THE 1970s LAID DOWN A FEAST of great films and low-budget drive-in movies that were fun to watch and often inventive.
In the drive-in category is Assault on Precinct 13, John Carpenter’s second feature, from 1976. Carpenter wrote, directed, edited and scored this story of a California Highway Patrolman who joins forces with two Death Row killers to defend an abandoned police station from a gang attack.
Now, 47 years after the picture’s original release, the American Genre Film Archive has performed a 4K digital restoration of Assault on Precinct 13. To produce a clear, sharp picture, each frame of Carpenter’s Panavision film was digitally scanned into a high-resolution format of 4,000 horizontal pixels.
Appearing two years before his 1978 breakthrough Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13 was Carpenter’s update on director Howard Hawks’ 1959 movie Rio Bravo. In Hawks’ film, John Wayne is an Old West sheriff who takes a stand to defend his jailhouse against a prisoner’s brother, who has promised to break him out by force. The sheriff enlists a drunk, a cripple and a young cowboy, the only other people at hand, in the fight.
In Carpenter’s script for Assault on Precinct 13, patrolman Ethan Bishop (played by Austin Stoker) has been assigned to guard a police station in a desolate area of South Central Los Angeles, on its last night before being decommissioned. With the precinct scheduled to close in the morning, its phones and electricity go dead. The nearest houses are also abandoned. No one will hear the shots.
Two criminal situations collide by chance for an explosive mix. After the street gang steals a cache of military-style rifles, several of its members are shotgunned to death during a three a.m. police ambush. The surviving gang members take a blood oath against the police and the world. They ritualistically cut themselves with switchblades and combine their blood in a bowl.
Meanwhile, Death Row inmate Napoleon Wilson (played by Darwin Joston) is being transported by bus with other convicts to a new prison. One of the prisoners falls ill, with a six-hour drive ahead. A special agent aboard the bus makes the decision to take the convicts to the nearest police station—the one that’s closing.