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In this unrelenting action masterpiece from director John Carpenter, a police station under siege from a vicious street gang becomes a cataclysmic battleground where only the strongest survive! Inspired by Howard Hawks' immortal western, Rio Bravo, this explosive gem from one of cinema's great frightmasters has been newly remastered with a host of high-powered extras!

John Carpenter
Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Chalres Cyphers
Writing Credits:
John Carpenter

L.A.'s deadliest street gang just declared war on the cops.
Rated R.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Digital Mono
Not closed-captioned

Runtime: 91 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 3/11/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter
• Isolated Score
• Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker
• Radio Spots
• Still Gallery
• Trailer

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 24, 2003)

Not too long before he hit it big with Halloween and redefined the horror film, director John Carpenter took his first steps into that genre. Though more influenced by westerns, 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13 displays some horror elements as well as it creates a fairly tight little thriller.

Set in the crime-ridden Los Angeles suburb of Anderson, the movie opens with a police ambush that results in the shooting of six members of a juvenile gang. We later see more members of that group. Called Street Thunder, they prowl Anderson and attack with no warning.

In the meantime, police Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) starts his first night on the job, when he gets a bland assignment. He goes to deal with the closing of Precinct 9. They’re moving the station elsewhere, so he needs to tend house during the final nighttime transition. When he arrives, he meets the remaining staff, including secretary Leigh (Laurie Zimmer) and phone operator Julie (Nancy Loomis).

Next we encounter Special Officer Starker (Charles Cyphers). He needs to transport some inmates north to a prison. This small group of criminals includes the notorious Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston), a slick dude with a cigarette fetish. When one inmate gets ill, they take a detour and use the almost abandoned Precinct 9 building as a quick holding tank.

We still need one more component to complete the puzzle, and we get this as we see Lawson (Martin West) and his daughter Kathy (Kim Richards). His mother still lives in Anderson, and he heads to her house to convince her to leave.

The majority of the story hinges on what happens with Lawson and Kathy. I won’t reveal what does occur, since I’d prefer to leave some spoilers intact, but these actions ultimately lead to a siege on the barren Precinct 9 building. The members of Street Thunder attack the sparsely populated location, so that undergunned skeleton crew needs to fend off the thugs as best they can.

So there’s your titular assault! Essentially Assault spends about half the movie as it builds to the attack, and the rest depicts that action. In today’s marketplace, that probably seems slow. Heck, during his commentary on this DVD, Carpenter states that he likely took too long to get the action going.

I disagree. I think one of the film’s strengths stems from its slow and deliberate pacing. Too many movies almost totally omit any form of exposition and just toss us into the action with no form of anticipation. Assault goes firmly in the other direction. Carpenter gradually builds the tension to the point where it becomes almost excruciating. This becomes one of the film’s main strengths.

Carpenter also delivers pretty solid action once we get there. Despite a somewhat anti-climactic ending, the movie’s second half mostly provides lively battles once the gang members set upon the precinct. He stages the fights with flair and aplomb and allows them to satisfy our desire for some good old-fashioned nastiness.

Not that everything about Assault works well. The cast seem fairly amateurish. No one stands out from the pack, and while I don’t think any of them harm the flick, none of the actors contribute much positive to it either. Carpenter’s editing needs some work too, as the movie sometimes moves in a choppy manner.

Chalk all that up to growing pains. After all, Assault on Precinct 13 was just Carpenter’s second movie. Despite some awkward moments, the movie prospers due to a sense of energy and general passion. A fun and exciting flick, Assault stands up well among Carpenter’s other releases.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B- / Bonus B

Assault on Precinct 13 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I wouldn’t refer to Assault as a great looking film, but given the flick’s age and budget, I thought it presented a pretty positive picture.

Sharpness seemed solid. The movie remained nicely detailed and crisp at all times. Never did I discern any significant issues connected to softness or fuzziness. Jagged edges and moiré effects also created no concerns, though a smidgen of edge enhancement showed up at times. As one might expect, print flaws caused a mix of problems, though they remained fairly minor. I noticed occasional examples of specks and marks, and grain seemed heavier than normal sometimes. I also saw some examples of reel change markers. However, the movie came across as reasonably clean during much of the film.

Colors never excelled, but they rarely became a liability either. The film showed some hues that were a bit dense at times, and they also looked somewhat flat on other occasions. Still, they mostly appeared acceptably concise and natural. Black levels could seem slightly inky sometimes, but they usually were reasonably deep, and shadows followed suit. The low-light shots periodically seemed somewhat too thick, but most of them appeared quite easy to discern. Though no one will mistake Assault for a “reference level” image, it held up well after all these years.

I felt the same way about the monaural soundtrack of Assault on Precinct 13. Despite the lack of stereo or surround audio, the mix sounded quite good much of the time. Speech sounded natural and crisp, as those elements seemed above average for the era. Music also was nicely rich and dynamic. High-end came across as a little shrill, but the score presented good bass response. Effects occasionally demonstrated a little distortion, mostly due to gunshots. Otherwise those elements were fairly accurate and concise. In general, the track sounded a little thin, but when I factored in the movie’s age and budget, I felt that Assault provided a positive auditory experience.

In a negative move, Assault presents no form of text for those with hearing issues. The movie includes neither subtitles in any language nor closed-captioning. In this day and age, that seems absurd.

Assault on Precinct 13 provides a mix of supplements for this “New Special Edition”. (A prior version of Assault included a few extras, but not as many as this one.) We start with an audio commentary from director John Carpenter, who offers a running, screen-specific discussion. I believe this originally appeared on a 1995 laserdisc as well as the 1997 DVD. The veteran of many other tracks of this sort, Carpenter usually records with others; from what I can tell, he sits alone only here and on Vampires.

When paired with a collaborator, Carpenter flourishes, so that interaction seems missed here. Carpenter does manage to make this a moderately entertaining track on his own, though. He starts well as he discusses the project’s origins and influences as well as the cast and the challenges of low-budget filmmaking. Two themes dominate the commentary: the issues connected to the lack of money and time, and Carpenter’s inspirations for parts of the film. Carpenter gabs about Howard Hawks quite frequently; he relates his cribs from Hawks flicks in a nicely open and ego-free manner.

Unfortunately, Carpenter often tends to just tell us about the action on-screen. The track doesn’t sag a lot, but it runs into more than a few slow points. Empty spaces don’t seem prevalent, but they also pop up a little more than I’d like. Overall, this commentary is an above-average one and it gives us a pretty nice examination of the film, but it doesn’t live up to the high quality of some other Carpenter tracks.

The DVD also includes an isolated score. Carpenter’s music appears on its own in monaural form. This makes for a nice treat if you like movie scores. We also find the film’s theatrical trailer and two radio spots that are fun to inspect.

Recorded in early 2002, we get an interview with John Carpenter and actor Austin Stoker. Shot during a group chat at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, an interviewer asks questions for about the first half, and then the audience kicks in for the second part of this 23-minute program. To put it mildly, Carpenter dominates the piece. Stoker only speaks for a few brief moments, as the director gets the vast majority of the questions. These cover Assault, his career in general, and his thoughts on topics like the use of digital video for low-budget filmmaking. Not too much of it repeats what we hear in the commentary, and it seems like a lively little discussion.

Finally, the DVD presents a good Production Gallery. The 16-minute and 50-second program shows filmed examples of different elements. Mostly we see photos from the set, but we also get some script pages, storyboards, and advertising materials. It’s a very nice compilation of elements.

One complaint: while Assault includes a good set of extras, one important part seems absent. Unless I missed it in there somewhere, no one ever explains why the flick’s called Assault on Precinct 13 when it takes place in Precinct 9.

Despite that apparent omission, Assault on Precinct 13 is a good DVD. Though it seems erratic, Assault offers enough excitement and raw power to make it a solid action flick. The DVD presents similarly inconsistent video and audio quality, but both seem more than acceptable given the limitations of the source material. The package also includes a rather interesting collection of supplements. With a list price of less than $20, Assault on Precinct 13 would make for a nice addition to the collection of any action fan.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3478 Stars Number of Votes: 23
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