John Carpenter’s follow-up to his student film opus Dark Star was Assault on Precinct 13, a gritty, suspenseful, modern-day urban western set in South Central Los Angeles. Pitting gangs against police, the film turned a lot of heads, including producer Irwin Yablans, who would help greenlight Carpenter’s next feature, Halloween.
Studio: Scream Factory
Distributed By: Shout! Factory
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 1 Hr. 31 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case in a slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 11/19/2013
John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 is a near-perfect example of how cause and effect can snowball into one final showdown. As the film opens, a SWAT team raids a known gang hideout for stealing a stockpile of automatic weapons. The street gangs unite, pledging to avenge the raid with a spree of violence. A young girl (Kim Richards) is innocently and brutally killed by a gang member as part of the spree, and her father (Martin West) exacts revenge by killing the young man who was responsible. Fearing for his life, he flees to the nearest police station, Precinct 13, almost completely catatonic by the time he stumbles inside. Meanwhile, Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) has been assigned to supervise the final closing of the old Precinct 13, which has been relocated, leaving the building with minimal staff (Henry Brandon, Laurie Zimmer, and Nancy Loomis), facilities, and utilities. Finally, a bus of inmates being transferred to a maximum security prison, including death-row Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) make a detour to the old Precinct when one of the inmates becomes increasingly ill. This all culminates in a showdown between the zombie-like gang members who lay siege to the precinct unrelentlessly and the inhabitants of the precinct fighting for their lives, cut off from all communication.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
Made on a paltry budget (reportedly $100,000) in 1976, Carpenter and production designer (and childhood friend) Tommy Lee Wallace make good use of their locations and limited sets to make the film claustrophobic and suspenseful. The film has some solid performances, particularly Austin Stoker as the young police Lieutenant, Darwin Joston as the death-row inmate Wilson, and Laurie Zimmer as the precinct office manager Leigh. Zimmer and Joston have great on-screen chemistry, adding just a touch of wild west romance to the film.
Reportedly, this is the same 1080p AVC encoded transfer used on Image Entertainment’s Blu-ray release from 2009 (which this reviewer has not seen, and thus can’t make a comparison). The film’s intended aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is retained, with consistent and accurate colors, excellent contrast, and for the most part excellent black levels (although there is some minor evidence of crush during some of the more darkly lit scenes). Film grain is present, and is only mildly distracting during darker scenes.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
As with most Scream! Factory titles, the film includes the original 2.0 mono and a 5.1 remix, both in DTS-HD Master Audio. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is mostly front-centric, with some channel separation and a deeper low-end (adding more resonance to Carpenter’s synth-heavy score). Surrounds are pretty much non-existent, except for ambient music and effects.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
Many of the special features from the Image 2009 release have been ported over, with some new material added for extra value.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary with John Carpenter: Ported over from 2009, Carpenter discusses the film’s Western roots, making a low-budget exploitation film in the 1970s, and shooting on location.
Audio Commentary with Tommy Lee Wallace: Michael Felsher hosts this new commentary track, in effect interviewing Assault on Precinct 13’s production designer and sound effects editor. Wallace discusses his long-time friendship with John Carpenter, creating the sets, shooting at Raleigh Studios, and making the film in general.
Isolated Music Score: Carpenter’s score is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, with a bitrate of 192 kbps.
Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker (HD; 23:07): Originally recorded at a screening at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on January 25, 2002, the two discuss making the film. This was a single-camera shoot, apparently in standard definition, and upscaled for this release.
Bishop Under Siege with Austin Stoker (HD; 7:48): Stoker discusses his career and his work on the film in this new interview.
The Sassy One with Nancy Loomis (HD; 12:43): Loomis discusses working with John Carpenter early in her career in this new interview.
Theatrical Trailer (HD; 2:03): Faded and a bit worn, the trailer is presented in 1.85:1.
Radio Spots (1:04): Two radio spots are featured.
Still Gallery (HD, 3:36)
Reversible Cover Insert: Choose between Scream! Factory’s new artwork, or the film’s original movie poster.
Assault on Precinct 13 still stands as one of John Carpenter’s best films, and it is easy to see why this was such a pivotal film in his career. Owners of the 2009 Image release may have to decide if the added interviews and commentary track are worth an upgrade, but Carpenter fans will be pleased with this new release from Shout! Factory.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Todd Erwin
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