Carpenter’s revamp and resurrection of Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead is undoubtedly one of the best films of the last 30 years, and unfortunately one of the most overlooked. With the recent remake, (still haven’t seen) hopefully more people will see this and recognise it as a modern classic. Low budget, unknown actors, tense, shocking and exciting, witty dialogue, shady characters, Assault is everything you would expect from a classic Carpenter film.
A group of criminals are being transported to another prison by armoured truck when one of them becomes seriously ill. They decide to stop at the local Police Station to lock up the prisoners and see if they can help the man. However, the Station they stop at is closing down and there is only one cop and a couple of secretaries inside. The prisoners are locked up, including Napolean Wilson- a notorious murderer, while the cops decide what to do. The power has been cut off, but people will be coming in the morning to finally close the place. Night has just fallen. Meanwhile a man in a frantic state runs into the station but won’t say what has happened, falling into a comatose state. The Station suddenly comes under attack, and looking outside it seems that hundreds of gang members with guns have started a war with the those inside. With no help and only a few weapons, the survivors- cop, criminals, secretaries must work together to stay alive, and perhaps try to find a way out.
The two male leads of Stoker as the cop, and Joston as Napolean are both brilliant in the roles, unknown faces adding the the sense of uncertainty. Joston delivers his few lines with cool and even though he is a bad guy, he naturally becomes our favourite character. Stoker tries to hold everything together as the law, but realises this will not work. Zimmer is also strong as Leigh, delivering her lines almost passively or vacantly, almost as if she isn’t there, but we sense the chemistry between her and Napolean. Burton, West, Cyphers and Loomis also do well in smaller parts, and all the cast deserved to go on to bigger parts. Carpenter creates massive tension again, the faceless enemy always outside, innumerable and even though there are cars going past and houses nearby, the gang is silent and deadly in their pursuit, ensuring that help will come. The guns with silencers are used to good effect, with papers spurting up into the air quietly meaning the cops sometimes do not even know they are being shot at.
The dialogue is minimal, every character has little to say as they all seem annoyed with each other, having to work together, dealing with the situation with no time for pointless chatter which fills other movies. The lighting adds to the tone, everything is shaded, we can only catch glimpses of the gang outside and in, and the score by Carpenter is another modern classic along with his Halloween theme. The deaths are both quiet and shocking- we don’t see what happens to Loomis, while the ice cream van part would have taken great bravery to even dream of filming- there hasn’t really been anything like it since. Once again Carpenter makes a brilliant film, and while he would soon go on to make bigger box-office smashes, this one stands on its own as the benchmark of low-budget film-making. Many directors try to create tension and fear throughout their careers, Carpenter could do it seemingly without effort.
Unfortunately for such an important film, the extras are awful. This deserves a commentary and interviews with cast and crew. It’s unlikely we’ll get a better version though, and as it is such a good film you just get it regardless.
Feel free to share your thoughts on the movie- is it your favourite Carpenter film, or haven’t you seen it yet?