Sunday, October 30, 2016

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) (Second Sight Blu-ray Review)

40th Anniversary Edition Limited Edition Boxset 

Label: Second Sight Films

Release Date: November 28th 2016 
Region Code: Region B Locked 
Duration: 91 Minutes
Rating: 15 Certificate (Uncut) 
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Uncompressed PCM Original Mono with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Nancy Loomis, Tony Burton, Peter Franklin, Charles Cypher

John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 is a stone-cold cult-classic executed with near gritty perfection by one of cinema's great genre directors. On a fateful night in Los Angeles three disparate elements converge on the decommissioned police station Precinct 13. What transpires is a white-knuckle thrill ride packed with claustrophobic atmosphere and sweaty tension, a cult-classic in the truest sense of the phrase.

Newly promoted Lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker, Horror High) is assigned to oversee the decommissioning of a police during its last few hours of operation. The skeleton crew staffing the station are Captain Chaney (Henry Brandon, The War of the Worlds), the station's two cute, sweater-bound secretaries, Leigh (Laurie Zimmer, A Dirty Story) and Julie (Nancy Loomis, Halloween), plus Lt. Bishop. It seems like a pretty easy gig from the onset but things have a way of turning bad real quick when you least expect it. 

Things  seems mundane for Bishop and the crew for the first few hours of their shift until a correctional bus transporting three prisoners arrives at the station seeking medical attention for one of the inmates who has fallen ill. Also on the bus is a notorious murderer named Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston, Eraserhead) who is on his way to Death Row, plus inmates Wells (Tony Burton, The Magnificent Seven), and Caudell (Peter Franklin, The Puppet Master), correctional officer Starker (Charles Cyphers, Escape from New York) and the driver of the bus.

On the same night not far away the warlords of multiracial L.A. gang Street Thunder have declared war on the city Los Angeles in retaliation for for the death of a few of their own who were ambushed by the LAPD earlier in the night. They thugs drive through the streets of the city looking for random victims when they happen upon an ice cream truck driver parked on the side of the street. They open fire, in the aftermath a young girl (Kim Richards, Escape from Witch Mountain) lays dead in the street. This is still such a shocking scene of violence, even after many watches this still packs a visceral punch to it. The grieving an enraged father of the young girl pursues the gang through the streets, eventually catching-up to them and killing one of the warlords. Now on foot he is chased by the remaining gang members, winding up on the steps of the 13th Precinct. Once inside he collapses and is unable to relay what has happened, without warning the gang lay siege to the precinct beginning with a spray of silenced gunfire killing several officers and a few prisoners in very short order.

With the power and communications cut off and with precious few alternatives left to him Bishop unchains the surviving prisoners in a desperate attempt to thwart certain death. The movie is a bit slow to start as the three story lines slowly converge but once the white-knuckle action sets in it never slows down. The tension is oppressive as the good guys find themselves somewhat hopelessly holed-up in the precinct with very few weapons, cut off from the world and with no help on the way they must fight or die. Bishop and his ragtag crew don't seem to have a snowball's chance in Hell of surviving this urban skirmish, at times it does start to feel like Carpenter borrowed a page from George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) in that respect, but maybe that is just because I've never watched Rio Bravo (1959) on which this is largely patterned

Assault on Precinct 13 was John Carpenter's first movie, unless you count the sci-fi comedy Dark Star which he co-directed with Dan O'Bannon (Return of the Living Dead). It's early stuff but already we can see many of what would become known as his trademarks, creating a very real sense of isolation and dread and a realistic approach to urban action. The movie is nicely shot in the super wide Carpenter-Vision (2.35) aspect ratio with a sweet Carpenter synth-score, which features a totally bad ass main theme that immediately sets a dark urban tone, I think outside of the Halloween main theme this is one of Carpenter's most recognizable pieces of music. 

The cast is superb, the wry relationship between Lt. Bishop and killer Napoleon is fun stuff, particularly Joston as the wise cracking antihero always asking to bum a smoke from everyone. He's right up there with Snake Plissken (Escape from New York) as one of Carpenter's most iconic anti-hero figures and the wry banter back and forth between the two makes for great viewing. While not a huge role the hypnotic Laurie Zimmer appears as one of the sexy sweater-bound secretaries trapped in the precinct and there's some tasty sexual tension between her character and the killer Napoleon. The actress has a certain Lauren Bacall type charm about her with cool demeanor and stunning blue eyes, not to mention the woman can really rock a sweater. 

Blu-ray: Assault of Precinct 13 (1975) comes to UK Blu-ray from Second Sight Films with a fantastic 1080p HD widescreen (2.35:1) transfer. Colors are vibrant with strong black levels, a few of the darker scenes can be a bit grainy but overall this looks wonderful with some nice crisp texture and fine detail. I do believe this is the same HD master as was used by US distributor Scream Factory for their Collector's Edition Blu-ray with some additional clean-up and restoration work performed by Second Sight to remove additional dirt and scratches and the results are wonderful, the movie has never looked better on Blu-ray. 

The disc comes with English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and an uncompressed PCM Original Mono mix for the purist. Dialogue comes through crisp and clean, and the snarling John Carpenter synth-driven score sounds superb. The surround is predominantly front heavy but the surround does open it up a bit, particularly with the score bleeding into the surrounds. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

Second Sight have put together an epic 4oth Anniversary edition of the movie licensing all the Scream Factory extras including two audio commentaries and throwing in a few more. We have the original John Carpenter commentary which is still one of my favorite non-Kurt Russell commentaries from Carpenter. The second commentary is with Art Director and Sound Effects Editor Tommy Lee Wallace which is moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. Wallace has some great stories to tell about collaboration with Carpenter, the different locations and his career making movies. Michael Felsher does a great job keeping the conversation on track and interesting.

Another carry-over from the Scream Factory release is the 2002 interview with Carpenter and star Austin Stoker after a screening of the film at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Carpenter fields questions from the audience and touches on the origins of the movie and what it was like shooting is first solo-directed feature. Carpenter is funny with some fun anecdotes, including one on how he skirted an x-rating from the MPAA. He also touches on his influence on filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, recording the score and his post Dark Star relationship with the now late Dan O'Bannon. Also carried over are the Red Shirt produced video interviews with actors Nancy Loomis and Austin Stoker adding up to about 35-minutes. Stoker goes into his early careers and working with Carpenter on the film, a particular scene he'd like to go back and switch-up a bit. Loomis also touches on her early career, Carpenter's original plan to make a western, the location, her character and life after acting plus the whole convention experience.

Second Sight have also included three brand-new video interviews produced by Severin Films for this release. We get new interviews with Austin Stoker (10 Mins), Producer Joseph Kaufman (16 Mins) and Tommy Lee Wallace (22 Mins) all recorded in 2016. Exclusive to this release is the inclusion of John Carpenter's early student films, the eight-minute short 'Captain Voyeur' which was unearthed by archivist Dino Everett at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Now honestly this is not some lost Carpenter masterpiece but the rough short does feature some of the themes we've come to associate with the director. The short follows the ill-fated adventure of a peeping-tom over the course of a night. Extras on the disc are finished-up with a trailer, radio spots and a weird French documentary 'Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer?' (2003) in which filmmaker Charlotte Szlovak attempts to find the elusive actress who seemingly fell of the face of the earth shortly after this movie. 

We were sent only a 'check disc' for this release but the limited edition box set also includes five art cards and a bonus CD soundtrack of the menacing Carpenter score. This is a mighty stacked Blu-ray with loads of cool extras, Second Sight have put a lot of love into this Carpenter cult-classic. 

Limited Edition Special Features
- Newly Restored from High Definition 1080p Transfer
- DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Uncompressed PCM Original Mono Audio Options
- Return to Precinct 13: A new Interview with Austin Stoker (10 Mins) 
- Producing Precinct 13: A new Interview with Joseph Kaufman (16 Mins) 
- Filmmaking with John: A new interview with Tommy Lee Wallace (22 Mins) 
- Captain Voyeur: John Carpenter student short (Blu-ray exclusive) (8 Mins) 
- Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer documentary film (Blu-ray exclusive) (54 Mins) 
- Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker (23 Mins) 
- The Sassy One with Nancy Loomis (13 Mins) 
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John Carpenter
- Audio Commentary with Tommy Lee Wallace moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures 
- Trailer (2 Mins) HD 
- Radio Spots (1 Mins) 
- 5 Art Cards (Limited Edition box set exclusive)
- Bonus CD Soundtrack Disc (Limited Edition box set exclusive)

Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) is an action-packed white knuckler that starts off a bit slow but once things pick-up this siege classic proves to be one Hell of a tense ride. Second Sight have knocked it out of the park with their 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Boxset, this is the definitive version of the movie, this is the one to own. highly recommended.