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|Spot the Reference Time!
Assault on Precinct 13 (DVD)
John Carpenter, dir.
John Carpenter, like Spielberg, is aware of the history of cinema, and often references earlier films (and other pop-culture material) in his work.
As many have pointed out, "Assault" is essentially a modern-setting remake of "Rio Bravo", and quite well done, with horror-type elements reminiscent of films like "Night of the Living Dead".
Carpenter seems enamoured of the "unstoppable-mysterious-thing that wants to eat your face" plot; all of his best films seem to use some variation on it. In this case, the Nasty Thing is the uber-gang "Street Thunder", who have declared war on straight society in general, and on the cops in particular.
A point that not a lot of people seem to have noticed is that there is/are strong influences from Sergio Leone's brilliant Western, "Once Upon a Time in the West" (my unequivocal choice for The Greatest Western Ever Made (currently #2 on the IMDB user's list of 50 Greatest Westerns, second only to Leone's own "The Good the Bad and the Ugly"):
Both films set up the major action with acts of on-screen violence that were virtually unthinkable at the time -- here, it's the casualness and the identity of the victim, in "Once Upon a Time in the West", it was that plus the shock of recognition of the actor playing the killer.
When first i saw this film, i believed that Darwin Josten's character, Really Bad convict Napoleon Wilson, was played in emulation of Robert Mitchum -- more recently, i realised that the character is basically inspired by (and Josten is emulating) Charles Bronson's "Harmonica" in "Once Upon a Time in the West"; both are mysterious, laconic and Very Dangerous men who will reveal their backgrounds and intentions "...only at the point of dyin'..."
In the Leone film, another character says of Harmonica that something is driving him, "...somethin' to do with death..."; that applies, i think, equally well to both Leone and Carpenter -- their best works are films that overtly have "something to do with death" in their basic structure.
Now, i'm not saying that this film is the equal of the Leone -- very few if any are. What i am saying is that this film definitely resonates -- both deliberately and, i am sure, because of Carpenter's own quirks and obsessions -- with the Leone.
Watch for Carpenter's cameo as a gang member who *almost* makes it in through a window,
Science Fiction fans who have read the novel "The Price of the Stars" by Doyle and MacDonald may feel a bit of deja vu; an important chapter in that book, involving an assault on an isolated Space Force medical station, is admittedly based on this film.