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Saturday, 8 October 2016


When the inevitable Zombie apocalypse finally arrives and I spend my days being the brave and heroic leader of the few surviving humans, there will be a few things that I will undoubtedly need to ensure I keep some semblance of sanity. Of course, I am already planning for such a doomsday event by carefully selecting some of the essential post-apocalyptic items for my personal survival. No, I’m talking about piffling things like food, water or weapons, after all I anticipate having a number of trusty minions to cater for such needs. I am in fact talking about some of those essential luxuries that will help fend off those pesky Zombie-fighting blues.

At the top of my ‘survival essentials’ is a collection of my 10 top all-time films to while away the hours in between Zombie slaying and being the saviour of the human race. Yes, yes, yes, I know this comes with a couple of minor sticking points; namely having the power to keep my DVD player running and the fact that my top ten movie list order changes on a weekly basis. However there are few that will probably never leave the list; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Wicker Man (1973) and the little beauty which is the subject of this very article – Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).

So when I heard that the film was being celebrated with a 40
th anniversary newly restored edition release from Second Sight Films I was doubly excited. Firstly, that it would provide another opportunity for me self-indulgently pontificating on near-cinematic perfection, but also (and perhaps far more importantly) because it would get me one step closer to making sure I’ll have what I need when the world goes to apocalypse hell and a hand basket.

Assault on Precinct 13 shares a commonality with the other two films mentioned previously here – apart from the fact that they are ground breaking examples of classic horror, they each suffer from having god-awful remakes made of them. This really isn’t the place for me to go off on one of my legendary rants about the lack of imagination and originality of some filmmakers. However I will say that my advice, for what it’s worth, would be to avoid these particular remakes at all costs - ESPECIALLY the Assault one.......give me strength.

The main man himself
Assault on Precinct 13 is a film that didn't do particularly well commercially, or with the critics, on its original release and in fact only slowly over the years began to gain legendary status, which is something of a running theme for legendary director, John Carpenter. Made for around $100,000 it was just his second feature film and by his own admission was a case of him learning how to make a movie. In fact he has gone on record as saying that he would change much of the original film today.........please don't, John. Just don't.

The plot of the movie is is loosely based on the Howard Hawkes classic western, Rio Bravo and repeats the narrative of good old law enforcement guys surrounded by a horde of murderous bad guys. It all takes place over just a few hours (A classic Carpenter modus operandi) and has noticeable periods where little is happening or even said. It is what Carpenter does with the material, the creation of near unbearable atmosphere and tension as the film progresses into some great action sequences and a simply stunning example of ensemble acting that makes this a movie classic.

The story begins with 3 separate story strands on a Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles that will eventually come together to form the tension filled second half of the movie. The first part features Lieutenant Ethan Bishop, played by the always excellent Austin Stoker, who has just undertaken a new assignment after receiving his promotion. He has been given the seemingly innocuous task of commanding the soon to be decommissioned Anderson police precinct. The station is manned by a skeleton staff composed of another officer and two civilian secretaries.

The magnificent Burton, Stoker and Joston
Meanwhile, a Los Angeles street gang called 'Street Thunder', who recently have had six of their members slain by the local police after recently acquiring a huge cache of automatic weapons. Vowing revenge they decide to drive around the streets looking for people to kill. Quite clearly, these are not nice people…..One of the gang shoots and kills a little girl and the driver of an ice-cream truck which is perhaps the most shocking and intense scene in the whole film. The 'Ice cream cone scene' has rightly gone down in many movie top 10 most shocking lists. The girl's father, in a helpless rage pursues the gang in turn shoots the gang member, whose fellow gang members chase the man into the Anderson precinct. The staff try to ascertain his problem, but by now he is in a catatonic state of shock, he is unable to explain to anybody what has happened to him.

The 3rd strand meanwhile sees a prison bus stopping at the Police station in order to get medical assistance for one of the three prisoners being transported to Death Row at the state prison. What then follows for the remainder of the movie is a classic siege scenario as what seems like hundreds of gang members have surrounded the station, cut off the power and now intend to kill everyone inside, forcing the few police and convicts to work together in order to live.

Laurie Zimmer - how I loved thee.
The true genius quality about this film is Carpenters ability to turn what, is on the face of it, a standard urban cop thriller and give it the essential spirit of a classic horror movie. Carpenter himself has often said that the film more resembles Night of the living Dead as much as any other cinematic inspiration. This success is in no small part to the incredible ensemble cast of character actors; Austin Stoker is his usual solid reliable self as the officer who slowly reconciles the fact that a police station in the middle of Los Angeles is under siege. Tony Burton and Laurie Zimmer (in her first major role) are equally excellent. 

For me though the heartbeat of the film has always been the magnificent Darwin Joston, as the charismatic prisoner Napoleon Wilson, who is responsible for driving the narrative onwards. The character of Napoleon could very easily have been a one-dimensional cardboard cut out bad guy, but Joston's performance combining elements of brutality, sardonic humour, loyalty and distinct traces of humanity raises the character to a sympathetic anti-hero status that is still powerful on repeat viewing. It remains a genuine mystery to me to this day why Darwin Joston was so vast underrated in the industry and never became a bigger star than he was before his death from Leukemia in 1998.

Oh, and one more thing - the soundtrack........Oh my lordy.

An often overlooked contribution to his movies is the music that Carpenter (the vast majority of which he wrote himself) provides for each production. Forced to write his own synthesiser music due to budgetary constraints on Assault on Precinct 13, Carpenter quickly realised the importance that a music soundtrack can provide. He's never content to let musical score simply accompany a film to fill the odd silence and occasionally add something to the overall effect. Instead the music often acts as a principle character in the story. 

The likes of Assault on Precinct 13 ( the music written in a staggering three day period) are a showcase in how the atmosphere and excitement can be manipulated to a staggering degree. There is absolutely no argument Assault, Halloween (where perhaps he created arguably his most iconic piece of movie soundtrack) and Escape from New York would be far the poorer if Carpenter hadn't taken real care and passion to intimately wed the music to the narrative. 

Austin getting a restoration.....
To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of this seminal film, Second Sight is delighted to announce the release of a newly restored high definition version from a 1080p transfer. It will be will be presented in a stunning limited edition Blu-ray box set, packed full of brand new special features including an early John Carpenter student short, as well as the original soundtrack CD and art cards, and is set for release on 28 November 2016, alongside a DVD version and On-Demand on the same date. It will be available on Download-to-Own from 21 November 2016. 

I will admit that it's been a year or so since I've watched the film - I like to indulge my favourites sparingly when it comes to my movie obsessions. So watching the restored version of Assault on precinct 13 was a genuine joy, in fact so much so it was almost like watching the film for the first time all over again. The look of the film now, whilst obviously retaining its 1970's feel, simply looks incredibly crisp and fresh whilst the sound quality is of such clarity that it elevates the legendary soundtrack into the stratosphere - an incredible listening experience.

The extras too are enough to satisfy any lover of this film - the audio commentaries, especially the one from Carpenter himself, are a level above some of the more mundane ones that often accompany releases. Carpenter's one in particular is full of interesting and insightful titbits of information about the filming process and it's fascinating to hear him recount both the stories of the making of the film and just how much he would change things (especially the pacing) if he was creating it today.

Perhaps the most exciting special features inclusion is the Blu-ray exclusive of Captain Voyeur, an early student film from John Carpenter and something that I had never seen before. Thanks to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and archivist Dino Everett we now have access to the work.

On discovering the film Everett said, 'At first it seemed like Captain Voyeur was going to be a class exercise with no title cards to identify it as Carpenter’s work but, eventually, a hand written title card came up."

“About a third of the way though the film, there was this hand written, ‘Written and Directed by John Carpenter. You couldn’t ask for a better representation of a first student film. Captain Voyeur has many of the themes as Carpenter’s later work including masked faces, obsession and even comedic set pieces."

“In my head I hoped it would be a magical tie to Halloween,” said Everett. “He’s not a killer but he’s a voyeur. In a sense, it shows what Michael Myers was in the beginning of Halloween. The two films make a natural line.” Voyeur has many of the themes as Carpenter’s later work including masked faces, obsession and even comedic set pieces."

I have to complete agree with Mr Everett -  watching Captain Voyeur is an incredible experience and being able to witness for the first time work from one's favourite director of all time was an genuinely exhilarating experience.

Unfortunately the Limited Edition box set inclusions of art cards and the CD soundtrack weren't included as part of the review material - but I'm hoping Santa (or Second Sight Films) will look kindly on me and reward me for being such a good little boy.........

Special features:

DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Uncompressed PCM original mono audio options 

Return to Precinct 13: A new Interview with Austin Stoker 

Still looking good, Austin!
Producing Precinct 13: A new interview with Joseph Kaufman 

Filmmaking with John: A new interview with Tommy Lee Wallace 

Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker 

The Sassy One with Nancy Loomis 

Audio Commentary with John Carpenter 

Audio Commentary with Tommy Lee Wallace 

‘Captain Voyeur’: John Carpenter student short (Blu-ray exclusive)

Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer documentary film (Blu-ray exclusive) 

5 Art Cards (Limited Edition box set exclusive) 

Bonus CD soundtrack disc (Limited Edition box set exclusive) 


Radio Spots 

Dolby Digital 5.1 and original mono audio options

Title: Assault On Precinct 13: 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Blu-­ray Box Set

Release Date: 28 November 2016                                     Cat.No.: 2NDBR4057

RRP: £24.99                                                                         Cert: 15

Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, Video: 1080p                     Audio: DTS-­HD MA Surround / LPCM Original Mono

Main Feature Running Time: 91 mins approx.                  Subtitles: English SDH

Barcode: 5028836040576

English subtitles for the hard of hearing

Title: Assault On Precinct 13: 40th Anniversary DVD

Release Date: 28 November 2016                                        Cat.No.: 2NDVD3304

RRP: £15.99                                                                            Cert: 15

Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, Video: 1080p                        Audio: Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 and original mono audio options

Main Feature Running Time: 88 mins approx.                      Subtitles: English SDH

Barcode: 502883603304

English subtitles for the hard of hearing

Available Download-­to-­Own from 21 November 2016 and On-­Demand from 28 November

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