This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

"You're pretty fancy, Wilson."
"I have moments."
-Lt. Ethan Bishop and Napoleon Wilson.

Like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, if anyone knows about this film, chances are it was due to the lame remake it inspired years later.
Just before his career-defining triumph with Halloween(1978), John Carpenter wrote and directed this jolting urban thriller which is a variation on the great western Rio Bravo(1959), in the same way that A Fistful of Dollars(1964) is a variation on the great samurai film Yojimbo(1961).
In the aforementioned Howard Hawks film, John Wayne plays a sheriff who enlists the help of a drunk man, a crippled man and a overly confident gunfighter to keep the brother of a wanted man in jail.
In Assault, Police Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is given the unenviable task of supervising the closing of the title precinct (which, in the film, is referred to as Precinct 9, Division 13, but I guess that title wouldn't have sounded as cool). Not long after arriving, Bishop and the skeleton crew receive two surprises.
First, a police bus stops by to get medical attention to one of the prisoners it is tranferring.
Once the two healthier convicts, convicted murderers Wells (Tony Burton) and Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston), are put in the available holding cells, a man named Lawson (Martin West) arrives at the precinct in a state of shock. His arrival is followed by gunshots from violent street thugs (introduced at the beginning of the picture) who want to kill him to avenge his killing of one of their own (that thug, in the film's most shocking scene, murdered Lawson's daughter, played by none other than reality TV star Kim Richards).
The gunshots take out most of the inhabitants of the nearly-deserted precinct except for Bishop, Lawson, Wilson, Wells, and two secretaries Leigh (Laurie Zimmer) and Julie (Nancy Loomis).
Bishop reluctantly frees Wilson and Wells who agree to assist him in their struggle. After a failed attempt to gain entry into the building, the thugs decide to mount a siege of the station. Everyone correctly deduces that Lawson is the reason they are essentially trapped now. Although Wells and Julie show reluctance at going through such hell for the sake of just one man, Bishop is determined to protect him and salvage the situation. But the thugs plan for another attempt to take the building, which they know is in a sparsely populated area. Eventually, a final standoff ends in the basement with only a tank of acetylene gas standing between the thugs and Bishop, Leigh, and Wilson.
This movie's tension is complemented by its great Carpenter score, which is just as memorable as his music for his three following films Halloween, The Fog(1980) and Escape From New York(1981).
The film began what I call a golden period for John Carpenter. Although it went virtually unnoticed in the U.S., Assault won numerous awards in Europe. That success led to Carpenter getting complete creative control for Halloween. That film's great success itself led to The Fog, Escape, The Thing(1982), Christine(1983), and Starman(1984), as well as the TV movies Elvis(1977) and Someone's Watching Me(1978).
It's quite sad that his subsequent films haven't matched the quality of the work he was putting out during that time.

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