|Austin Stoker as Lt. Bishop.|
Following the success of his debut film, the sci fi satire Dark Star (1974), writer-director John Carpenter wanted to make an homage to Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo. His limited budget of $100,000 prevented Carpenter from making a Western, so he transplanted the action to modern-day L.A. and titled his script The Anderson Alamo. Running a crisp 91 minutes, Carpenter's film jettisons Hawks' well-defined characters, but still retains the central premise of an unlikely group of misfits fending off an attack on a jail against all odds.
After a slow build-up, the last half of the film is almost wall-to-wall action as the gang members make varied attempts to capture the police headquarters. In addition to Rio Bravo, Carpenter has a grand time paying homage to other genre classics such as Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Thing from Another World (1951). In regard to the latter, there's a long hallway that will look mighty familiar to sci-fi fans. As for Night of the Living Dead, Carpenter has acknowledged that Romero's ghouls inspired the gang members, who become nameless, nondescript creatures once the siege begins. In addition, Night fans will pick up on subtle references like the brief discussion on the merits of the basement as a safety haven.
|Darwin Joston as Napoleon Wilson.|
|Kim Richards then and now.|
Although the film takes place in Precinct 9, Division 13 headquarters, the film's backers thought the title Assault on Precinct 13 was more memorable (and rightly so). The movie only did so-so business in the U.S., but performed very well in Europe and led to Carpenter making Halloween (with a budget that tripled the one for Assault). Halloween (1978) went on to gross $70 million at the boxoffice (yes, that's 233 times its budget).
A respectable remake of Assault on Precinct 13 appeared in 2005 with Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishbourne, and Maria Bello. It retains the 1976's film's basic plot, but changes the characters.
Finally, John Carpenter's memorable, minimalist score for the original film--which was written in just three days--was unavailable as a soundtrack until 2003.