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Feature


 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 (Austin Stoker – Battle for the Planet of the Apes), and his skeleton staff, including two secretaries (Laurie Zimmer – A Dirty Story and Nancy Loomis – Halloween), recruit a condemned killer from the cells in a desperate battle to survive the night. As the gang close in the tension escalates to boiling point in this brutal and unrelenting cult classic. (Taken from the official synopsis.)

Video


Labelling this transfer newly restored is akin to Obi-Wan Kenobi telling Luke that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered his father, i.e. it's true from a certain point of view. It's essentially identical to the US Image Entertainment Blu-ray release, which utilised a restoration by Lowry Digital. That disc has been floating around since 2008, so it's hardly new. The same master was also used for both Shout! Factory's US release and Capelight's German release, although the latter had additional work carried out under the auspices of Torsten Kaiser at TLEFilms (mostly to tweak the colour). The German release actually looks superficially better, but closer inspection reveals it to be quite an artificial presentation, with sharpening and comparatively poor compression. It does have one thing going for it, which is the removal (or at least lessening) of the overt blue tint visible during the night sequences, which wasn't present in the original version of the film. Certainly, even allowing for the aforementioned issues it still blows the standard-definition DVD away.

As for Second Sight's Blu-ray release, well the film generally looks very good given its age and the miniscule budget Carpenter had to work with. It's nicely detailed, with fewer artefacts than I expected (as I understand it, Second Sight performed its own clean-up pass), and compression is generally solid. As for the aforementioned colours, the daytime scenes lean towards the warmer, yellowish end of the spectrum, which gives people a slightly jaundiced appearance, while the night-time scenes are bathed in the sort of teal that will have purists running for the hills. Contrast and brightness leave a bit to be desired, as black levels fluctuate between scenes, although one assumes that can be at least partially attributed to the original cinematography. There are also a couple of short sequences in which there is a noticeable drop in quality, but again this is most like source-related. However, don't be too put off by these weaknesses and the occasionally anachronistic colour, as it's still a pleasing presentation overall.

Audio


A choice of DTS-HD MAster Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 Mono English tracks is available. The mono track is the one to go for if you want the authentic experience, but the 5.1 effort opens things up somewhat and actually sounds pretty good given the limitations of the source material. Of course it’s never going to compare with a proper multi-channel surround mix, but the constituent parts are well-prioritised, the surrounds are used to good effect for Carpenter’s score, the frontal array provides some moderate width and there’s a bit of additional weight to the low end. The mono track also balances the various elements well, but is obviously limited by its very nature. To be honest you should be happy with either track, as they’re both of good quality. It’s nice to have the choice between the two though.

Extras


Second Sight has assembled an impressive collection of bonus material for this release, including a number of new interviews, one of Carpenter’s short student films, and a documentary focussing on the attempts to track down Aussault actress Laurie Zimmer, who quit the business long ago. It also includes most of the bonus material from the older releases, such as the commentaries, vintage interviews and so on. It omits the isolated score found on many other releases, but the limited edition set includes a soundtrack CD by way of mitigation. Unfortunately we didn’t receive any of the limited edition extras (CD, art cards) so I can’t speak to their quality. Here’s a complete list of everything you can expect to find:

  • Return to Precinct 13: A new Interview with Austin Stoker
  • Producing Precinct 13: A new interview with Joseph Kaufman
  • Filmmaking with John: A new interview with Tommy Lee Wallace
  • Captain Voyeur: John Carpenter student short (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer documentary film (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker
  • The Sassy One with Nancy Loomis
  • Audio Commentary with John Carpenter
  • Audio Commentary with Tommy Lee Wallace
  • Trailer
  • Radio Spots
  • 5 Art Cards (Limited Edition box set exclusive)
  • Bonus CD soundtrack disc (Limited Edition box set exclusive)

Overall


Although primarily considered a horror director, John Carpenter’s filmography is actually far more eclectic than that. His first feature, Dark Star, was science-fiction comedy, and he went on to make the romantic adventure Starman, the fantastical Big Trouble in Little China and the action-thrillers Escape from New York and L.A.. Assault on Precinct 13 has most in common with the latter pair on that list, and takes inspiration from Howard Hawks’ Rio bravo to deliver a lean, solid siege film. Although clearly shot on a shoestring budget and played by actors of, ahem, variable talent, the film still offers up many memorable moments. Even today there are few filmmakers who would have the balls to murder a child in the opening act! Carpenter also makes the most of the budget by shooting in a confined location and keeping the bad guys anonymous and their numbers vague. It’s not among my very favourite of his works, but Assault on precinct 13 remains a surprisingly accomplished film and one that I’m happy to have had a chance to revisit.
 
Second Sight’s Blu-ray release offers up roughly the same audio-visual quality as the previous Blu-ray releases, but includes more bonus content and some neat limited edition gimmicks. I’ve been looking to add the film to my Carpenter high-definition library for some time now, and I’m glad I held off on the alternatives as this probably represents the best available version of the film. It’s surely a definite purchase for the director’s legion of fans, but it’s also worth checking out if you enjoy taut thrillers and films with an exploitation vibe. Either way, this one comes recommended.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Assault on Precinct 13
 Assault on Precinct 13
 Assault on Precinct 13
 Assault on Precinct 13
 Assault on Precinct 13
 Assault on Precinct 13
 Assault on Precinct 13
 Assault on Precinct 13


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