HAPPY 46th ANNIVERSARY ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13!

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HHAPPY 46th ANNIVERSARY ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13!

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Cops and cons unite against a vengeful youth gang in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13!

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46 years ago on this day, John Carpenter’s now classic first theatrical film, Assault on Precinct 13, was released in theaters!

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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

Tasked by producer J.S. Kaplan to make a low budget film for him, John Carpenter came up with this violent and action filled urban version of one of his favorite Howard Hawks westerns, Rio Bravo. Two years before he hit big with Halloween, Carpenter wrote, directed, edited and composed the score for this cult classic about a remote and soon to close ghetto police station, under siege by a vengeful and well-armed youth gang. Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is sent to oversee the closing night of the Anderson ghetto police precinct, an assignment he expects to be routine and dull. But across town a youth gang with a cache of stolen guns and already sworn to avenge the death of some members by a police ambush, roam the streets looking to take their anger out on someone. They pick a poor ice cream vendor (Peter Bruni) and when a little girl (Kim Richards) gets in the way, both vendor and his young customer are brutally murdered. When the little girl’s father (Martin West) follows and kills a gang member, the rest chase him across Anderson where he finds himself at the skeleton crewed police station. Add to that the arrival of a bus carrying prisoners being transported to a state correctional facility who stop at the precinct when one prisoner takes ill and we have a recipe for a night of violence, revenge and a fight to survive. Now Bishop and the meager staff of the precinct must decide if they can trust two hardened criminals as the gang Street Thunder lays siege to the station with intensions of killing everyone inside.

Assault On Precinct 13 is a great little action flick that definitely foreshadows the type of intensity, suspense and style that John Carpenter would become known for. The film is loaded with tense action as the gang tries to get into the station and slaughter all inside and the uneasy alliance of cop and inmate must somehow fend them off with very little arms or ammo. And it works, because not only has Carpenter set up this claustrophobic situation of a remote and small building surrounded by vicious enemies but fills it with great and endearing characters like the noble Bishop, the death row inmate with a sense of honor, Napoleon Wilson (a great Darwin Joston) and resilient and tough secretary, Leigh (Laurie Zimmer).

The acting is top notch with Stoker, Joston and Zimmer really giving intense and well-rounded performances in their respective roles and a good supporting cast including Carpenter familiar faces Charles Cyphers, as the prison bus commanding officer and Nancy Loomis as meek secretary Julie, along with Tony Burton as prison inmate Wells. We never get to personally interact much with the vengeful gang, instead they are presented as a malevolent and deadly force, a faceless wall of death that surrounds and closes in on the station’s occupants and this approach keeps them a dangerous and unpredictable element whom we fear because, like Michael Myers in Halloween, they appear less human and more a force of homicidal rage. It gives them a supernatural quality despite being very much flesh and bone.

The action scenes are very intimate but intense, fast paced and well shot and, as with all Carpenter’s movies, the film has a great visual style that makes good use of its desolate locations and its largely night set scenes. While the film didn’t get much notice upon release, it was a hit in Europe and, as with a lot of Carpenter’s work, is now recognized for the classic film that it is. In my opinion it is one of what I call ‘Carpenter’s Core 5’ which in my opinion are his best films… or at least my favorites… Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York and The Thing. A great low budget action classic!

Available currently from Scream Factory on a collector’s edition Blu-ray!

Rated 4 (out of 5) classic bullets.

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-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE ROAD WARRIOR

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This edition of MZNJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature has an apocalyptic theme, with two of MZNJ’s all-time favorite apocalyptic features!…

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Escape From New York is one of my all-time favorite B movies and a bonafide film classic. I instantly fell in love with this film upon seeing it opening night at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and John Carpenter solidified himself as one of my favorite directors.

An outrageously original idea has New York City in a war torn, crime filled, future turned into a maximum-security prison, and legendary director Carpenter makes it work by taking his subject matter just seriously enough to make the audience buy it. Add to that a colorful cast of characters, including one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heros of all time, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), and you have the recipe for a B movie classic.

The story is simple, war hero turned outlaw, Snake Plissken has been captured and is about to be sentenced to life imprisonment in New York City Penitentiary. Fate intervenes and the President’s (Donald Pleasence) plane is hijacked on the way to a crucial peace summit and crashed inside the city. Former special forces soldier Plissken is the only man skilled enough to sneak in quietly and get him out alive, and Snake now has a chance at a full pardon for all his crimes if he takes the job. A vicious gang leader called The Duke Of New York (Isaac Hayes) has other ideas for both The President and Snake, who has less then 24 hours to complete his mission, or the world goes back to war and the micro explosives implanted in his neck to keep him compliant, will go off.

Director and co-writer (with Nick Castle) Carpenter creates some nice tension and suspense, and his visual eye is great at creating a gloomy hellhole out of the world’s greatest city. Dean Cundey’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful as it captures the world inside New York, which is very effectively portrayed on a small budget. Carpenter moves the film along well, although not as fast paced as today’s audience are used to, and there is plenty of action and chases to keep one entertained. Despite being released in 1981, this film may be the last film to have a real 70s feel to it before the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards changed action films forever. Another film that inspired many and was imitated many times and another great Carpenter film score to add to the atmosphere.

As for the cast… Kurt Russell does his best Clint Eastwood as Snake and it’s only natural then to pair him up with Eastwood co-star Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner, Bob Hauk. Rounding out the cast is Halloween vet Donald Pleasence as the President, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, Carpenter’s then wife, Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie and legendary soul man Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York. Not to forget, there is also genre favorite Tom Atkins as Hauk’s right-hand man, Rehme and frequent Carpenter collaborator Charles Cyphers as the Secretary of State. A simply classic B-movie sci-fi/action flick and one of my all-time favorites!

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  The studio wanted Charles Bronson as Snake, but Carpenter fought for his choice of former Disney child actor, Russell and the rest is history. Also, the SPFX were done in part by a then unknown James Cameron, who went on to direct Terminator and Titanic. And despite its setting, most of the film was lensed in St. Louis and L.A. with only one-night actual shooting in NYC at the Statue of Liberty.

One of the greatest B-movies of all time!

Rated a classic 4 (out of 4) Snakes

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THE ROAD WARRIOR aka MAD MAX 2 (1981)

Road Warrior is simply an action classic and one of my all-time favorite movies. It still holds up today even after over 40 years and is still better than most of the CGI filled action flicks that get churned out today. I was stunned upon leaving the theater after first seeing it at the Stanley Warner in Paramus, N.J. in 1981 and the film still has its magic when I watch it all these years later.

The film is set years after the events of 1979’s Mad Max and takes place after an apocalyptic collapse of society triggered by the drying up of fuel sources and the resulting panic. It follows ex-cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), who we last saw avenging the murder of his wife and child against a savage biker gang, and now wanders the wasteland fighting to survive amidst the scavengers, a once loving family man transformed into a ruthless survivor who looks out only for himself. Max stumbles across a small desert community that is manufacturing fuel but is also battling a large gang of thugs who want to take the gas and slaughter all those inside. Max’s need for fuel leads him to align himself with the embattled village but is it something more that makes him risk his life as the villagers make a desperate attempt to escape the ‘vermin on machines’ and find a better place to start a new life.

The Road Warrior is simply a great movie. One of the greatest action films ever made, the film that turned Gibson into a star and launched dozens of cheap imitations and still inspires filmmakers today (I recommend Neil Marshall’s outrageously fun homage Doomsday). George Miller creates a world that is an apocalyptic Sergio Leone western in S & M gear and features some of the most furious action/chase scenes ever committed to film. He populates this world with a cast of eccentric characters from the bizarre and whimsical Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) to the equally surreal gang leader Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) and his mohawked henchman Wes (Vernon Wells). Beneath all the leather and carnage, the film also has a heart and a soul and that’s what sets it apart. Ultimately it is about clinging to and regaining one’s humanity in the face of adversity. Not only is Max rediscovering he has a heart underneath the bodies of all those he has killed and all that he has lost but civilization as well is struggling to regain what’s been lost against those who would take advantage of its ruin. Amidst the bone-crushing action and blood-spattering violence there is a message of hope and that is really what makes this film so special and gives it so much substance. Director Miller mixes in his message perfectly with the action, offsetting the brutality with a quirky sense of humor, so the bleak nature of the film never wears you down. A perfect blend of elements if there ever was one. Miller also gives the film a look that would make Leone and Kurosawa proud and Dean Selmer’s cinematography brings it to life along with Norma Moriceau’s inventive costume design and, of course, all the amazing stunt work and action choreography. Wrap that up in Brian May’s pulse pounding score and you have a cinematic experience that is just as effective today as it was over 40 years ago. Miller co-wrote the script with Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant and the film was produced by Miller’s friend and Mad Max producer Byron Kennedy, who would tragically be killed 2 years later in a helicopter crash.

The cast really are perfect, especially for bringing such colorful and strange characters to life. Gibson is both samurai and gunslinger as the iconic Max, portraying a man who is deadly, cunning but still has a heart buried deep down that enables him to become a hero when there are those in need. His actions may seem selfish at first, but the cop and family man are still in there needing a good reason to re-emerge. Bruce Spence is a delight as the goofy Gyro Captain, a bizarre individual who flies a gyro copter over the vicious inhabitants of the wasteland and survives by his wits and the help of his pet snakes. A truly endearing and memorable character. Nilsson and Wells create formidable villains becoming the signature template for all the bad guys in practically every post-apocalyptic action rip-off that arose after this became a sensation. They are both oddballs and nut jobs but very lethal characters with Wells’ Wes practically stealing the show as the loose cannon, psychotic henchman. We also have Michael Preston who is a noble leader as the in-over-his-head Pappagallo, a man who believes civilization is not lost and plans to start again. Young Emil Minty is a hoot as the Feral Child, a stray dog of a little boy who communicates in growls and is quite resourceful and scrappy in a fight, and Virginia Hey is noble and strong as the simply named Warrior Woman, who fights just as hard as any man. There are many other supporting players and they all do well in establishing personalities for their offbeat characters. An almost perfect cast for a film masterpiece.

What else can I say. This film is a masterpiece of action and storytelling and is one of the most influential films of its time. It is one of my all-time favorites and a film that is just as effective today as it was in 1981. It is a clear example that action movies can have a story and a soul and still deliver mind blowing sequences without a lick of CGI. Often imitated but never equaled. A classic in every sense of the word.

Rated 4 (out of 4) warriors of the wasteland!

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HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK!

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HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK!

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Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken! One of the greatest and sadly underused movie anti-heroes of all-time!

40 years ago today the film world was introduced to Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) as John Carpenter’s Escape From New York was released in theaters! A little EFNY anniversary trivia: studio Avco Embassy Pictures wanted Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones for Plissken, but Carpenter held out for Kurt Russell and history was made! HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK!

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The late, great Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. where I saw Escape From New York opening night! (Photo from the Mitchell Dvoskin collection)

-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and VFW

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MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back again and featuring another flick from director to watch Joe Begos. His latest flick VFW throws some serious love at John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13, so, what better feature to pair it up with than the film that Begos so affectionately pays homage to. It’s a Saturday night of awesome siege flicks, with the master John Carpenter and the next generation Joe Begos!

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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

Tasked by producer J.S. Kaplan to make a low budget film for him, John Carpenter came up with this violent and action filled urban version of one of his favorite Howard Hawks westerns, Rio Bravo. Two years before he hit big with Halloween, Carpenter wrote, directed, edited and composed the score for this cult classic about a remote and soon to close ghetto police station, under siege by a vengeful and well armed youth gang. Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is sent to oversee the closing night of the Anderson ghetto police precinct, an assignment he expects to be routine and dull. But across town a youth gang with a cache of stolen guns and already sworn to avenge the death of some members by a police ambush, roam the streets looking to take their anger out on someone. They pick a poor ice cream vendor (Peter Bruni) and when a little girl (Kim Richards) gets in the way, both vendor and his young customer are brutally murdered. When the little girl’s father (Martin West) follows and kills a gang member, the rest chase him across Anderson where he finds himself at the skeleton crewed police station. Add to that the arrival of a bus carrying prisoners being transported to a state correctional facility who stop at the precinct when one prisoner takes ill and we have a recipe for a night of violence, revenge and a fight to survive. Now Bishop and the meager staff of the precinct must decide if they can trust two hardened criminals as the gang Street Thunder lays siege to the station with intensions of killing everyone inside.

Assault On Precinct 13 is a great little action flick that definitely foreshadows the type of intensity, suspense and style that John Carpenter would become known for. The film is loaded with tense action as the gang tries to get into the station and slaughter all inside and the uneasy alliance of cop and inmate must somehow fend them off with very little arms or ammo. And it works, because not only has Carpenter set up this claustrophobic situation of a remote and small building surrounded by vicious enemies, but fills it with great and endearing characters like the noble Bishop, the death row inmate with a sense of honor, Napoleon Wilson (a great Darwin Joston) and resilient and tough secretary, Leigh (Laurie Zimmer).

The acting is top notch with Stoker, Joston and Zimmer really giving intense and well rounded performances in their respective roles and a good supporting cast including Carpenter familiar faces Charles Cyphers, as the prison bus commanding officer and Nancy Loomis as meek secretary Julie, along with Tony Burton as prison inmate Wells. We never get to personally interact much with the vengeful gang, instead they are presented as a malevolent and deadly force, a faceless wall of death that surrounds and closes in on the station’s occupants and this approach keeps them a dangerous and unpredictable element whom we fear because, like Michael Myers in Halloween, they appear less human and more a force of homicidal rage. It gives them a supernatural quality despite being very much flesh and bone.

The action scenes are very intimate but intense, fast paced and well shot and, as with all Carpenter’s movies, the film has a great visual style that makes good use of it’s desolate locations and it’s largely night set scenes. While the film didn’t get much notice upon release, it was a hit in Europe and, as with a lot of Carpenter’s work, is now recognized for the classic film that it is. In my opinion it is one of what I call ‘Carpenter’s Core 5’ which in my opinion are his best films… or at least my favorites… Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York and The Thing. A great low budget action classic!

Rated 4 (out of 4) classic bullets.

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VFW (2019)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Bliss director Joe Begos’ latest flick takes place in a very near future where a highly addictive drug called “hype” has turned it’s users into violent addicts and city streets into war zones. Inside one of those war zones lives Viet Nam war veteran Fred (Stephen Lang) who runs a VFW hall where his friends and fellow soldiers Walter (William Sadler), Abe (Fred Williamson), Thomas (George Wendt), Lou (Martin Kove) and Doug (David Patrick Kelly) hang out. One night a young woman called Lizard (Sierra McCormick) steals some hype from drug dealer Boz (Travis Hammer), to get revenge on Boz for killing her sister (Linnea Wilson). On the run from Boz and his gang, Lizard runs into the VFW hall for cover. Still men of honor, Fred and the other veterans vow to protect Lizard as Boz, his thugs and an army of frantic hype addicts lay siege to the VFW hall.

Flick is basically John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 on crack as directed by Begos from a script by Matthew McArdle and Max Brallier. That is in no way a bad thing, as this is a bloody blast of an action flick as the war veterans take on an army of zoned-out drug addicts and a psychotic gang of thugs. We are treated to spurting blood, flying limbs and exploding heads, as the war vets use guns, axes and a host of homemade booby traps and weapons to keep the vicious gang at bay. It’s fast paced, though not enough that we don’t get to know this endearing bunch of men who never stopped being soldiers at heart. That is what makes this click all the better, is that despite all the fast and furious action, Begos lets the script’s messages about respecting and honoring those who have served, shine through. One of the very few issues with the flick is that the army of crazed drug addicts seems to come and go at the needs of the script, instead of consistently laying siege to the VFW hall. They disappear conveniently when the film needs a quiet moment for our characters to regroup. Other than that, Begos accomplishes a lot on a small budget, delivers the blood and action and has assembled a great cast of veteran actors to play his aged warriors…

…and how can you not like this cast!…Stephan Lang makes his Fred a world weary yet still honorable and strong man, one who still has nobility and honor. Sadler makes for a very likable Walter, a good-natured man who remembers the days of war as a time of loyalty and friends made. Williamson still kicks ass as the tough yet somewhat mellowing Abe and Martin Kove is solid as the business man of the group, car salesman Lou. Lou is the only one wanting to “deal” with Boz and his gang to save his own skin. Wendt and Kelly are also likable as grizzled vets Thomas and Doug, who still have their senses of humor about them. As our bad guys, Travis Hammer is a bit weak as Boz. He’s more sleazy than scary or intimidating, but he isn’t a hinderance to the blood soaked fun. Making up for it is Bliss’ Dora Madison as gang member Gutter. She’s ruthless, vicious and deadly and probably should have been the main villain…just sayin’. Any girl that takes on Fred “The Hammer” Williamson is not to be taken lightly. Rounding out is Tom Williamson (All Cheerleaders Die ) as a young vet named Shawn who wanders into the hall just home from the Middle East, Sierra McCormick (Some Kind of Hate), who is solid as the tough Lizard and Begos regular Graham Skipper as Boz’s brother, Roadie. A good cast.

Overall, this was a blood-soaked blast of a good time that manages to not only be bloody entertaining, but heartfelt about how we should view our war veterans. It’s got a lot of bloody action, but doesn’t move too fast that we don’t endear to these grizzled vets. It has some well rendered and plentiful gore, a great John Carpenter-esque score by Steve Moore and some effective cinematography by Mike Testin. All in all, it might be the most fun you’ll have at a bloodbath in quite some time. Flick is available on Amazon Prime and definitely worth the rental!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) bullets.

 

 

 

 

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HALLOWEEN II (1981) and HALLOWEEN (2018): A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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HALLOWEEN II (1981) and HALLOWEEN (2018): A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Halloween II (1981) or Halloween (2018), there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Comparison In Horror is back!…and in this installment the comparison is between the two direct sequels to John Carpenter’s original classic Halloween. In 1981, the success of Halloween led to an inevitable sequel, Halloween II. Recently, for Halloween‘s 40th anniversary, a new film, Halloween (2018), was made that went back to the source and erased all the previous sequels, as a direct continuation of Carpenter’s original story. It’s created a unique situation where one classic film now has two direct sequels…remember, Halloween H2O, acknowledges the story elements of Halloween II, so it is not quite a direct sequel to the 1978 classic. Two direct sequels that take place forty years apart, let’s take a look these two films and compare…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

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THE STORY

Halloween II takes place on the same night of the original, basically picking up right where the first film leaves off. The flick continues with an injured Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis) being taken to a hospital in Haddonfield, while Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and the police scour the neighborhood for the still at large Michael Myers (stuntman Dick Warlock). Unbeknownst to them, Michael has discovered Laurie’s whereabouts and heads to the hospital to find her, leaving a trail of bodies along the way. Once there, he begins to decimate the hospital staff, one by one, in search of his prey. It is in this film that it is revealed that Laurie is actually Michael’s other sister and he has come home to finish the job he started 15 years ago.

Halloween (2018) opens forty years later to find Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) living in solitude after some failed marriages and loosing custody of her only daughter Karen (Judy Greer). She’s taught herself to survive and fight and is in a constant state of preparedness for Michael Myers’ (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney) possible return. As for Michael, he was recaptured after that fateful night and has been re-incarcerated in the Smith’s Grove Asylum ever since. A pair of British journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) visit Michael, on the eve of his transfer to an even more secure institution, and try to evoke a response by presenting him with his old mask. Of course, that night, the transfer bus suffers an accident and Michael escapes, reclaims his mask and heads off to Haddonfield in time for Halloween. Hearing of his escape, Laurie intends to protect her daughter and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) and goes on the hunt to confront Michael once and for all. By ignoring all the sequels, this film eliminates the subplot that Laurie is Michael’s sister and returns her to a random victim.

Except for both films being direct sequels to John Carpenter’s Halloween, the stories are vastly different.

 

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MICHAEL MYERS

Obviously the Michael Myers in 1981’s Halloween II is the same as in John Carpenter’s Halloweenas the film picks up minutes after the first movie. He’s about twenty-one years-old and is a brutal killer, murdering anyone he encounters during his pursuit of Laurie. It starts out as random neighbors, as he flees from the police and Loomis, to various hospital staff once he finds Laurie at Haddonfield Hospital. He uses a variety of weapons or his hands to brutally dispatch his victims. His mask is still new, stolen earlier that day from a general store. There are hints that there is something supernatural about him, a pure evil more than human.

Halloween (2018)‘s Michael is a Michael forty years older than when we…or Laurie…last saw him. He’s got grey hair, is balding and covered in scars from his first encounter with Laurie. Once reunited with his mask, it too is showing wear and tear, with cracks and thinning hair much like it’s wearer. Despite being 61 years-old, he is still a strong, brutal and efficient killer murdering any innocents he encounters on his way back to Haddenfield and Laurie. In comparison, he seems a bit more vicious here, using his bare hands more often and otherwise mostly sticking with a simple kitchen knife, ironically obtained in a nice homage to Halloween II. He still prefers gas station coveralls and stalking women home alone or babysitting. The supernatural hints are downplayed here, save for a few lines in a nice homage/vocal cameo by Dr. Loomis.

In neither film does he ever speak and any emotions are marked by a shifting of his head or an intensifying in his movements. While he seems more interested in babysitters than their charges in the 1978 and 1981 films, 2018’s Michael has no qualms killing a young boy with a gun…but will still spare a baby. In the 1981 sequel, he started to appear more invincible and unkillable like his cinematic rival Jason Voorhees. In the 2018 sequel, he is back to being more human and can be hurt or injured.

 

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LAURIE STRODE

The Laurie Strodes portrayed in both films are a vast contrast due to the proximity and/or passage of time to the original film’s events.

In Halloween II Laurie is a terrified high school girl who is still traumatized from her encounter with Michael that night. She is basically a damsel in distress, continually on the run from Myers once he reacquires her. She actually seems to have a little less fight in her than she did in her earlier battle with the masked killer, though understandable being wounded and sedated by the hospital staff. Loomis once again comes to her rescue.

In Halloween (2018) we find a Laurie Strode who has been haunted for forty years as a result of the attack by Michael Myers and the murder of her friends. Aside from a few failed marriages and having a daughter from one, Laurie has lived a solitary life where she constantly prepares for Michael’s return…in fact she actually prays for it. The only way Laurie can purge the events of that Halloween night in 1978 from her mind is to kill the man who traumatized her and turned her into the paranoid recluse she now is. When she hears of Michael’s second escape, instead of hiding, Laurie arms herself and the hunter becomes the hunted. Laurie is more Sarah Conner than damsel in David Gordon Green’s film and Jamie Lee Curtis gives one of the best performances of her career.

 

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THE SETTINGS

The settings for both of these films is Haddonfield, Illinois and despite taking place forty years apart, not much has changed. In both films Haddonfield is a small suburban midwestern town that seems to celebrate Halloween enthusiastically. Halloween II ‘s town is still mostly unaware there is a killer in their midst and are only starting to hear the news that there has been an escape at Smith’s Grove and murders committed locally. The original Myers murder of his sister Judith, fifteen years earlier, is almost an urban legend at this point, especially to the town’s younger generations. A lot of the action takes place in the local hospital where Laurie has been admitted.

Same goes for Halloween (2018)‘s Haddonfield which has almost forgotten about the murders of forty years ago, save for the reminder of the eccentric woman who lives secluded in the woods. The new generation of teens know very little about Myers and that night and are too busy partying and trick or treating to realize a killer is on his way home again. Much like Halloween II, the Myers story is treated as an urban legend by everyone but for Laurie and a save few, including her daughter and granddaughter. The action takes place first at Smith’s Grove and then moves to Haddonfield with a last act at Laurie’s fortress home.

 

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THE OPENING SCENES

Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 sequel opens at Halloween‘s climax with Michael vanished and Loomis pursuing him into the street, much to the chagrin of a next-door neighbor. The opening sets the tone of the movie by quickly recounting the closing moments of the first film and then establishing that the danger is still out there. After a very effective opening credits scene where a pumpkin splits open to reveal a skull, we get Michael’s theft of a knife and first kill to make sure the dread is re-established.

Halloween (2018)  Opens with a pair of British podcasters visiting Michael at the Smith Grove Asylum. Journalist Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) uses some connections to borrow Michael’s mask and brazenly shows it to him to no effect. The other inmates react and it is their reaction that gives the opening an unsettling creepiness. After a very effective title sequence with a rotten pumpkin slowly reforming, we then follow Korey and his partner Dana (Rhian Rees) as they visit the reclusive Laurie, thus re-introducing us to her after all these years.

Both openings serve their respective stories well. Though in terms of sheer effectiveness, Halloween II is definitely the more potent opening, when going from Loomis’ classic “You don’t know what death is!” line to the pumpkin/skull credits, in getting us in the mood to be scared. Halloween (2018) only really gets going at a gas station scene which amusingly homages Halloween 4.

 

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THE ENDINGS

Both films end in fiery conflagrations with Michael at the receiving end.

In Halloween II, Michael bursts in as Loomis and Laurie are hiding in an operating room. Blinded by some well placed gunshots, Michael is lured into the center of the room as Laurie escapes. A wounded Loomis ignites the oxygen tanks causing a massive explosion. Myers walks out of the fire engulfed in flames before collapsing. Carpenter intended this to be the end of Michael Myers, though he would return for five more sequels before being “re-imagined” by Rob Zombie.

Halloween (2018) has Michael and Laurie engaged in a final(?) showdown at Laurie’s remote fortress house in the woods. She traps Michael in the cellar and then ignites the house which was always fitted to be a trap for the serial killer. Michael stares up at her as the room becomes engulfed in flames around him. Next we see the room, it is completely in flames, yet we see no sign of Michael. As we do hear his trademarked heavy breathing during the end credits, we are led to believe David Gordon Green is not done with the saga of Michael and Laurie quite yet.

 

 

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MISC

Halloween II is directed by Rick Rosenthal from a script by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, while Halloween (2018) is directed by David Gordon Green from a script by he, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley. Both films are scored by Carpenter himself, with collaborations from Alan Howarth on the 1981 film and son Cody and Daniel Davies on the 2018 film. Both films look great with Dean Cundey doing the cinematography on Halloween II and Michael Simmonds on Halloween (2018). Both films feature graphic violence which is well represented by their respective make-up effects departments. As the recipient of such, both flicks have characters that are obviously there just to be Michael fodder. Each film does make good use of spooky Halloween imagery and were both box office hits with Halloween (2018) coming in just under the original film when tickets are adjusted for inflation.*

*as per Box Office Mojo

 

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IN CONCLUSION

Both films have their flaws and both have their merits. Both films effectively continue the story, but from completely different points in the timeline. One movie beginning where the first left off and the other continuing the story four decades later. As in all cases such as this, it’s up to the individual to choose a favorite. On a personal level, I’ll go with Halloween II as it’s an 80s slasher after all…my favorite kind…and flaws aside, it’s still the last Michael Myers film to really feel like a Halloween movie with Carpenter scoring and Dean Cundey doing cinematography…and let’s not forget the sadly missed presence of Donald Pleasence as Loomis. Halloween (2018), certainly got a number of things right, and does include a great performance from the queen herself. It also stumbled too, especially with it’s Loomis wannabe Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) and a failed subplot involving him. The 2018 film does have a strong police presence in Will Patton’s Deputy Hawkins who makes a nice replacement for the original part I and II’s Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) and Deputy Gary Hunt (Hunter von Leer). Addressing issues such as the long term effects on an attack victim, Green’s film has more substance, though Rosenthal’s sequel is simply more fun. Either way, Michael Myers fans win, as we probably haven’t seen the last of him. 🎃

-MonsterZero NJ

Check out more editions of A Comparison In Horror here!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: TRUCK TURNER (1974)

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TRUCK TURNER (1974)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

1974 blaxploitation flick has soul music legend Isaac Hayes playing ex-football player turned bounty hunter, Mack “Truck” Turner. Mack and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) are hired to track down a vicious pimp named Gator (Paul Harris) who has skipped bail. Turner is forced to kill Gator in a gunfight and now must face his vengeful girlfriend/madame Dorinda (Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols) and her new associate Blue (Yaphet Kotto). With hired killers on his tail and a target on his back, Truck Turner is taking the fight to them to protect the ones he loves!

Aside from watching the future Duke Of New York in action and getting to see Star Trek’s Uhura as a foul mouthed madame, there isn’t too much to recommend about Truck Turner other than the obvious nostalgia. The film is sloppily directed by Jonathan Kaplan from a script that took three writers to concoct it’s simple story and hilariously vulgar dialog. The action scenes are badly choreographed and shot and the film feels like it was edited with a chainsaw. Not to say there isn’t some fun to be had from it’s epic badness or the brazen machismo in which Hayes seems to be impervious to gunfire, yet hits his target almost every time. The dialog is filled with profanity and racial slurs, which can be amusing…and quite shocking for those not used to an era long before politically correctness set in. It has something to offend everyone in today’s age of oversensitivity and if the racial slurs and portrayal of women as whores doesn’t accomplish it, a certain scene with Truck’s cat will. The thing is, the movie isn’t trying to offend, it was made at a time where exploitation films ‘went there’ and where proud of it. Still, despite it’s bravado, it seems to be just a little too badly made to really be enjoyable as camp. It is a very amateurish flick, but it did make money back in the day and does have a cult classic reputation, so who am I to argue. The legendary Hayes did the soundtrack himself, so at least there is that.

The cast play things surprisingly serious and that helps. Hayes is as cool as they come and gives his bounty hunter a confident swagger and yet there is a heart under all that testosterone. Nichelle Nichols is delightfully over-the-top and vulgar and really cranks out the trashy sex appeal as vicious madame Dorinda. Actually shows she is a versatile actress when allowed to play something other than Lt. Uhura. Yaphet Kotto gives threat and menace to his pimp Blue and Weeks is a solid enough sidekick for the macho Truck. It’s in the supporting cast that we start to run into trouble and performances range from adequate to awful with the various pimps, prostitutes and hit men. Also features small roles with Dick Miller and frequent John Carpenter guy Charles Cyphers.

Not sure why I didn’t enjoy this one. Normally I love this kind of stuff and maybe just went in with the wrong expectations. I was expecting something more on a Shaft level and maybe wasn’t ready for something that was a blatant exploitation flick that took itself far less seriously and was far less well-made. Perhaps then I will revisit Truck Turner once day and be ready this time for it’s badness, crudeness and rudeness. For now, I see it as a bad flick that was a little too bad for it’s own good at times.

-MonsterZero NJ

A generous…it is Isaac Hayes after all…2 and 1/2 bullets.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! (1978)

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SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! (1978)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

As John Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, I am almost embarrassed to admit that it is only recently that I finally caught up with the one film of his I haven’t seen, the 1978 TV movie Someone’s Watching Me! The film tells the story of pretty Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton), who has moved to the West Coast from NYC for a new job, new apartment and new life. Soon after moving into her luxury high rise digs, Leigh starts receiving strange phone calls and gifts from someone disguising themselves as a travel company. As she resists the increasingly odd advances, the tone of the calls and letters become’s increasingly hostile. Soon, Leigh realizes she is being stalked by a highly deranged individual and the police can do little until the creep acts…but Leigh isn’t going to wait to become a victim and the hunter becomes the hunted!

TV movie was written and directed by Carpenter just before he became a horror household name with Halloween. It is a very slow burn, but an effective one and really takes us through the process where odd calls and letters evolve into threats and mild concern turns to panic, fear and finally fighting back. We see some of the same qualities Carpenter wrote into Laurie Strode here, as Leigh, at first, is terrified, but then decides to do some detective work and stalking of her own when the police prove ineffective. Obviously, this is 1978 and in today’s world these type of situations are acted on far quicker, but it is entertaining to watch our heroine and her new boyfriend (David Birney) do the investigating that the investigators won’t do. Carpenter also turns up the tension a bit by letting the audience know that this individual’s admiration will turn fatal attraction at some point, so we know what might await Leigh. Drawbacks are that it is slow moving, but it is intended to be a slow boil and being filmed in a TV format and mostly on sets, it doesn’t quite have the look or feel of a Carpenter film. As it is scored by prolific 60s-70s TV composer Harry Sukman, we also miss Carpenter’s trademark electronic beats. Still, the final confrontation between Leigh and her stalker is intense and again shows that Carpenter was writing strong female characters long before it became commonplace in the 80s with the classic final girl types. It’s not his best work, but shows indications of things soon to come from the master director.

As for the cast, it is definitely Hutton’s show though she gets good support from Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Adrienne Barbeau…the film where he and first wife Barbeau met…and familiar TV face, David Birney. Hutton is strong in a refreshingly eccentric part. Leigh is not your average girl. She has a bit of a mischievous sense of humor and prone to amusing  conversations with herself that make her very real and very likable. When she is first seeing signs of a problem, she stands her ground and it’s only till the problem escalates that she starts to panic. Hutton takes us through a variety of emotions and we root for her when she is pushed too far and takes the fight to her mysterious admirer, forcing the final confrontation. She outwits a man who has been very good at not only hiding his steps and crimes, but even setting up a patsy as well. It is an example of Carpenter’s strong skill at creating memorable characters and Hutton being a bit underrated as an actress.

An interesting part of Carpenter’s filmography, the movie was filmed in just ten days, according to Carpenter in the DVD extras. While it is a very slow burn and more of a character study of a woman being preyed upon by an unknown individual than a slasher, it shows hints of what we first saw in Assault On Precinct 13 and then in Halloween, with Carpenter’s penchant for strong and memorable female characters. His Leigh is a bit of an oddball, but she is smart, strong and can only be pushed so far. The TV format does restrain some of Carpenter’s cinematic signatures, but his craft for suspense and intensity is apparent. Not his best work, but interesting as it shows the elements that he would use masterfully in Halloween and future projects, coming to bare.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) old-style touchtone phones.

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COOL STUFF: ESCAPE FROM N.Y. COLLECTOR’S EDITION on BLU-RAY

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK COLLECTOR’S EDITION Blu-Ray

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite films (see full review here). It’s the film that cemented John Carpenter as one of my favorite directors. A starkly original idea featuring one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heroes of all time. There have been a few editions of the film on VHS, DVD and even a feature-only blu-ray, but, now Scream Factory has delivered this classic flick in a special 2-disc edition loaded with extra features that gives this quirky Sci-Fi adventure the treatment and respect it deserves!

The print is a new remaster from the original negative and is absolutely gorgeous. The image is crisp and clear and the colors are vibrant without betraying the look and feel intended by the filmmakers. The movie has never looked better and having seen it on screen, on VHS, on DVD and on previous blu-ray, I can say that with the utmost confidence. It’s never looked better. The audio is DTS-HD 5.1 and sounds great. It’s like seeing and hearing the movie again for the first time. It’s a beautiful presentation of this classic movie. Now on to the fun stuff…

We get some nice audio extras… not one but, three commentary tracks. There is a new track featuring actress Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey. Also, previously released tracks from Joe Alves and Debra Hill, as well as, the classic John Carpenter and Kurt Russell commentary, which is almost as entertaining as the film. More on-set insight than you could ever hope for. As for video treats and featurettes, the second disc holds a mix of new and previously released material. The first featurette is new and is a really cool look at EFNY’s SFX. It contains behind the scenes stills and interviews with Dennis and Robert Skotak, who worked at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, which did the visual effects for the film. The Return To Escape From New York documentary from the MGM collector’s edition DVD is also included here and is filled with interviews from all the principles. We get the now legendary deleted bank robbery/arrest scene with an added new interview with actor Joe Unger, who played Snake’s partner Taylor in that deleted sequence. There’s a fun new look at scoring the film and the legacy of the soundtrack, with co-composer Alan Howarth. There is a great interview/slide show with on-set photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, who recently released a book (review here) featuring her work as a photographer on a number of Carpenter’s films. We get an interview with filmmaker David DeCoteau, who was working as a PA with New World Pictures at the time and got to visit the EFNY set. The disc then finishes up it’s extra’s section with theatrical trailers and two photo galleries on top of all the rest of the features. A great selection of extras to compliment the film.

As fan of Escape From New York, you couldn’t ask for a better special edition. The film looks great, sounds great and there is a nice selection of nostalgic and informative features and interviews to bring you back to 1980 when the film was being shot. I personally had the opportunity to see this flick in a theater…my beloved Oritani Theater…back in January of 1981 and it instantly became one of my all time favorites. Now I can enjoy it like never before thanks to this newly remastered, extra-filled, loving tribute from Scream Factory.

-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and SHAKEDOWN

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This week’s double feature combines two movies I’ve covered before but, since NYC was on a lot of people’s minds this past week and the World Trade Centers figure prominently in both features, I decided to pair up two of my favorite 80s action guilty pleasures! Enjoy!

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite B movies and a bonafide film classic. I instantly fell in love with this film upon seeing it opening night at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and John Carpenter solidified himself as one of my favorite directors.

An outrageously original idea has New York City in a war torn, crime filled, future turned into a maximum-security prison, and legendary director Carpenter makes it work by taking his subject matter just seriously enough to make the audience buy it. Add to that a colorful cast of characters, including one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heros of all time, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) and you have the recipe for a B movie classic. The story is simple, war hero turned outlaw, Snake Plissken has been captured and is about to be sentenced to life imprisonment in New York City Penitentiary. But, fate intervenes, and the President’s (Donald Pleasence) plane is hijacked on the way to a crucial peace summit and crashed inside the city. Former special forces soldier Plissken is the only man skilled enough to sneak in quietly and get him out alive and Snake now has a chance at a full pardon for all his crimes if he takes the job. But a vicious gang leader called The Duke Of New York (Isaac Hayes) has other ideas for both The President and Snake, who has less then 24 hours to complete his mission, or the world goes back to war.

Director and co-writer (with Nick Castle) Carpenter creates some nice tension and suspense, and his visual eye is great at creating a gloomy hellhole out of the world’s greatest city. And Dean Cundey’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful as it captures the world inside New York, which is very effectively portrayed on a small budget. Carpenter moves the film along well, although not as fast paced as today’s audience are used to, and there is plenty of action and chases to keep one entertained. And despite being released in 1981, this film may be the last film to have a real 70s feel to it before the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards changed action films forever. Another film that inspired many and was imitated many times and another great Carpenter film score to add to the atmosphere.

As for the cast… Kurt Russell does his best Clint Eastwood as Snake and it’s only natural then to pair him up with Eastwood co-star Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner, Bob Hauk. Rounding out the cast is Halloween vet Donald Pleasence as the President, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, Carpenter’s then wife, Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie and legendary soul man Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York. And not to forget, there is also genre favorite Tom Atkins as Hauk’s right-hand man, Rehme and frequent Carpenter collaborator Charles Cyphers as the Secretary of State. A simply classic B-movie sci-fi/action flick and one of my all-time favorites! MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  The studio wanted Charles Bronson as Snake, but Carpenter fought for his choice of former Disney child actor, Russell and the rest is history. Also, the SPFX were done in part by a then unknown James Cameron, who went on to direct Terminator and Titanic. And despite it’s setting, most of the film was lensed in St. Louis and L.A. with only one-night actual shooting in NYC at the Statue of Liberty.

One of the greatest B-movies of all time!

A classic 4 Snakes

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Shakedown

SHAKEDOWN (1988)

Shakedown is an 80s action guilty pleasure from Exterminator director James Glickenhaus that is not only his best film but, a darn entertaining cop thriller that is one of the last to take place in NYC before the 42nd street clean up and thus presents New York in all its sleazy pre-90s glory.

Shakedown is the story of public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) who is moving on to a Wall Street law firm, run by his future father in-law, and as his last case, defends a drug dealer (Richard Brooks) accused of killing a cop. But the dealer says it was self-defense, he was defending himself in a robbery and the officer never identified himself. Dalton investigates along with lone wolf cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) and they discover a conspiracy of criminals and dirty cops who now want them both dead.

Sure, some of the action is a bit overblown and the FX in the final showdown very cheesy but, Shakedown, as written and directed by Glickenhaus, is a down and dirty good time with a New York City bathed in neon lights, covered with empty crack vials and where sex, drugs and murder are a common occurrence. Add some 80s nostalgia to the mix and you have a whole six pack worth of Saturday night entertainment that is both grind-house action flick and slick crime thriller. But, aside from its dirty, backstreet depiction of New York and some over the top action scenes, what really makes Shakedown work is that Elliott and Weller make such a great team. They work very well together and it’s a shame the film never caught on enough to further the adventures of Marks and Dalton. The characters and the actor who portray them, really click and begged for a series. Supporting cast all perform well too, including Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as drug lord Nicky Carr, Blanche (Sixteen Candles) Baker as Dalton’s fiancé and hot Patricia Charbonneau as the assistant D.A. and Dalton’s former flame.One of my favorite 80s guilty pleasure action flicks. A fun movie.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The original title for the film and its title in other parts of the world was Blue Jean Cop which is a term used in the film for a cop on the take (dirty cops can afford designer jeans as opposed to Wranglers or Levis). Also, Director Glickenhaus made a few more flicks, including the campy Gary Busey action vehicle Bulletproof, before leaving show business to work at his father’s investment firm and became a successful investment professional and car collector.

3 and 1/2 bullets!

raid rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

Tasked by producer J.S. Kaplan to make a low budget film for him, John Carpenter came up with this violent and action filled urban version of one of his favorite Howard Hawks westerns, Rio Bravo. Two years before he hit big with Halloween, Carpenter wrote, directed, edited and composed the score for this cult classic about a remote and soon to close ghetto police station, under siege by a vengeful and well-armed youth gang. Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is sent to oversee the closing night of the Anderson ghetto police precinct, an assignment he expects to be routine and dull. But across town a youth gang with a cache of stolen guns and already sworn to avenge the death of some members by a police ambush, roam the streets looking to take their anger out on someone. They pick a poor ice cream vendor (Peter Bruni) and when a little girl (Kim Richards) gets in the way, both vendor and his young customer are brutally murdered. When the little girl’s father (Martin West) follows and kills a gang member, the rest chase him across Anderson where he finds himself at the skeleton crewed police station. Add to that the arrival of a bus carrying prisoners being transported to a state correctional facility who stop at the precinct when one prisoner takes ill and we have a recipe for a night of violence, revenge and a fight to survive. Now Bishop and the meager staff of the precinct must decide if they can trust two hardened criminals as the gang Street Thunder lays siege to the station with intensions of killing everyone inside.

Assault On Precinct 13 is a great little action flick that definitely foreshadows the type of intensity, suspense and style that John Carpenter would become known for. The film is loaded with tense action as the gang tries to get into the station and slaughter all inside and the uneasy alliance of cop and inmate must somehow fend them off with very little arms or ammo. And it works, because not only has Carpenter set up this claustrophobic situation of a remote and small building surrounded by vicious enemies but fills it with great and endearing characters like the noble Bishop, the death row inmate with a sense of honor, Napoleon Wilson (a great Darwin Joston) and resilient and tough secretary, Leigh (Laurie Zimmer).

The acting is top notch with Stoker, Joston and Zimmer really giving intense and well-rounded performances in their respective roles and a good supporting cast including Carpenter familiar faces Charles Cyphers, as the prison bus commanding officer and Nancy Loomis as meek secretary Julie, along with Tony Burton as prison inmate Wells. We never get to personally interact much with the vengeful gang, instead they are presented as a malevolent and deadly force, a faceless wall of death that surrounds and closes in on the station’s occupants and this approach keeps them a dangerous and unpredictable element whom we fear because, like Michael Myers in Halloween, they appear less human and more a force of homicidal rage. It gives them a supernatural quality despite being very much flesh and bone.

The action scenes are very intimate but intense, fast paced and well shot and, as with all Carpenter’s movies, the film has a great visual style that makes good use of its desolate locations and its largely night set scenes. While the film didn’t get much notice upon release, it was a hit in Europe and, as with a lot of Carpenter’s work, is now recognized for the classic film that it is. In my opinion it is one of what I call ‘Carpenter’s Core 5’ which in my opinion are his best films… or at least my favorites… Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York and The Thing. A great low budget action classic!

Rated 4 (out of 5) classic bullets.

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