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Assault on Precinct 13 is a 1976 American action/thriller film inspired by the Howard Hawks western film Rio Bravo. It was written and directed by John Carpenter. The film tells of the fictional attack on a police precinct by the Street Thunder gang out for retribution for the death of their comrades. The film received mixed reviews with an unimpressive box office return in the USmarker. However, it went on to receive tremendous critical and popular acclaim in Europe.


Set during one long day and night, a rundown neighborhood in South Central Los Angelesmarker, known as the "Anderson ghetto", is filled with street gangs and thugs. Members of a local gang, called Street Thunder, have recently stolen a large number of automatic rifles and pistols. Consequently, the L.A.P.D. sends a team of heavily armed officers to ambush and kill six members of the gang. The morning following this attack, the four gang warlords swear a blood oath of revenge, known as a "Cholo", against the police and the citizens of Los Angeles.

On the same day that the Street Thunder members swear revenge, one of the Anderson police stations, Precinct 9, Division 13, is about to close down. The old police station is running on a skeleton staff composed only of officer Chaney and the station's two secretaries, Leigh (Laurie Zimmer) and Julie (Nancy Loomis). Lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker), a newly promoted California Highway Patrol officer, is assigned to run the station for its last few hours of service, even though this assignment falls outside the usual scope of his duties as a CHP officer.

Meanwhile, a man named Lawson (Martin West) is driving through a nearby area with his young daughter, Kathy (Kim Richards), searching for the street where her nanny lives. Frustrated, he stops to call the nanny at a public telephone booth. While Lawson is on the phone, his daughter goes to buy an ice-cream from a nearby truck. Unseen, the Street Thunder warlords approach, and one of them shoots Kathy and the ice-cream vendor, killing the little girl instantly and fatally wounding the man. With his dying breath, the ice-cream vendor tells a distraught Lawson that there is a gun under the ice-cream truck's dashboard. Taking the gun, Lawson pursues the four gang leaders into the Anderson area and kills the one who shot his daughter, who by chance is one of the gang warlords. At a loss for what to do next, he goes to a nearby phone booth, but then sees he is being pursued by the remaining warlords and other gang members. Seeking shelter, he runs into the nearly deserted police station. In shock, Lawson cannot communicate what has happened to him.

Around the same time, three prisoners are being transferred by bus from one penitentiary to another facility several hours away, when one prisoner becomes increasingly ill. Starker (Charles Cyphers), the officer in charge of transporting the prisoners, decides to get medical assistance. He tells the bus driver to pull over at the nearest safe location, which happens to be Bishop's station. The prisoners, Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston), a convicted violent killer on his way to Death Row, Wells (Tony Burton), and the sick Caudell (Peter Frankland), are put into the holding cells while Starker attempts to call a doctor. The telephone lines suddenly go dead, and Starker, frustrated by his inability to get help, prepares to put the prisoners back on the bus.

The street gang, armed with heavy weapons such as the Colt M16 as well as Luger, and .45 caliber pistols all fitted with crude silencers, suddenly open fire on the precinct. In a matter of seconds, they kill Chaney (Henry Brandon), the bus driver, Caudell, Starker, and the two uniformed officers assigned to support Starker during the prisoner transfer. While bullets fly, Wells rushes back into the station and Bishop rescues Wilson, who is chained to (and trapped under) Starker's body. Bishop then puts Wilson and Wells back into the holding cells.

The gang, having already cut the telephone lines, then cut the station's electricity. The three remaining warlords come forward to break a blood-filled bowl symbolizing the Cholo on the precinct's front steps, formally signifying that a siege is underway. Heavily outnumbered, without options, and once again under attack as the gang members resume shooting, Bishop sends Leigh down to the holding cells to release Wells and Wilson, who then take up arms. A battle rages as gang members launch a massed suicidal attack on the station in a crazed attempt to kill all inside. Wilson, Bishop, Wells, and Leigh successfully defend the station killing or wounding many gang members who try to force themselves through the windows and doors, but Julie is gunned down in the ensuing chaos.

After the gun battle, the gang members quickly remove all evidence of the skirmish and appear to momentarily retreat. Wilson, Bishop, Leigh, and Wells then decide that one person should try to sneak out of the station, hot-wire a car outside, and drive away to summon help. Since Leigh has a wounded arm, and Bishop does not know how to hot-wire a car, Wilson and Wells play a game of "potatoes" to decide who will go. Wells loses. Although Wells appears to accomplish his task, he is shot and killed by a gang member hiding in the back seat of the car.

As the gang rally for a third time for another massed assault, Wilson, Leigh, and Bishop go down to the basement, taking the still-catatonic Lawson with them, and stage a "last stand". This culminates in Bishop shooting an acetylene tank, which explodes violently, killing the gangsters inside the station. A police cruiser, traveling nearby the station, responding to reports of gunfire, discover the dead body of a telephone repairman hanging from a pole whom the gang killed to prevent from fixing the cut phone lines. The officers radio for backup. Police back-up soon arrives and secures the station, forcing the surviving gang members to retreat. Upon entering the basement, with is filled with dozens of dead and badly burned gang members, the officers relieve the four survivors of the siege: Bishop, Leigh, Wilson, and Lawson.

Street Thunder

As with most of Carpenter's antagonists, Street Thunder is portrayed as a force that possesses mysterious origins and almost supernatural qualities. The gang members are not humanized and are instead represented as though they were zombies or ghouls since none of them have any dialogue, and Carpenter has acknowledged the influence of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead on his portrayal of the gang.

The "Cholo" is the term describing a blood oath ritual/vendetta specific to the Street Thunder gang, the material symbol of the oath, and the subsequent attack. The Cholo is essentially a vow not only to destroy the gang's designated enemies, but also to carry out this vendetta relentlessly and with full force, even at the cost of the gang members' lives. It is initiated when the gang warlords draw their own blood and collect it in a glass bowl, which is then delivered to the gang's intended victims. This blood-filled bowl, which symbolizes the oath and the gang's intent to fight to the death, is also called a Cholo.



After Dark Star failed to secure a directing career for Carpenter, an investor from Philadelphia called the CKK Corporation took a gamble on Carpenter and put up the money for a new explotiation film he was planning and gave him free rein to make any kind of picture he desired. Carpenter assembled a main cast that consisted mostly of experienced but relatively obscure actors. The two leads were Austin Stoker, who had appeared previously in science fiction, disaster and blaxploitation films, and Darwin Joston, who had worked primarily in television and was also Carpenter's next-door neighbor.


Working within the limitations of a $100,000 budget, the film was shot in only 20 days. In addition to writing, directing, and scoring the film, Carpenter also edited it using the pseudonym John T. Chance, the name of John Wayne's character in Rio Bravo, for his editing credit. Carpenter also employed the John T. Chance pseudonym for his original version of The Anderson Alamo script, but he used his own name for the writing credit on the completed film.

Although the film's title is Assault on Precinct 13, the action mainly takes place in a police station referred to as Precinct 9, Division 13, by Bishop's staff sergeant over the radio. The film's distributor was responsible for the misnomer. Carpenter originally called the film The Anderson Alamo, and, at one point, he briefly changed the title to The Siege. During post-production, however, the distributor rejected Carpenter's title in favor of the film's present name. The moniker "Precinct 13" was used in order to give the new title a more ominous tone.

The most infamous scene in the movie is the one in which a gang member deliberately shoots and kills a little girl standing near an ice-cream truck. The MPAA threatened to give the film an X-rating if the scene wasn't cut. Following the advice of his distributor, Carpenter gave the appearance of complying by cutting the scene from the copy he gave to the MPAA, but he distributed the film with the "ice cream truck" scene intact.



The film was originally released in the United States in 1976 to mixed critical reviews and unimpressive box office earnings. The following year, however, it was screened at the 21st London Film Festival, where it was one of the festival's best-received films and garnered tremendous critical and popular acclaim. The overwhelmingly positive British response to the film led to its critical and commercial success throughout Europe. Subsequently, the film underwent a reassessment by American critics and audiences, and it is now generally considered one of the best action films of the 1970s. John Carpenter has said that the British audiences immediately understood and enjoyed the film's similarities to American westerns, whereas American audiences were too familiar with the western genre to fully appreciate the movie at first.

Critical Response

Critics and commentators often point how Assault is a cross between Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo and George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Carpenter acknowledges the influence of both Hawks' and Romero's films.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film has a 96% fresh rating. In his book The Horror Films of the 1970s, John Kenneth Muir gave the film three and a half stars, calling it "a lean, mean exciting horror motion picture... a movie of ingenuity, cunning and thrills." Leonard Maltin, who also gave it three and a half stars, calls the film a "knockout". Brian Lindsey of Eccentric Cinema gave the film 6 out of a scale of 10, saying the film "isn't believable for a second — yet this doesn't stop it from being a fun little B picture in the best drive-in tradition."

Premiere Magazine put Assault in its July 1999 list of 50 Unsung Classics.


One of the film's distinctive features is its score, composed and recorded by Carpenter. The combination of synthesizer hooks, electronic drones and drum machines sets it apart from many other scores of the period and creates a distinct style of minimalist electronic soundtrack with which Carpenter, and his films, would become associated. The score consists of two main themes: the main title theme, with its familiar synthesizer melody, and a slower contemplative theme used in the film's more subdued scenes. Besides these two themes the soundtrack also features a series of ominous drones and primal drum patterns which often represent the anonymous gang gathering in the shadows.

The main theme was partially inspired by both Lalo Schifrin's score to Dirty Harry and Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song".

Beyond its use in the film, the score is often cited as an influence on various electronic and hip hop artists with its main title theme being sampled by artists including Afrika Bambaataa, I-F, Dead Prez and Bomb the Bass, whose song "Megablast" featured a sample of the score and was used in the soundtrack to the video game Xenon 2 Megablast. UK punk band The Exploited also utilized the main theme as a bass riff in the song "Don't Blame Me", which appears on their 1996 album Beat the Bastards.

Despite this influence, except for a few compilation appearances, the film's score remained available only in bootleg form until 2003 when it was given an official release through the French label, Record Makers.

Track listing

  1. "Assault On Precinct 13 (Main Title)"
  2. "Napoleon Wilson"
  3. "Street Thunder"
  4. "Precinct 9 - Division 13"
  5. "Targets / Ice Cream Man On Edge"
  6. "Wrong Flavour"
  7. "Emergy Stop"
  8. "Lawson's Revenge"
  9. "Sanctuary"
  10. "Second Wave"
  11. "The Windows!"
  12. "Julie"
  13. "Well's Flight"
  14. "To The Basement"
  15. "Walking Out"
  16. "Assault On Precinct 13"

DVD and Blu-ray releases

Assault on Precinct 13 is available on both DVD and Blu-ray Disc as a "Restored Collector's Edition." It contains all of the special features found on the previous "Special Edition" DVD.

See also


  1. Q & A session with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker at American Cinematheque's 2002 John Carpenter retrospective, in the 2003 special edition Region 1 DVD of Assault on Precinct 13.
  2. Muir, Pg. 10
  3. Business Data for Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
  4. Trivia page of Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
  5. Still Gallery feature, included in the 2003 special edition DVD of Assault on Precinct 13.
  6. Muir, Pg. 12
  7. Rotten Tomatoes - Assault on Precinct 13; Access Date Nov, 30, 2009
  8. John Kenneth Muir, The Horror Films of the 1970s; Pgs. 376-9; ISBN 0-7864-1249-6
  9. Leonard Maltin, Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide; Pg. 64; ISBN 978-0-452-28978-9
  10. Eccentric Cinema | ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976); Written by Brian Lindsey; Accessed Nov 30, 2009


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