Assault on Precinct 13 is one of those movies, that you can’t escape from, when you turn into a cinephile. Often mentioned alongside its remake by the same name from 2005, that’s also supposed to be pretty good. But for what its worth, I have never heard about the main selling point behind the movies’ “X” rating (that’s what people in Hollywood call a death sentence, as that’s the strongest advisory rating there is, only a few mainstream movies get those). And you know what? I am going to talk about it, and even though this is a film from 1976, I will eventually put a spoiler tag in front of it, as it’s something, that if you’ve not heard it’s coming, it will definitely shock you.
But let’s start from the beginning – this is John Carpenter‘s second feature movie, just a few years before he cemented his name in the cinematic history once and for all, by creating one of the most known/recognisable movie serial killers of all time, Michael Myers (yes, of course I am talking about the Halloween (1978) movie, that turned into a franchise spanning around 1629 sequels/remakes by this point). But even in this film, you can tell this is from him, as it has his signature all over it. From the funky, unique synthesizer soundtrack, that he himself created/recorded (that’s something he does often, including the famous Halloween theme that is also done by him) to steady camera work, the tension build up, working with mainly “smaller” actors, it’s all here. Even the story could not have been simpler, but because of they way he tells it, you are invested. If there is one thing Carpenter always knew how to do, is to take little to no money he had to his disposal and utilize it in the most effective way possible. His movies never look cheap, even though he never had (especially in his early years) money to splurge.
By far the best thing this movie has going for it, is the tension building. I can see how it could be perceived as boring by today’s standards, especially the first 30 to 40 minutes of the movie, nothing much happens except of THAT one scene I will talk about soon, but in the reality, you can feel the uneasiness being built. And that is something we are not used to anymore, in this day and age of hyper, quick editing, straight to the action films. The more of Carpenter’s movies I watch, the more I wonder how come we don’t talk about him on the same level as Alfred Hitchcock, who is known as the “master of suspense”. I could genuinely argue John Carpenter should be in the same discussion, because his movie might not always be 100% perfect, but you could always cut suspension with a knife and he knows how to build it and utilize it.
Before going into the spoilers, let me just explain my only thing against this film – the performances. I understand the standards were way different in 1976 to what we have now. But some of these line readings were borderline awful and almost put the movie in the comedy genre for me. I am not going to single anybody out, but let’s just say that maybe John wasn’t as great when comes to directing women, as some of them read their lines with either deadpan delivery of a robot, or really over the top. Yes, I know you can say that even Halloween has some of this, but in there, I felt like it’s not as visible, or mostly it’s overshadowed with everything else that’s going on. And since this is more straightforward, more contained story, it is more noticeable. Ok, so let’s go the “main” shocking scene and as weird as it might seem, putting the spoiler tag for a movie that’s almost 50 years old, I encourage you, don’t read any further, if you haven’t seen it and you are considering watching this film. For the rest of you…
Beware, SPOILERS are coming!
It’s so weird having this tag for such a straightforward movie and for what is just one scene, but I really believe this is the crucial scene, that will “wake you up”, if you think this movie is boring. Maybe that’s the reason this scene is in the film, maybe just to make you aware, that anything is on the table, but yeah, I am talking about the infamous “ice cream scene”. This is one of the few mainstream movies, where we see a child (small girl, in this instance) getting physically shot and the camera doesn’t cut away. I can’t remember of the top of my head, but I have definitely seen movies, where children die, that’s not “unusual” (what a weird thing to write about, btw) but I am scrambling my brain for a mainstream movie, where the camera doesn’t either cut away when it happens, or we skip the scene altogether, so it’s implied it happened, or just stated it happened in the next scene. But not here, no. Here we see it and what adds to the scene, it happens like it’s nothing, no emotions, no hesitation, just a simple shot through the girl’s ice cream (that’s what you get for complaining about your ice cream, I guess? :-D, I know, I am a horrible person).
Overall, Assault on Precinct 13 is definitely worth watching, if you are into smaller, straightforward movies and you can appreciate a film, that takes its time and builds up tension. If you like Carpenter’s earlier films and admire his style, you will definitely have a good time with this one too, just get ready for some questionable performances and one scene, that might be quite uncomfortable, as it’s something, we don’t get to see too often (and I would say that’s a good thing).
That’s all for this one! Did you see it? What did you think about it? Let me know!
Until next time,