“I’m your ice cream man, stop me when I’m passin’ by,
See now all my flavors are guaranteed to satisfy”—Van Halen
Happy National Ice Cream Day my little cavity craving cinephiles! What other great country celebrates this delicious dairy dessert by honoring it with its own day? With all of the various staple flavors from vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry to choose from, you can find exotic delights like cookie dough (though people have died from salmonella), rose petal (minus the thorns) and even garlic flavored. My personal favorite is rocky road, and a rocky road of isolated violence is exactly what our characters snacked on in today’s feature, Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).
In the crime-infested ghetto of Anderson in South Central Los Angeles, Lieutenant Bishop, Austin Stoker of Roots (1977), is assigned to oversee the decommissioning of police Precinct 13. Bishop is joined by coworkers Sergeant Chaney, Henry Brandon of The Searchers (1956), Leigh, Laurie Zimmer of American Raspberry (1977), and Julie, Nancy Loomis of Halloween (1978), as they quietly try to finish up their night shift before the precinct is permanently closed.
Four warlords of local gangs have recently stolen a cache of weapons and unite to declare war, after a blood oath, on the city of L.A. after their fellow hoods were killed the night before in a police shootout. Members of the Street Thunder gang drive around the neighborhood with rifles in hand hunting innocent citizens on the quiet streets. Street Thunder violently wastes a little girl, Kim Richard of Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), when she is buying an ice cream cone from the Ice Cream Man, Peter Bruni of The Wild Wild West (1968). In a fit of rage, her father, Lawson, Martin West of Mac and Me (1988), chases down the gang and kills the culprit before he is chased into Precinct 13 by the retaliating gang. Minutes before Lawson seeks refuge, a prison bus transporting three felons arrives at Precinct 13 to use the holding cells temporarily while waiting on a doctor for one of the travelling inmates.
The sun sets and the gangs call in reinforcements as they surround the precinct and begin to terrorize and ambush all those inside. Teamwork is vital for the prisoners and police staff to work together in fighting off the gangs as they try to survive the night.
Assault on Precinct 13 is an action thriller written, directed, scored, and edited by film maverick, John Carpenter of Prince of Darkness (1987). Assault was heavily inspired by the real life events of The Alamo, and Carpenter’s formula of people in peril by outside forces isolated in one location is nothing new as it was successful in Rio Bravo (1958), The Thing (1951), and Night of the Living Dead (1968). Carpenter was so influenced by Rio Bravo, he even burrowed John Wayne’s character name, John T. Chance, as his name in homage for his editor credit.
Assault met controversy with the MPAA over the shocking violence in the ice cream scene due to it being uncommon at the time to show the murder of a child in such detail since Sergei Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Once Upon a Time’s character of Harmonica, Charles Bronson of Death Wish (1974), also helped inspire the demeanor of convict Napoleon, Darwin Joston of Eraserhead (1977). Assault’s budget was a modest $150,000, filmed in 20 days, and scored it in 3 days…modern Hollywood should be ashamed of its self how it drags its feet.
Assault has gone on to become a cult classic, a film festival favorite, and solidify Carpenter’s name as one of the most influential, in demand directors of the 1970s and 1980s. The success of Assault was Carpenter’s big break after his debut with Dark Star (1974), and led him to direct such classics as Halloween, The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), the remake of The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), and They Live (1989)–phew, that’s just to name a few.
Overall, Assault on Precinct 13 is a great low budget gem of 70s cinema that is highly enjoyable, action packed and sprinkled with great performances. Assault is a must for Carpenter fans, action lovers, or those studying how to make a low budget film on a dime.
So, celebrate the day and have yourself an ice cream cone on me, even if you call your topping sprinkles and not JIMMIES. Don’t be a Nutty Buddy, remember to support your local Mr. Softee or Jack & Jill ice cream trucks as they jingle jangle through your neighborhood reminding us of our memories of youth, when life was just a bit sweeter.