In the Los Angeles ghetto of Anderson, six young gang members are shot dead by police. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Ethan Bishop 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 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 his soundtrack – a sequence of synth riffs that know just when to fade in and out – is a real pulse-racer.
John J Fox