Movie seasons come in waves. Movie moods come in waves. I'm not talking about summer being blockbuster season or the winter being awards bait. I'm talking about movies that make seasonal sense to watch during certain times of year.
I want to address the best summer movies. Movies that are about long days and about living for night.
Today's entry concerns John Carpenter's original ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 from 1973.
The original 1973 ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is the proto-zombie movie
The moment you learn this film was originally titled The Anderson Alamo, Assault on Precinct 13's plot requires little explanation.
A cop transfers to a new precinct. A prisoner-transport bus arrives to make use of their holding cells for the night. Then the building comes under fire from a local gang. The cops and criminals trapped inside must fight them off.
In structure, Assault on Precinct 13 is secretly a western genre-film set in the 1970s modern era. On only a $100,000 budget, the reasoning is clear. No need for vintage firearm props. No need for costumes or sets. Just a depressed concrete police precinct and low light.
So begins the drudgery of a hot night, integral to making the best summer movies.
This is perhaps the best zombie movie ever made because it has no zombies in it. When George Romero introduced Night of the Living Dead to a wide audience in 1968, zombie movies weren't gore and gun exercises yet. He injected some fantastic ironic humor and metaphors for the living dead in Dawn of the Dead in 1978, but that was five years after Assault.
By the time the 70s were over, any pretense for using zombie films as a tool to question how close our society was to bleeding edge was long gone. Assault had a lot to do with that.
Assault on Precinct 13 skips all those steps and escalates it directly to maximum violence. A little girl is executed gangland-style while buying ice cream in the first fifteen minutes. Bang. You've arrived.
You're arrested instantly by its plausability. There isn't a moment to breathe and have your neurons connect pathways to decide precisely who is a metaphor for what. Because of America's familiarity with the western genre, we know there's always a chance "a bad guy with a gun" or "a good guy with a gun" could show up anywhere, to use the terminology of 2016.
Assault is instantly arresting in its plausability. There are no supernatural forces or science fiction to play away the idea a hundred armed men could come in the night and open fire on a police station. It just happens. It's just revenge in motion.
The movie is a true, living American nightmare. There is no comedy. It's dead-serious and mean.
The movie clicks in with the endless summer nights-feeling found in earlier installments of the best summer movies series, such as The Warriors and Rear Window. Assault is living the violent nightmare Rear Window fears. Its Los Angeles violence is realer than the hyper-reality found in The Warriors dreamland New York.
Once again in our Best Summer Movies, you find the constant sleeplessness and sweat in Assault. The antagonistic Street Thunder gang is out for revenge after their members are ambushed by cops. You witness their motivation in the bizarre "cholo" blood ritual. After that, they're a gigantic, living mass of night, driven by the inexplicable.
The question is: why would they turn to violence so easily? The answer: for reasons you can't understand. You don't get to get them.
Where does the monster live? Nowhere.
The threat from the gang is enveloping and terrifying.
They're driven into constant violence. Believable, constant violence. A little girl COULD conceivably be killed in broad daylight. A gang of armed civilians COULD attack a police precinct, beseiging it for an entire night.
This is perhaps realer today than it was 43 years ago. I was uncertain if this movie should be featured in the series, considering the content, and the political landscape in America right now. It feels like it's all bad news in the summer time.
It's important to see things at their darkest. That's when you find your way through.
This is one of the best summer movies ever made.