In the Los Angeles ghetto of Anderson, six young members of a gang called Street Thunder are shot dead by police. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is given the easy job of caretaking the last few hours of a precinct police station.
But when he gives refuge to a man on the run, a nightmare begins.
Quite probably the best low-budget mainstream movie ever made, Assault On Precinct 13 is simplicity itself.
A cop, a couple of villains, a couple of dolly-bird secretaries and a wounded Joe Public whose daughter has just been blown away outside an ice-cream van, hole up in a disused police station while a gang of Latino bad guys from Street Thunder bombard them with one missile after another.
John Carpenter has always called this movie his tribute to Howard Hawk’s 1959 old-west classic Rio Bravo but it makes more sense when viewed as a horror movie.
Those hordes of hoodlums look more like refugees from one of George A Romero’s zombie movies than the teen hoods of your conventional gang movie. Moreover, the cop isn’t the only good guy; the villains turn out to be men of honour too.
Despite its subtle moralising, what sticks with you are Carpenter’s images – not even Hitchcock has made a telephone booth at the side of a frame bulge with more threat. And the film is filled with humour so black it’s almost shocking.
And his soundtrack – a sequence of synth riffs that know just when to fade in and out – is a real pulse-racer.
Lt. Ethan Bishop
John J Fox