Review : Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)

To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, Second Sight is releasing a limited edition boxset on November 28th, 2016. When it comes to John Carpenter, who is one of my favorite directors, I am more familiar with his horror films. Halloween, The Thing, They Live…you name it, I’ve probably seen it and loved it ! I had never seen Assault On Precinct 13 so I was quite eager to finally discover it.

An LA gang’s revenge-fuelled killing spree leads them to a half-abandoned police station in the throes of closing down. Under siege with power and phone lines cut, lone cop Ethan Bishop, and his skeleton staff, including two secretaries, recruit a condemned killer from the cells in a desperate battle to survive the night (Source : Aim Publicity).
Assault On Precinct 13 is the film that catapulted John Carpenter into the mainstream which is not surprising since his talent and his style are already very apparent in this (almost) directorial debut. When you hear the first notes of the score, you immediately know you are watching a Carpenter film. In all his films, he finds a unique way to incorporate music into scenes transforming it into a vital element of storytelling. Assault On Precinct 13 is no different as sound plays a major role into creating a tense atmosphere.

The first half of the film focuses on the characters, introducing every single one and giving the viewer all the information needed. The assault actually starts quite late but when it does, you know the main characters by name and you already care enough about them to feel concerned by their fate. I really liked the main trio, especially Bishop (not an android) and Wilson (not a volley ball).

I was pleasantly surprised when the assault on the police station began. The assailants use silencers so despite the chaos happening on screen, it is all very quiet which is quite unsettling. The police station is located in a big city so the assailants’ efforts not to make sound and to go to the extent of hiding the bodies of their victims was a very smart way of creating a sense of isolation for our main characters despite being surrounded by the city life. The entire second act of the film is filled with tension. When the precinct is under attack, you are worried about characters getting shot and when nothing happens, you are worried the calm is just a sign of something terrible happening.

The film is directed by John Carpenter so of course, it is beautifully shot with some amazing ones such as the gun sticking out of the car window or the telephone booth  in a deserted landscape, just to name a few. Assault On Precinct 13 is a very well-made action thriller which relies on its characters rather than mindless action scenes. I highly recommend it.

Second Sight has done an excellent job with the restoration of the film. The 1080p transfer offers a great video and audio quality which allows you to be fully immersed in this fantastic action thriller. The limited edition Blu-ray boxset includes a CD soundtrack and art cards. I especially enjoyed the numerous interviews, especially the Tommy Lee Wallace one which gives a lot of interesting information about the production of Assault On Precinct 13 and working with John Carpenter. But that’s not all as you will find a nice little gem on this disc : John Carpenter’s student film, entitled Captain Voyeur.

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Review : The Burning (1981) / Madman (1982)

The Burning and Madman have one major common element : both films are based on the story of Cropsey, an urban legend about a boogeyman, popular at summer camps in New Jersey. Both slashers were in production at the same time and some elements of Madman were altered due to the similarities with The Burning, which would be released earlier. For instance, the name of the killer was changed to Madman Marz while the killer in The Burning is named Cropsy, like in the original material (minus a letter). While the production aspect of both films is interesting, let’s see which one is the best of the two, using seven points of comparison to determine each film’s strengths and weaknesses !

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The Burning is a very enjoyable slasher. While it has similarities with Friday The 13th, I didn’t feel like I was watching a rip-off at any time during the film. When an ill-advised prank misfires, summer camp caretaker Cropsy is committed to hospital with hideous burns. Released after five years, hospital officials warn him not to blame the young campers who caused his disfigurement. But no sooner is Cropsy back on the streets than he’s headed back to camp with a rusty pair of shears in hand, determined to exact his bloody revenge (Source : Arrow Video). The strength of The Burning is its characters which are portrayed in a very realistic manner and are very likable therefore the viewer is affected by their demise (and is not rooting for the killer like in the majority of slashers). I also want to note that the acting from the entire cast was very solid. The practical effects are good but Cropsy’s make-up is extremely disappointing, especially being the work of Tom Savini. I’ll go as far as stating that it does look very bad. Despite taking place in the most unoriginal of places (a summer camp), the director manages to show different locations and all are put to good use (especially the lake and the barn). The Burning is simply a great slasher which should not be regarded as a simple Friday rip-off. I highly recommend it and will conclude by (probably) shocking many readers : I enjoyed The Burning more than the first Friday The 13Th film.

Madman is a typical slasher but there is one major factor that renders it worth watching : it has good cinematography. Gather around the campfire, and hearthe tale of Madman Marz – an ill-tempered farmer who, one dark night, chopped up his wife and two children into pieces. When the locals learned of his heinous crimes, they exacted revenge – sinking an axe into his head and hanging him from a nearby tree. But the next day, Marz’s body was gone…Thus the camp counsellor finishes his tale, closing with the warning never to say Marz’s name above a whisper, lest the hideously-deformed farmer comes looking for them. Naturally, the first thing that one of the young campers does is calls out Marz’s name – precipitating a terrifying night of murder, mayhem and sexy Jacuzzi vignettes (Source : Arrow Video). The film takes place at night and the result is great. Madman is very well-shot, has a nice blue lighting throughout…and has the right amount of gore to satisfy any slasher enthusiast ! It has a good variety of kills and a very nice score. But while it has tension, it does feel slow-paced and some shots are longer than they should be. The acting was very bad, there is no character development (they are barely introduced) and the actor portraying Marz didn’t do a good job, in my opinion. Madman is a good entertaining slasher but has too many weaknesses.

While Madman has good cinematography, a good score and better kills, The Burning is still more entertaining with its lot of good characters and smart use of a typical slasher location.

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