Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

(TubiTV Streaming, May 2017) The seventies in general were a good time for low-budget breakout features, and so there’s something exceptionally compelling in Assault on Precinct 13 despite its obvious limitations, excesses and diversions. It does capture a period atmosphere in which the inner city had become the new wild frontier, and transposing plenty of western tropes in an urban environment must have been far more shocking then than it is now. Not that the film is entirely normalized now—the “ice cream” scene is still viscerally transgressive today, and does much to establish that anything can happen in the film. The rest pits cops and criminals and gang members against each other, with unusual alliances emerging on their own. It works pretty well, largely due to director John Carpenter’s gift for staging action and creating suspense. The score also helps viewers feel put off by the proceedings, which is the point of the film—Assault on Precinct 13 is about how even the familiar streets can become a war zone. There’s a limit to how much you can like a film like that, but it’s not that hard to be impressed by the effectiveness of its gloomy intentions.

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