Before John Carpenter became a household horror name with Halloween, he started with a thriller about a cop teaming up with criminals to survive the onslaught of a gang that wasn't afraid to die. Sure, it's a flawed movie in terms of technique, but for its time and based on the experience of the cast and crew, it's a landmark moment.

Ethan Bishop is a cop assigned to cover the overnight shift at a station that is half-open, half-closed. The police department is moving everything to a new building, but the old one still holds some paperwork, office equipment, stuff that just hasn't been picked up by the movers. A couple cops and a couple office workers are all that are left, just waiting to make the move.

When a different group of cops kill members of a gang in a gunfight, the rest of the gang swears revenge on anyone and everyone. After murdering two innocent civilians, one of the gang leaders is killed, which sets the rest of the gang into a frenzy, with none of them caring whether they live or die. They lay seige to the precinct building, and it's up to a cop, two secretaries, and two convicts to defend the building and try to survive.

It's a bit hard to look at this movie from 1976 with 2018 eyes (there was a remake in 2005, but meh). Obviously things look dated, the acting is B-movie, the writing isn't anything special. The special effects are obviously pre-CGI, and Carpenter is known for his love of practical effects, and you can see the beginnings of his style; lots of blood packets exploding, lots of gratuitous violence.

One of the successes is that none of the characters are really given any backstory. The cop is just a cop, the convicts don't go into long stories about their past, the gang members are anonymous. It's just a bunch of things that happen, really without time to get into further detail. The pacing might start off slow for a modern audience, but once the action kicks in, it really hits its stride.

It's always interesting to look back at a director's earliest works to see how they started and how they evolved, and "Assault on Precinct 13" is a fun, if imperfect, look back.

[Celluloid Hero] gives "Assault on Precinct 13" a 6 out of 10.




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