Hollywood remakes of 80s horror movies defined the early 2000s alongside ‘Torture Porn‘ and J-horror. Many of these remakes pillaged from the VHS shelves of the slasher subgenre. Terror Train, Prom Night, When a Stranger Calls, and The Stepfather all received forgettable retreads. Not surprisingly, John Carpenter’s illustrious filmography has seen a handful of remakes including The Fog and The Thing. Of course, Carpenter’s The Thing and Village of the Damned were both remakes. And one of Carpenter’s celebrated early works, Assault on Precinct 13, loosely remade the classic western, Rio Bravo. Not surprisingly, when Hollywood was sifting through the master’s work, they opted to do a remake of a loose remake – Assault on Precinct 13.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) a Raw, Relentless Urban Thriller
Since its release in 1976, Assault on Precinct 13 has likely influenced a countless number of action thrillers. What makes that statement interesting is the fact that director John Carpenter made this siege-thriller very early in his career as a homage to movies like Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead. While it’s a low budget and often crudely-made movie, the aesthetics of Carpenter’s early work translated into dozens of gritty 70s and 80s action movies – the kind of movie The Canon Group, Inc. specialized in. Anyone who thinks that budget can limit a filmmaker’s vision needs to watch Assault on Precinct 13. Carpenter mixes the western with gritty urban horror to create something that’s recognizable, yet still wholly unique in its feel.
While it’s a low budget and often crudely-made movie, the aesthetics of Carpenter’s early work translated into dozens of gritty 70s and 80s action movies – the kind of movie The Canon Group, Inc. specialized in.
Several things immediately define Assault on Precinct 13 including its ruthless violence and relentless thrills. Though it’s not a horror movie, the ice cream truck scene remains shocking even by today’s standards. Once the siege on the under-staffed police station starts, Carpenter rarely takes his foot off the pedal. Treating the gang members as faceless hordes was one of its defining traits that draws comparisons to another classic – Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. In spite of its unfamiliar cast, the dynamic that develops between Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, and Laurie Zimmer increases the audience’s engagement with the action.
Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) Remake a More Polished, Sanitized B-Action Thriller
From its opening scene and credits, the 2005 Assault on Precinct 13 is clearly a different beast. This is a B-movie in its premise and approach only – everything else is polished. Absolutely no one you had ever heard of starred in Carpenter’s original. Conversely, the remake stacks its cast from top to bottom with name talent and recognizable faces. First, there’s Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne taking over from Stoker and Joston, respectively. Whereas the 1976 original spent more time with its faceless and anonymous gang, Hawke’s Sgt Jake Roenick is a more fleshed out character courtesy of a new prologue. Of course, it’s pretty clichéd stuff but still more than what Carpenter penned. Despite the casting of Fishburne – and the name change from Napoleon Wilson to Marion Bishop – the antihero character remains enigmatic in the remake.
Not surprisingly, this studio-driven effort includes more banter amongst its characters likely to make its more sanitized violence palpable for wider audiences.
Filling out the supporting cast of survivors are a far more colorful collection of actors including Maria Bello (Demonic, Lights Out), Brian Dennehy, Drea de Matteo, Ja Rule, and John Leguizamo (Spawn, Violent Night). Not surprisingly, this studio-driven effort includes more banter amongst its characters likely to make its more sanitized violence palpable for wider audiences. Arguably, the biggest change concerns the villains who are no longer waves of faceless hordes. As a result, the 2005 version feels like less of a homage to Carpenter’s source material and more just a general pulp action thriller. In place of an anonymous street gang, Gabriel Byrne (End of Days) heads up a crack police unit that’s corrupt and desperate to keep Fishburne’s ‘Bishop’ permanently quiet. The change feels unnecessary, but it’s also Laurence Fishburne and Gabriel Byrne, so we’ll call it a draw.
Assault on Precinct 13 Is Competent, But Lacks The Same Feeling of Danger and Urgency
Where the remake most glaringly feels different from Carpenter’s vision is in its execution. While the 1976 original was a relentless onslaught with moments that allowed you to catch your breath, French director Jean-Francois Richet stages his action more like a game of cat-and-mouse. Everything in Richet’s thriller feels polished and cleanly staged to elicit jolts of suspense. But it’s never urgent or dangerous like what Carpenter managed on a fraction of the budget. Nothing in the 2005 Assault on Precinct 13 comes close to what Richet accomplished in his Mesrine movies.
Everything in Richet’s thriller feels polished and cleanly staged to elicit jolts of suspense. But it’s never urgent or dangerous like what Carpenter managed on a fraction of the budget.
If it’s not gritty or innovative, this version of Assault on Precinct 13 is a competent B-action movie that channels bits of 80s action flicks. For his part, Richet knows how to pace the shoot-outs to keep audiences engaged in what’s happening on screen. While it’s not inventive, the action is more than serviceable with at least a handful of edge-of-your-seat moments. What really holds this one back is a ‘been there, done that’ feeling that is admittedly words apart from what Carpenter accomplished. You just know who’s going to live and who’s going to die; even it if wasn’t a remake, you see where everything is headed long before it gets there.
No One Will Mistake It For the Original, But Assault On Precinct 13 is One of the Decade’s Better Remake Efforts
When it comes to 2000s remakes, you could do a lot worse than the 2005 Assault on Precinct 13 effort. In fact, this may be one of the better remakes to come out of that time period. Carpenter’s original thriller was a stripped down and raw illustration of inventive DIY filmmaking. Simply put, it’s a gem of a barebones action-thriller boasting one of Carpenter’s best scores. No remake was going to recapture lightning in a bottle. But once you accept that Richet’s remake can’t replicate what made the original special, it works quite well as a pulpy B-action movie. All of the performances are spot on and the action remains relentless once it picks up.