A gang storms an LA police station in this 1976 actioner, the fantastic first half-hour of which cooks up a sizzling street tension, before a little girl (Kim Richards) buys an ice cream and the movie goes into magnificent meltdown.
Genre genius John Carpenter introduces the neo-western mood of Escape from New York, and although it’s not sci-fi this time there’s a distinct eeriness in the air, thanks to his pulsing score and scenes of unseen shooters that have an almost poltergeist quality.
Inspired by Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead, Carpenter synthesises the survivalist and siege genres, conjuring a kind of B version of Dog Day Afternoon. Like the Sidney Lumet picture, this is a crafty collision of character, action and atmosphere, where the film’s muscular movement is matched by its detail.
Shootout flicks are as much about the simmering dynamics between the players as the gunplay itself, and Carpenter limits the combat to several white-knuckle waves while taking time to develop the mismatched characters and their unlikely relationships.
Energetic, economical and endlessly quotable (“Anybody got a smoke?”), Assault on Precinct 13 might be unlucky for some, but reinforces just how fortunate cinema has been to have John Carpenter.