Release Date(s)1976 (March 27, 2018)
Studio(s)CKK/Turtle Releasing (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
A mix of Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13 was John Carpenter’s second full-length film before going on to make Halloween. Featuring many of the things that would become staples of his later work, including Panavision widescreen, his own score, and his name above the title, Assault is a hodge-podge of nods and an homage to films of the past, particularly westerns, which Carpenter was keen on making but had to settle due to the limitations of the budget. A basic story about a small group of people trapped inside a police station with a no-nonsense cop and a wayward prisoner who must help everyone survive the night, it’s not the most complicated of plots, but it stands out for being so well-executed.
When I originally saw Assault on Precinct 13 for the first time many years ago, I was surprised, more so than any of Carpenter’s other work that I’d seen up to that point. Initially, I wasn’t much of a fan of his, but Assault managed to change my mind about that. It appears to be a straightforward action film on the surface, but once you dig in, you realize that it’s not really that at all. The action is fairly low-key and it’s more about a group of people dealing with the situation at hand rather than actual violence or bloodshed. There’s really only one scene early on that’s gratuitous, but it’s there for a specific purpose. It’s shocking, but necessary to demonstrate what kind of villains our heroes will be dealing with later when the story kicks in.
It’s also hard to believe that Carpenter made the film right after making Dark Star, which was a more amateurish, film student-oriented effort that wound up being a cult classic despite itself. Assault on Precinct 13 feels more experienced than that, even sharing some unintentional visual common ground with The Warriors. Both are very downbeat and simple stories about violence in the inner city and I’ve always seen them as long lost siblings. But getting back to Assault, the score and the character dynamics keep it from losing its audience, even when the performances aren’t that great. These many years later, it’s still a work that holds up remarkably well.
Previously released in a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, Scream Factory re-presents the film in Steelbook packaging with the same transfer that was also used for the Restored Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release by Image Entertainment. It features a sharp and impressive presentation with a healthy grain structure, which is quite evident during daytime scenes. The color palette isn’t overwhelming, but skin tones look good. Blacks can be deep at times, but unfortunately, brightness and contrast levels aren’t even from scene to scene. The same goes for shadow delineation. One scene in particular, in which Laurie Zimmer’s character is opening the jail cells for the prisoners to get out, is bright and pixilated, sticking out more than any other shot in the film. That being said, it’s still terrific the amount of detail that’s been squeezed out of the image without excessive use of DNR or edge enhancement. For the soundtrack, there are two options: English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD tracks with optional subtitles in English. The 2.0 track is basically the film’s original mono soundtrack. The 5.1 track is actually an improvement. It’s basically the same track as nothing has been changed other than the sound environment. Dialogue is still front-heavy, but sound effects and score are put to better use in the rear speakers. It shows its age, but it’s much crisper and less muddled, giving the original sound design more room to breathe.
There’s also a nice little assortment of extras to dig through. Carried over from pretty much all previous releases is an audio commentary with John Carpenter; an isolated score track; a Q&A with Carpenter and Austin Stoker; the film’s original theatrical trailer; 2 radio spots; and a still gallery. Also included is an additional audio commentary with art director/sound effects designer Tommy Lee Wallace, moderated by Michael Felsher; Bishop Under Siege, an interview with Austin Stoker; and The Sassy One, an interview with Nancy Loomis. All of this is included in a beautiful Steelbook packaging with exclusive new artwork. Since Scream Factory’s original Collector’s Edition release, Second Sight Films released a Limited Edition Blu-ray in the U.K. featuring additional and exclusive extras, including Return to Precinct 13, an interview with Austin Stoker; Filmmaking with John, an interview with Tommy Lee Wallace; Producing Precinct 13, an interview with executive producer Joseph Kaufman; Captain Voyeur, an early John Carpenter short film; Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer? hour-long documentary film; five card inserts; and a CD soundtrack. None of this material has been replicated here.
Assault on Precinct 13 may be a cult film, but it looks more and more to be one of John Carpenter’s best works, including Halloween, The Thing, and Escape From New York. Scream Factory’s Limited Edition Steelbook Blu-ray release only reaffirms the film’s status as a classic with more lasting power than any of its imitators. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons