Assault on Precinct 13

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Carpenter’s second feature (following the sci-fi spoof Dark Star) reworks Howard Hawks’ classic 1959 western Rio Bravo into a crackerjack urban thriller about an LA police station besieged by a group of kamikaze street punks out for blood. Displaying his much-lauded flair for inventive genre-mashing even at this early point in his career, in Assault on Precinct 13 Carpenter deftly combines westerns, action thrillers and horror flicks into a gripping low-budget exercise in exploitation perfection. The set-up is pure B-movie bliss: a ragtag group of cops, cons and civilians are trapped overnight in an abandoned police station in downtown LA by a seemingly unstoppable (and largely unseen) army of murderous street thugs who will stop at nothing to get inside. Who will survive until morning? Scrupulously avoiding any overt socio-political statements about urban warfare, Carpenter instead plays it for chills, thrills and laughs, using frantic pacing and an addictive sense of urgency to create the feeling of an actual all-night assault. Featuring a highly effective cast of relative unknowns and jolting action sequences to die for, Assault on Precinct 13 stands today as one of the best (and most often underrated) exploitation films of the 1970s, paving the way for Carpenter’s mega-success with his follow-up film, Halloween. (Dir. by John Carpenter, 1976, USA, 91 mins., Rated R) Digital