Two years before HALLOWEEN came out, John Carpenter made this crafty low-budget suspenser about a handful of cops & convicts holding out against a nihilistic gang of L.A. cutthroats in a nearly abandoned police station. Self-described as an homage to Howard Hawks’ similarly plotted RIO BRAVO/’59, Carpenter is all thumbs in the first half, dutifully setting up his situation with stiff staging, bad acting & bursts of giggle-worthy violence. But once he locks us inside the station house, and the gang starts bearing down like real-life zombies, the whole little contraption kicks into gear. Even Carpenter’s minimalist music starts thumping to life. Which is more than can be said for his attempt at making a Hawksian gal pal out of Laurie Zimmer who ambles about and talks low & slow to little effect. (Without the censorship restrictions imposed by the old Production Code, this kind of indirect messaging just looks silly.) Better is Darwin Joston who shows real promise (never fulfilled) as the convict whose trip to Death Row gets interrupted for some unexpected heroics. The new IMAGE-DVD transfer has the film looking better than ever, but keep the budget in mind to help explain some of the crudities and story ellipses.
DOUBLE-BILL: Take Carpenter’s advice and watch this along with RIO BRAVO. You can really see how he made Zimmer play her role like Angie Dickinson. Let’s see, that puts Austin Stoker in the Duke Wayne slot (with a touch of Ricky Nelson when he whistles), and Darwin Joston has the Dean Martin part. So who the heck is supposed to be Walter Brennan?
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Carpenter does a nice director’s audio track, but they didn’t run the film soundtrack under him which robs many of his comments of their point. Dumb.