Deadbeat at Dawn
directed by Jim VanBebber
starring Jim VanBebber, Paul Harper, Megan Murphy
Goose (Jim VanBebber) is the martial arts practicing leader of a street gangs called the Ravens. The Ravens are in a turf war with rival gang called the Spiders for control over the mean streets of Dayton, Ohio. Goose’s Wiccan girlfriend Christie wants him to quit the gang life and settle down with her. He quits the Ravens and heads out for one last score to make a nest egg for their new life. While he is making his final drug deal an amyl nitrate popping Spiders thug called Bonecrusher (Marc Pittman), who in his own words is “The baddest mother fucker you ever saw”, beats Christie to death with a fireplace poker. Despondent over her murder Goose Goose disposes of her body and waits for his chance for vengeance.
Without protection from his gang and nowhere else to go Goose moves back in with his paranoid, Vietnam vet, father. Dad is prone to violet outbursts when his isn’t shooting heroin into his foot. When the opportunity presents itself, Goose unleashes his fury on the Spiders with throwing knives, nunchaku, and kenpo karate in a glorious, grindhouse bloodbath of brutality and gore.
Deadbeat at Dawn is a micro-budget film that was literally financed with VanBebber’s student loan intended for his second year at Wright State. Made at the time Cannon films and Troma were ramping up the intentional cheese factor in low budget moviemaking Van Berber went for earnest nihilism. The bleak atmosphere would have felt more at place in the mid to late 1970s than the late 1980s. Deadbeat at Dawn doesn’t fall into the so bad it’s good category. It is surprising how good it is considering the utter amateur nature of the production. Sure there are some giggle moments but VanBebber creates a great deal of grimy atmosphere in his dystopian view of small city America that is difficult to turn away from. There are some actual directorial flourishes plus the gore effects and fight choreography are surprisingly effective. The fact it is coming from a green director with no resources it is even more impressive. There is a jaw dropping stunt with VanBebber hanging from the side of a moving car that sideswipes a wall in an effort to dislodge him. The stunt would have been impressive in a Hollywood film much less a production that is essentially a student film. The film has an outsider ’70s aesthetic with lots of handheld camera and guerrilla filmmaking tactics.
Arrow Video does an admirable job presenting the film as the source material couldn’t have been great to begin with. The movie looks good in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The transfer is clean with soft grain and some hot highlights that are indicative of late ’80s low budget filmmaking shot on stock intended for news work. The Blu-ray adds an audio commentary with Jim VanBebber, Paul Harper & Cody Lee Hardin, moderated by Victor Bonacore, who’s documentary about VanBebber is included as an extra. The commentary is freewheeling and fun as they reminisce and discuss the films roots and production. Brian DePalma’s Scarface, Fangoria magazine, Billy Jack, and even the Cliff Robertson film Charly are cited as influences. They worked without permits, often without permission, and the extras in the film are just people who happened to be on the street during filming. The disc also manages to work in four VanBebber shorts, outtakes, and more. It is Criterion Collection level effort on a tiny, mostly forgotten gore movie.