Cine-File contributor Kevin B. Lee reviews “Assault on Precinct 13” playing this week at Doc Films

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John Carpenter’s second feature is often cited as an object lesson in tight, tense low-budget action filmmaking, but Carpenter admitted to extending shots and scenes in order to fill a bare-bones scenario to feature length. Whether by design or necessity, the laid-back exposition generates a seductive air of fateful, impending doom. Viewers may not even notice the deliberate pace due to Carpenter’s irresistibly cheesy and astoundingly effective synth score that pumps tension through a simple five note melody or a haunting hanging chord. Carpenter’s use of expansive ‘Scope frames would seem antithetical to shoestring filming, but it suits the horizontal Southern California expanse: a wild frontier of suburban decay where an ice cream truck in broad daylight can be the site of horrific violence, igniting the film with dread over unlimited possibilities of mayhem. The ensuing climactic shootout of marauding villains fulfills that promise, less in its own right than in the decades of action movie climaxes and video games that followed its explosive precedent.

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