Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton
Length: 91 min
Label: Shout! Factory
Release Date: 19 November 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
- Audio Commentary with writer/director John Carpenter
- NEW Audio Commentary with Art Director & Sound Effects Editor Tommy Lee Wallace
- NEW interview with actress Nancy Loomis Kyes
- NEW interview with actor Austin Stoker
- Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker
- Theatrical Trailer
- Radio Spots
It’s always interesting to consider the impact the western genre has made on horror and action filmmaking. Aesthetics, storytelling tropes and settings of western films have shown themselves time and time again throughout the latter genres, which can be seen in the work of Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark), J.T. Petty (The Burrowers) and John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13). While Carpenter would later revisit these same themes in his later career films Vampires and Ghosts of Mars, he’s never expressed them with such intense vigor and devotion as he did with Assault, which hits in a new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray courtesy of SHOUT! Factory.
Assault on Precinct 13 follows the western archetype of a “last stand” story, with a band of unexpected allies finding themselves face to face with a horde of murderers. Famously used by Sam Peckinpah and in the film Rio Bravo, Carpenter moves the action into an urban setting, placing our protagonists in a police precinct under siege by a wary and firepower-heavy gang looking for revenge. However, what Carpenter does more brilliantly is weave in his incredibly written characters and knack for slow-burning tension, which give the film a thrilling edge and an aura of horror filmmaking as the unstoppable force comes down upon our heroes.
Of course, John Carpenter’s signature directorial style is all over the film, and the spurts of bloody violence are all integral to the progression of the plot. The wide framing of the film and subtle lighting, courtesy of cinematographer Douglas Knapp, help the film feel even more like a classic western, but also add to the despair of the characters and the pure terror inspired by the villains. Of course, added on is Carpenter’s moody score, tight editing and surprisingly affecting script, which is especially noticeable retroactively but only lifts the film’s fun factor.
As per usual for a Carpenter film, the acting is top notch as well, surprisingly so given the film’s exploitation-comparisons in its initial release critical barrage. Darwin Joston and Austin Stoker are dynamite in their performances, never going over-the-top with their portrayals and yet keeping their dialogue and action with such finesse that it’s difficult not to see the two as the coolest men in the room. Laurie Zimmer is a restrained and cold wonder in her role, and Tony Burton adds an energetic and neurotic flair as the bad-luck-prone, second-rate prisoner. Special mention should also be given to Charles Cyphers in his small-but-memorable role as the officer who runs the prison bus and shares a fascinating back-and-forth with Joston’s Napoleon.
SHOUT! does a great job with what is given to them with this transfer of Assault. There is a thick, but fine film grain on display, which is mostly visible when mixed with the black crush during the overtly darker moments in the film, but should only bother those who prefer their Blu-ray’s with heavy digital noise reduction. There are a few fuzzy shots here and there, but for the most part, the image is sharp and well defined, yet there is no sign of digital sharpening. There really aren’t many noticeable problems with the print either, so this is another winner in SHOUT!’s long line of genre blu-ray releases.
At this point, is it anything but expected that SHOUT! delivers for their audio transfer? The Digital 5.1 Master Audio Mix is totally complimentary to Carpenter’s style. Effects sounds are kept lower in key than the dialogue and Carpenter’s score, but that benefits the film greatly and the range of the piece is kept crystal clear and respectably audible.
The features here are fun and definitely great accessories to the film, but nothing too essential or revelatory is revealed. Most of the features are carried over from previous releases, including the Isolated Score, the Commentary with John Carpenter and the interview with Stoker and Carpenter, but the newer supplements including 1:1 interviews with Stoker and star Nancy Loomis, as well as a new audio commentary from art director and longtime Carpenter cohort Tommy Lee Wallace are a very welcome inclusion. If you’re a Carpenter completist, these features will do you just fine, but don’t expect anything primarily new to come to the table.
I’d definitely say that SHOUT! impresses with their new edition of Assault on Precinct 13. Care is taken with the audio and video transfers, and the film still holds up damn fine after all of this time.