Assault On Precinct 13
1976
Dir: John Carpenter
While 'Dark Star' was not a commercial success, it nevertheless was a pretty solid achievement for a $60,000 budget, and impressive enough to raise the money for his next film - mainly from the father of a fellow USC student.

The budget was still extremely low - around $100,000.

Carpenter wrote a script entitled 'The Anderson Alamo'. It was a combination of elements from 'Rio Bravo' and 'Night of the Living Dead'.

Telling the story of a police station under siege, it was designed to be a project that would provide suspense and action, but in a contained environment, and wouldn't need big stars.

For Carpenter, it was his first 'real' film. Whereas 'Dark Star' had been filmed over a long period, 'Assault on Precinct 13' was shot in a tight schedule of twenty days. Carpenter employed Panavision cameras with anamorphic lenses for the wide-screen look that he went on to use in almost every film. Carpenter wrote the music, creating a synthesized sound that became a trademark of all his following films.

He used a lot of his friends on the crew. Tommy Lee Wallace as given the job of art director, in spite of having little idea what an art director did. When he lived up to the task, he was then given the job of sound editing, a job he knew even less about.

When the film was released in the US, reviews were mixed at best, and box office was poor.

The film seemed destined to fail, as so many low budget films do.

Then it got into the Cannes Film Festival. Somehow the critics, who one might have expected to hate the film, decided that it was a 'frightening look at the crumbling of rational ideas of law and order under an irresistible attack by the forces of irrationality and death'.

London and Edinburgh festival screenings followed, and the film was wildly successful in Europe.

Well, of course the US critics didn't want to think that they had somehow missed seeing the merits of something that only the Europeans could notice, and it went back to the US, playing at the Chicago International Film Festival where it was presented as 'a nightmarish poem which plays on our fears of irrational and uncontrolled violence'.

Paul Spurrier