Posted October 22, 2018 by Chris Hick in Film Reviews

Deadbeat at Dawn (1988) Blu-ray Review

Forget West Side Story. This is not the Jets against the Sharks, but The Ravens against The Spiders. It’s a very grungy lo-fi film about gang warfare that makes The Warriors (1977) and The Wanderers (1979) seem like the most polished of films. Yet Deadbeat at Dawn (1988), a grungy grindhouse and violent urban gangland drama made by Jim Van Bebber, who’s first film this was is an in-your-face piece of action. Not that his films made much impact beyond the grindhouse other than his largely well received true crime film, The Manson Family (2007) based off the Tate murders by Charles Manson and his Family, a film that took many years to make.

Van Bebber was studying cinema at Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio when he used a student bank loan intended for his studies to finance Deadbeat at Dawn. Needless to say the film does have a limited cult appeal, but hardly a broad one. The film is set in Dayton, Ohio and centres on Goose (played by Van Bebber himself) who is leader of The Ravens gang and is in a relationship with Christie (well, after he tried to rape her in a car before a passing policeman spoils his fun. Christie is into mysticism and reading the Ouija board. She convinces Goose to give up the gang life, but no sooner has she convinced him, he changes his ways when the leader of The Spiders, the psychotic misogynistic Danny breaks into Goose and Christie’s apartment and violently murders her. After he discovers that she been murdered by The Spiders, Goose goes to his heroin addicted Vietnam veteran father where he falls out with his junkie father too. Goose plots his violent revenge on Danny and The Spiders, or as the poster stated: “He quit the gangs, they killed his girl, he became deadbeat at dawn”.

Van Bebber’s passion and commitment for making this film is clear and evident. The overall look and narrative, and even the violence looks something like a 1970s Japanese yakuza film; it is exaggerated, bloody and over the top with something of the horror splatter film look to it. But it is raw. This is best played out in the final showdown between Goose and Danny and his gang on a train platform and sidings, ending with a fight on and in a car. It is classic grindhouse and as is mentioned in the feature length look at this film by one guy in a Dayton video shop that you could be forgiven from thinking you renting a cheap VHS horror film, but is in fact a grungy, what Sam Raimi terms as a punk gang film. Another commentator refers to Van Bebber’s films as being like a G. G. Allin song. Appropriate. Whichever, this is most definitely a cinematic equivalent of Thrash Metal.

Released on Arrow Video, the film has a great feature length documentary drawing on and interviewing those who were involved with the film, both recent and historic interviews, as well as covering views and impressions of Van Bebber. There are also a series of outakes, metal music videos, stills and some of Van Bebber’s short films.

Chris Hick

Chris Hick