Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) Review

There are taboos in films, untouchable subjects that directors and writers should avoid. For instance, teenagers at a summer camp may be slashed to pieces by a maniacal killer with no repercussions.

However, senior citizens and children are off limits. The latter is likely why the MPAA threatened Assault on Precinct 13 with the dreaded “X” rating if a scene wasn’t deleted.

Here, a little girl walks up to an ice cream truck to return a cone because it is the wrong flavor. Unbeknownst to her, a member of the violent Street Thunder gang sits on the other side of the truck, turns to her without a care in his eye, and shoots her in the chest. The squib goes off, the girls stands in shock for a second, and then drops.

It is enormously effective in terms of the film, and undeniably disturbing. However, it is campy in that an ice cream cone is the catalyst, as if a little girl isn’t an innocent enough victim without one.

After a somewhat sluggish start, that sequence begins a spiral of events that quickly go downhill for a closed down police station. Austin Stoker is our hero, a young cop assigned to the station for its final day of business. The father of the girl runs into the building, unable to speak, but leading the murderous gang to the small, nearly unpopulated station.

As if this were a zombie movie, the gang begins a relentless assault, attempting repeatedly to climb through windows event though their fallen friends lay outside. It is a sequence of high camp, one that works in a zombie movie, not so much in one where the killers are supposed to have brain functions.

Two inmates agree to assist, including a second hero played by Darwin Joston. He’s a murderer on death row, infamously asking if anyone has “a smoke” before he’ll speak to anyone. The chemistry between Joston and Stoker is fun, one of the highlights of this low budget thriller.

Carpenter has stated he wanted to make a western, but financing wasn’t available. Instead, he set it in the modern day and remade Rio Bravo with some of the usual genre clichés he loved. This was only the director’s second film before hitting it big with Halloween, and it’s almost a shame he didn’t have the chance to work with a restrained budget again. With his talents and imagination, a few more cult classics were sure to follow.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

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Surprising is this AVC encode. The film has obviously been preserved well, with limited damage. Sharpness is high with no artifacting, and no noticeable digital manipulation has been applied. Detail is surprising, including distinct facial textures. Colors are surprisingly bold, and flesh tones are accurate.

There is a drop in quality around the 55-minute mark as the convicts are let out of their cells, likely due to print deterioration. The next scene is fine. Black levels are also a concern, giving the film an inconsistent murky quality depending on the shot once power is cut. A few early shots have fading to the sides of the screen. This is flawed, although significantly better than the DVD and any expectations.

Video ★★★★☆ 

An uncompressed DTS-HD track is strictly front-loaded when it comes to action. Fidelity is fair and adequate, although slightly strained. The soundtrack receives the noticeable boost, thanks to both some mild bleed and a strong low end. Dialogue is free of distortion.

Audio ★★★☆☆ 

Extras kick off with a solo commentary from John Carpenter, followed up by a 23 minutes interview with Carpenter and Austin Stoker. Due to a low quality recording, it is difficult to hear. An isolated score track is also available. Some trailers and radio spots are standard fare.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

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