Assault on Precinct 13 is one of the greatest action films of all time. Of course, I'm not talking about the putrid movie starring Ethan Hawke and Lawrence Fishburne, which is about to be unleashed in movie theaters like a gut full of cheap Mexican food and bad whiskey vomited up after a night of chasing hookers. I'm talking about writer-director John Carpenter's original, 1976 version of Assault on Percent 13. Inspired by Howard Hawks' classic Rio Bravo, with a bit of Night of the Living Dead and Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, Carpenter set out to make a modern-day western infused with horror elements.
Austin Stoker stars as Ethan Bishop, an L.A. County deputy sheriff assigned to oversee the final night of a soon-to-be closed police station. It should be an ordinary, uneventful tour of duty, but a series of unrelated incidents sets off a chain of events that will lead to deadly showdown. First, the nearly abandoned precint building becomes the temporary rest stop for a bus carrying three prisoners to death row, including infamous killer Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston). Meanwhile, when an innocent young girl is gunned down by a ruthless gang member, her father loses his mind and kills the killer. Chased by the dead gangbanger's brothers in arms, the distraught father seeks refuge in the police precinct. And when the gang comes looking for revenge, no one in the building is safe, leading to a standoff that forces Bishop to join forces with the death-row inmates in his charge.
When it comes to action thrillers, Assault on Precinct 13 is one of the most perfect films you will ever see. Following a traditional structure of plot points and story arcs, the film wastes no time. It is all lean mass, with no extra character- or plot-development fat weighing it down. Carpenter directs with an assured confidence missing from most films of this nature. And as writer, he also shows a similar confidence by letting the story tell itself, without being muddled up with unnecessary garbage. With an almost lightning pace, Carpenter spends the first half of the movie introducing the characters and setting up the story. All you need to know about any of the characters and what is going on is revealed during the first act-nothing more, nothing less. As soon as Carpenter is sure you're caught up in the tight little web he has weaved, he begins the assault. And the next 45 minutes is a fast-paced barrage of action, with only enough pauses for everyone involved, characters and audience alike, to catch their breath and contemplate a way out of the nightmare they're trapped in.
For Carpenter, Assault on Precinct 13 was the beginning of a 10-year streak that included some of the best genre movies ever made. During this time, Carpenter directed such classics as Halloween, Escape from New York, The Thing, Starman and Big Trouble in Little China. But when push comes to shove, Assault on Precinct 13 is the best of the bunch.
Don't waste your money on the new Assault on Precinct 13. Your hard-earned cash will be better spent if you buy the original on DVD.