With Jeremy Saulnier’s merciless Green Room coming out this week, what better occasion to look back at one of the greatest siege films of all-time, by the master himself, John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13? Read on, and discover that what sets Carpenter’s classic apart from all that came after it isn’t just the relentless action, but the significance of the violence from the perspective of those perpetrating the brutal standoff.

When the local authorities ambush six members of the gang known as “Street Thunder”, the remaining members take a blood oath to avenge their fallen brethren with a no-holds-barred, deadly hunt. But this is no ordinary eye-for-an-eye revenge plot. This time, it’s an all-out war, and the police currently residing in Anderson Precinct aren’t just caught in the crosshairs—they’re the intended prey.

Many John Carpenter fans are quick to point out that his 1976 film, Assault on Precinct 13, is a commentary on ethnic prejudice, but the truth is, this war in the streets is less about the color of the gang members’ skin and more about the midnight blue uniforms sported by the men who persecute these kids in their own neighborhood.

These are poor boys from a rough Los Angeles ghetto known as Anderson, California, and they’re tired of the cops messing with them. They were born into this life and because of where they grew up and the people they hang out with, they feel that they were born with a target on their backs. In actuality, men of all skin tones make up this gang, because their plight isn’t about color, it’s about socioeconomic status.

Lieutenant Ethan Bishop whistles as he walks to his police car from his impressive West L.A. home, eager of what his first day on the job will bring. His hopes are quickly dashed when Captain Collins radios in and reports that Bishop is being temporarily reassigned for the evening to help supervise the nearly desolate and poverty-stricken Precinct 9, Division 13 jail in Anderson. With a disgruntled sigh, Bishop mounts his microphone and heads to Anderson, the place he once called home and has only recently escaped.

Meanwhile, in the grimy suburbs of the fading city, not far from the area Bishop is about to descend into, a very lost man named Lawson drives around with squinting eyes, trying to read street signs while asking his young daughter Kathy to rehearse a plea he’s written. Overwhelmingly obedient, little Kathy begins reciting while her father explains that once they find her Nanny’s house, they can ask her to come live with them and get her out of this detestable neighborhood. However, what Lawson fails to realize is that by entering the Anderson area, he and his daughter unknowingly barged onto Street Thunder’s turf, right in the midst of this savage hunt, thereby marking themselves as fair game.

While Lawson pulls over to use a pay phone to call their Nanny, little Kathy spots an ice cream truck and skips off to grab a cone while her father is preoccupied with directions. After purchasing a vanilla swirl, Kathy stops on her walk back to the car, realizing she was given the wrong flavor. She steps back up to the truck to point out the man’s mistake, but her bouncy blonde braids are met with the mouth of a silencer, as she is quickly and quietly shot dead on the lawn by a member of Street Thunder. Kathy is an innocent in this war, but by stepping into the confines of the Anderson zip code, she becomes the casualty of an increasingly violent schism between classes.

Lawson, too, is overcome by the power of the malicious acts that characterize this poor ghost town. Upon finding his only daughter shot dead in the grass, he looks up and catches the expiring ice cream man’s final words—a heads-up that his pistol is under the dash. Consumed with hate, Lawson grabs the gun and stalks the gang members’ charcoal car into the oncoming night. No longer caring what happens to him and set on vengeance, Lawson has become yet another pawn of poverty, no better than the gang members he hunts, as he gives in to his lesser instincts and engages in a mission that can only be defined as suicide.

At the same time, across town, Wells and Napoleon Wilson, two convicts on their way to death row, wind up making a pit stop at the Anderson county jail when a man onboard their transfer bus exhibits signs of a serious sickness that could infect the whole crew. It was supposed to be a temporary stop in their schedule, but when a traumatized Lawson sprints through the same jail doors sporting bloody clothes and stunned eyes, startling the supervising Bishop, who has only recently arrived, it becomes clear that these three parties are in for a very long night.

Lawson has just shot and killed the warlord of the Street Thunder gang, but he’s too shocked to tell anyone about it. He tailed the car responsible until they slowed to a halt, then leapt out like a madman and fired wildly until the man who took his daughter’s life lay cold and lifeless on the ground, just like her. Upon realizing what he’d done, Lawson took off to the nearest police station, but was pursued by the gang, who then set their sights on demolishing the isolated and quickly deteriorating jail.

Upon first glance, these dark and quiet streets may look serene, but a bloody crusade is boiling just beneath the surface. Just as in Howard Hawks’ 1959 Western, Rio Bravo, the skirmish soon turns into a standoff, with John T. Chance, aka Lieutenant Bishop, upon realizing that he’s in the middle of a siege, laying the groundwork for how to fight back. Rio Bravo may depict the rougher, more sinister side of the Wild West, but in today’s world, the roughest crimes are taking place down on the streets in the middle of the city. But whereas the West was dangerous because these duels took place in the middle of nowhere, the battles taking place on the city pavement aren’t unseen, just ignored. After all, why should the wealthy bother intervening when they can just let the lower class kill themselves off?

Director John Carpenter has mentioned in the past that Rio Bravo serves as an inspiration for his film, but the siege warfare isn’t the only component the two taut thrillers have in common. In Assault on Precinct 13, shortly after Lieutenant Bishop and the other Anderson jail occupants temporarily fend off the oncoming gang members, Street Thunder sends the squad a message. Two of the members walk up to the front of the police station with a bowl full of their blood. Without saying a word, the men smash the container on the ground, staining the cement with hot, thick crimson, and toss a flag containing various symbols onto the ground next to the spreading puddle. Bishop utters, “I think we’ve just been marked for something,” but he has no idea how deep this petrifying symbolism truly goes.

Wells, a man who entered the jail a prisoner and quickly becomes an ally once shots are fired, explains to the group that this image represents “The Cholo”, a blood ritual that translates as “to the death.” Basically, the Street Thunder gang is communicating to the squad that they won’t stop until every single person in that puny jail is dead. The gang members don’t care what happens to them, so long as they take as many cops with them as possible.

Similarly, in Rio Bravo, Nathan, a member of the local Burdette gang and brother to the man Sheriff John T. Chance has locked up in his jail, orders the band in the saloon to play a song called “El Degüello”, or “The Cutthroat Song.” This melody has characterized Mexican war cries for many years, and means pretty much the exact same thing as The Cholo: no mercy, no quarter given to the enemy, and above all, no survivors.

To add even more historical significance to this intimidating message, this fight song dates all the way back to the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, when Mexican troops in the Texas Revolution raised a blood-red flag and played El Degüello, as ordered by General Antonio López de Santa Anna, while they attacked the Texians in a surprise suicide raid shortly before claiming victory over their dwindling enemy. Strangely enough, one of John Carpenter’s original titles for his siege film was The Anderson Alamo.

However, while the Alamo was a battle over territory, Assault on Precinct 13 is about economic status. It’s not that it plays on whites’ fears necessarily, as some in the past have pointed out, but more on the fears of the wealthy. Nothing terrifies the upper class more than the notion of revolt by the working class once they decide that they’ve finally had all they can stand, and revert back to centuries-old war tactics to achieve their blood-stained goal. In the end, this symbolic combat is just trading a territorial revolution for that of a long-awaited class upheaval.

Living conditions aren’t indicative of color, and this gang, consisting of white men, black men, and more, is firing back on the caste system they’ve been assigned to since they were birthed into this impoverished existence.

In truth, just because their boys were cornered and fired upon by frustrated cops in the beginning of the film doesn’t mean that the Street Thunder gang’s revenge is necessarily justified. These men aren’t exactly innocent. They aim their assault rifles at random, unaware citizens in the neighborhood as they drive by. They shoot a little girl looking for an ice cream cone. However, the poverty they were born into, mixed with the relentless persecution of their kind by the law, have combined to create these calloused characters. These men who can’t escape their class have become so inhumane that now they’re nothing more than desensitized soldiers with dead eyes, set on gunning down any person they perceive to be a threat in the streets—especially if that person happens to be wearing a uniform.

Although it’s only Carpenter’s second film, Assault on Precinct 13 remains one of, if not definitively, the most intense and influential siege films ever made. However, Green Room, set to hit L.A. and NYC theaters on April 15th and cinemas nationwide on April 29th, is one hell of a contender.