmosphere become a character itself in this tale of a deadly war declared by a street gang in the name of cold-blooded vengeance. More than 30 years after its release, the film has lost not one ounce of its chilling quality.

The story opens with a police squad opening fire on several members of a notorious street gang known as The Street Thunder. The very next day, the four ringleaders of the gang take a blood oath and unite to bring the city of Los Angeles down to its knees. To indicate an uncomfortably authentic feel, the time and location will occasionally appear on the screen.

Another creepy aspect is that the gang members aren't given any dialogue, but it isn't needed. The very look of rage and terror is displayed in their faces. Street Thunder is made to be more a deadly force than a group of individuals, making it even more terrifying. I feel as though to give away any details of their actions would be unfair, but I can implicate one such incident will unquestionably shock anyone who watches this movie.

As day turns into night, the trail of the gang leads to Precinct 13, whose occupants include just that of a watch commander, his assistants, and a couple of prisoner transfers scheduled for death row. When it is discovered that the precinct is indeed under attack, with the gang circling its every exit, it's up to Lt. Bishop (Austin Stoker) to make a critical decision, which is using the two inmates, Wilson (Darwin Joston) and Wells (Tony Burton) as allies to strike back against the gang, whose number is in a superior high quantity.

Blending in elements of Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13 is nothing short of an audacious, landmark independent film. Carpenter, who also provides the film's remarkably creepy score, masters here both the art of pacing and execution, which he has since become somewhat famous for in some of his other films. Those who have seen his most recent movie, Ghosts of Mars, will no doubt recognize a similarity in both plot and build up. Alongside all of the chaos in the film, Carpenter also manages to squeeze in some character development amongst the hostages of Precinct 13.

Having deservedly earned the status of a cult classic, Assault on Precinct 13 is a definitive John Carpenter thriller. Brutal, relentless and uncompromising like the Street Thunder gang, it is nothing short of a perfect first step for one of today's masters of cinematic terror.

Video ****

If you aren’t yet convinced by the sheer wonders of Blu-ray, the amazingly awesome presentation of this 33 year old flick should definitely change your opinion. It was the first 70s film I experienced on Blu-ray, and the picture quality suggests a film that could’ve been made recently. The anamorphic picture is stunning in overall clearness and image detail. Even with the consistent dark look to the movie, there isn’t a flaw to be found! It has been released before on Blu-ray by way of Image Entertainment, and from what I can tell this presentation from Shout! Factory isn’t much different from the one offered on the previous release. The good news is it doesn’t need to be!

Audio ***1/2

If I could be blown away by the performance of a simple mono track on the DVD, just think what Blu-ray can do! The DTS HD mix makes the film sound much more intense than ever. Carpenter’s score sounds more effective than ever, and I can certainly say that the action sounds more dynamic than ever. Spoken words are delivered in fantastic form, and the set piece itself allows for some nice bits of rear and side noise, especially in quite scenes.

Features ***1/2

Included are all the extras from the previous Blu-ray release, plus a few new ones courtesy of Shout! Factory! Among the returning extras, there’s an intriguing interview with John Carpenter and star Austin Stoker that is loaded with insightful questioning and occasional humor, as well as a commentary track by Carpenter (which, like all his commentaries, is a very good listen) an isolated music track, a stills gallery, a trailer and radio spots. As far as new extras are concerned, there are two new interview segments; the first with Austin Stoker and the second with co-star Nancy Loomis, as well as a new commentary track with sound effects designer (and frequent Carpenter collaborator) Tommy Lee Wallace.

Summary:

In addition to becoming one our most treasured cult classics, Assault on Precinct 13 is simply a tremendous beginning step in the career of John Carpenter. If you’re a dedicated fan of the film, or haven’t yet experienced it, and have access to Blu-ray…this new release from Shout! Factory is one HD experience you’ll definitely want to take up.

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