John Carpenter's follow-up to his quirky Dark Star is this brilliantly economical urban horror story.
A rough reworking of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo, it tells the story of a disparate group thrown together in a terrifying crisis. At the film's heart is the Hawksian staple - the two guys and a girl.
Austin Stoker is Bishop, a black police lieutenant given the job of looking after an LA precinct on the eve of its closure. Darwin Jostin plays the tough con on his way to Death Row, who is forced to take refuge in the building. Laurie Zimmer is the brassy, resourceful woman who treats the two men with equal respect. Together they face the peril of a heavily armed, multi-racial gang bent on revenge against cops.
Carpenter reveals his admiration for Hitchcock as well as Hawks, creating a taut little masterpiece of a thriller. The tension is sustained throughout, aided by the director's own minimalist synthesizer score and the inspired idea of having the gang use silencers on their guns, rendering their relentless assault eerily quiet.
This makes you nostalgic for the time when you would have bet confidently that Carpenter was embarking on what would surely be a long and lucrative career as a top Hollywood director.