Carpenter’s “Attack on the Police Station” has always been one of the first associations for me when someone mentions the cult film. A film for which it is so difficult to explain why I like it and why I love it, why I find it so cool from the first scene to the last, even though this action thriller is actually so simple. However, in this simplicity, the genius of John Carpenter, one of those true mavericks of American cinema and a unique author who often not only wrote and directed, but also edited them and composed music, as is the case with “Assault on Precinct 13”.
And the famous synth theme from this film is one of the reasons why I have loved “Attack on the Police Station”, only the second full-length film that Carpenter directed, even before he became famous with “Halloween” in the late seventies, since my boyhood days. And it’s interesting how “Assault on Precinct 13” was received rather lukewarm in America when it appeared, but after it was shown in Cannes, then at the festival in London, it became a big hit in Great Britain, then in the rest of Europe. This prompted the American audience to re-watch Carpenter’s action film, determine the material and realize that it is one of the best action films of the decade.
After making the first film “Dark Star”, Carpenter was hired by a production company to make an exploitation film with a budget of one hundred thousand dollars. He accepted the offer, but on the condition that he would have full creative control over the film, and in eight days he wrote the script for the film, which was originally supposed to be called “The Anderson Alamo”. But, of course, it was not a typical exploitation film of the seventies, but Carpenter incorporated a theme from one of the most famous films of his favorite director Howard Hawks, “Rio Bravo”. “Attack on the Police Station” was partly inspired by Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”, even more so because the action of a good part of the film takes place in one interior, more precisely the police station that will be attacked by gangs from Los Angeles.
That police station closes that day, and a few prisoners who move from one prison to another will find refuge there. Unfortunately for them, one of them will fall ill, so the guards will temporarily place them all in the station, which will soon come under attack. The gang members, who stole large quantities of assault weapons right at the beginning of the film, will rush to the police station because the guy who killed their boss is hiding there. The fact that their boss previously shot the same guy’s daughter in the middle of the street is less important to them. Armed bandits will attack, and a few people located in the station are cut off from the world and will try to survive the night.
Although Carpenter has gathered here a series of completely unknown actors and actresses, “Attack on the police station” is actually an example of the kind of film he would make for the next twenty years. Simple, without a lot of wisdom, and yet so brilliantly thought out, shocking, violent, and yet not too violent like many films that tried to make up for the lack of meaning and holes in the story with explicit violence only. Although he became a master of horror only later, Carpenter seems to have applied horror aesthetics here as well because we have such a creepy atmosphere, an almost inexplicable evil that will descend on the society trapped in the old station.