Plot: What’s it about?
The police station in Precinct 9, Division 13 has been shut down, though a few things are left to be dealt with before the final close. The place is still home to some prisoners, secretaries, and of course, officers of the law. The tension between the police and the street gangs has risen to new highs, as the police were just involved in several brutal encounters with the thugs, ones which left some gang members dead. So the street hoods are out for some vengeance, especially since a man who went after them is being held inside Division 13’s station. The man took the law into his own hands when his daughter was killed by a warlord, so the man risked his own life and murdered the gang leader himself. So with the slaying of their leader added to their losses in the street to the police, the gangs are ready to wage war on someone. And as it turns out, their target is anyone inside of Division 13’s station. The gang isn’t just going rough up those inside either, as the thugs have taken a blood oath to slaughter anyone in their path. This is bad news for Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker), who is running the soon to be closed station, as he has only a few secretaries and some death row inmates by his side. Can this group somehow band together and survive the assault, or will the street gang exact their bloodsoaked revenge?
When you think of low budget action movies, you probably think of ineffective, direct to video trash, with good reason. This is because most action movies these days run on immense budgets, to allow for widespread demolition, endless special effects, and of course, an overpaid, often poorly chosen action star to hold the lead. But if you don’t think a great action movie can be made with minimal resources, then you need to see John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, as it shows how much can be done, even on a tight budget. With this project, he was given creative freedom, but only offered a small budget to work with. So he had to pass on doing the western he wanted to do, though he kept the basics intact and moved the story’s place in time, from the rootin’ tootin’ days to a more recent period. A sort of tribute to Rio Bravo, this movie has a slim premise, but it works well and provides the backdrop needed. I do think additional backstory would have enhanced the experience, but the tension, suspense, and action are still well handled. Even with limited resources, the action is believable and well staged, with a kind of raw, realistic texture, instead of the blue-screen “magic” seen in most blockbusters. This new version from Image hosts a brand new transfer and some new extras, so fans will want to upgrade. As far as newcomers, if you like tense, well made action thrillers, then this is more than recommended.
As I mentioned before, John Carpenter was given free reign to make whatever movie he wanted, but he was saddled with limited funds. This might frustrate some filmmakers, but Carpenter had a lot of creative presence and as such, he was able to come through. Of course, we wanted to make a western, but he knew he couldn’t do the genre justice, given the low amount of funds he had available. So instead, he wrote a sort of modern western and borrowed from his hero Howard Hawks, who had helmed the classic Rio Bravo. And so we have a remake of that immortal western, but Carpenter moved into a newer period, but even with a shoestring budget, he delivered a well crafted, effective action thriller. Carpenter relies more on visuals and action than Hawks did, so the backstory and characters are thinner, but as its core, this is Carpenter’s rendition of that movie and its a good one. Other films directed by Carpenter include Halloween, Ghosts of Mars, Escape from New York, Christine, and They Live. The cast includes Austin Stoker (Battle for the Planet of the Apes, The Zebra Killer), Darwin Joston (The Fog, Eraserhead), and Martin West (Mac and Me, A Death in California).
Video: How does it look?
Assault on Precinct 13 is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This not a rehash of the previous disc’s presentation, as a brand new transfer has been struck from the original materials, in a hi-def digital film version, no less. The result is an image that defies the film’s age and low budget roots, one that looks simply excellent in almost all respects. Aside from a couple minor instances, the print is in stellar condition, so grain is almost never seen and debris is infrequent, so the visuals can shine through. The black levels seem more refined too, so detail is enhanced and the film’s images just open up more. And since many previous editions have been murky and overly dark, this brand new treatment is just what fans wanted. So now we have a cleaner, sharper presentation and of course, that is excellent news.
Audio: How does it sound?
An action movie might not sound like the kind of flick for a mono option, but the included soundtrack is more than solid. As you’d expect, some of the more explosive moments come off as a little confined, but overall, this is a good treatment. I didn’t hear much in terms of age related flaws, so hiss, distortion, and the like are minimal. A few muffled sequences surface, but this was a low budget production, so some slack should be allowed. The dialogue is usually clean and easy to understand, while Carpenter’s very cool musical score is smooth and adds a lot to the experience, so I’m glad it sounds good here. Not much else to discuss here, as this is a limited, but effective audio presentation.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As veterans of audio commentaries should know, John Carpenter offers some of the best ones, especially his tracks with Kurt Russell. But while his session here is solid, it fails to be as insightful as his other tracks. He covers a lot of ground here, but seems rather reserved at times, even self critical. So the track is worthwhile for all the information, but don’t expect his usual level of commentary here. You can also listen to an isolated musical score, which is nice, or view an interview with Carpenter and star Austin Stoker. This disc also includes some radio spots, a selection of still photos, and the film’s theatrical trailer.