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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/7/99

Deadbeat at Dawn
Collector's Edition - 1988 (1999) - Synapse Films

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Deadbeat at Dawn: Special Edition Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B-/A

Specs and Features

80 mins, NR, full screen (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, commentary track (with writer/director/star Jim Van Bebber, producer/DP Michael King, British cult film distributor David Gregory, and star Marc Pitman), complete filmography, outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage (without sound), shorts Chunkblower &My Sweet Satan (with hidden commentary by Van Bebber and others), hidden Skinny Puppy video for Spasmolytic and a commercial for Skinny Puppy's Remix Dystemper album, film-themed menu screens, scene access: (22 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

Where can I start? Deadbeat at Dawn is just one of those movies. Do you know what I'm saying? It's got spunk, personality and something people in film school refer to as, "that certain I don't know what." It's a cult movie of the highest pedigree -- it cost about $1.50 to make, using a 16mm camera, firecrackers, paint for blood and a very brave man by the name of Jim Van Bebber.

Van Bebber is a crazy man. Now, I'm not saying that based on any mental condition or anything I know about him. And as much as I would like to be able to claim I've meet him, I haven't. I say that he's crazy, because the guy actually jumped off a bridge to get a shot. He repelled down the side of a huge car garage, just because he thought it would look pretty righteous. He even threw ninja stars at his cast, thinking that it would look cool, and they could jump out of the way quickly enough not to get hit. Van Bebber seems like a guy who would do just about anything in the name of film. And judging by this film, he has.

Deadbeat at Dawn is the tender story of an alienated drug dealer/gang leader named Goose. Goose (naturally played by Van Bebber) loves his girl. She's what some would call a witch (but Van Bebber would rather you call her an "occultist"). There's young love in the air, and all the girl really wants is Goose out of the gang he leads, after a pretty hardcore battle in a cemetery against a rival gang (which is lead by Danny, a guy who likes Halloween masks as much as he like hitting women). After the fight, there's no real question about who is good and who is bad in this story. As anti-heroically flawed as Goose is, he's still a more moral guy than that Danny fellow, with his bad attitude and even badder 80's mustache. One day, Goose's woman finally tells him that she thinks his lifestyle needs a change, and after a bit of thought, a kung fu training session in a graveyard and a little felony, he decides she's right. So off they go into the woods for a session of lovemaking, which happens on a magic blanket (I say that because they didn't have it with them when they entered the woods - it seems to materialize out of thin air). Oh... and they smoke a little pot too. Hey, they're just two American kids doin' the best they can, right?

Goose eventually approaches his fellow gang leader about his early retirement (in a scene that might have influenced Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs -- the whole "Mr. Orange learns how to tell a story" scene looks way too similar to this). He's told that the two gangs are joining forces. This pisses him off, but hey -- he's getting out, so what does he care? He later goes off to sell a bag of crank to some middle-aged businessman, padlocking his woman into their basement apartment (which in a strange twist of film continuity, is on the top floor of an abandoned building). He does this for her safety one would imagine, except he padlocks her IN from the OUTSIDE - go figure. When he gets back home, he's shocked to discover that a couple of goons sent by Danny have masterminded their way into his apartment (the lock was battered off with golf clubs), and gutted and crushed his woman. Goose sheds a few tears, throws a nice little funeral and then inters his girlfriend in a dumpster. No muss, no fuss. Only "a few weeks later" does he get mad, and whips whole can of whoopass revenge.

It might sound as if I've given the whole plot away, but believe it or not, Deadbeat at Dawn really just begins at that point. And though it won't win any acting awards, it's a very impressive film from an unknown filmmaker from Dayton, Ohio. Van Bebber and his DP Mike King know what they are doing -- every flaw you can find in this film may be a piece of clever filmmaking... or it may be a shoestring budget defect. Either way it doesn't matter, because Deadbeat at Dead is a stroke of genius. Shot to look like one of those thousands of Easy Rider AIP biker flick clones, Deadbeat at Dawn works. I seriously thought the film was shot in the late 70's, and when I found out that it was shot over a period of years between 1986 and 1988, I was shocked. Kaleidoscope transitions, hairs in the print, over-saturated red lighting -- everything you see makes this seem like the greatest AIP film never made. You won't believe that Van Bebber and company had no budget for stunts, makeup or special effects. And when you hear how they did some of the things they did, you'll be just as shocked as I was.

Synapse does good work, no doubt about it. And this DVD edition of Deadbeat is no exception. This is the best you'll ever see this film looking. If you keep in mind that it's a 16mm film, that was stored in some guy's closet, when you see what they did with the DVD, you'll be quite happy. Most of the grain is apparent in the transfer, adding to the whole AIP feel of the film. If you held this up to the video bootleg version of this film that many film fans have on their shelves, there's no comparison. The colors are bright, the blacks are solid, and the image is generally crystal clear. Some of the indoor shots show more grain than the outdoor stuff, but that's to be expected. Sound-wise, you also have to keep in mind the budget of the original film, and they way it was shot. There are only a few problem spots, but they are not the fault of the DVD. If someone yells their dialogue into a mic, you're just going to get distortion. For what this movie is, you really couldn't ask for a better presentation. Everyone who loves this film owes those who worked on this disc a debt of thanks.

Let's jump into the special edition materials. The Van Bebber filmography features just about every film he ever made, starting from back when he was a kid, up until his most recent unreleased epic (Charlie's Family). This list of titles includes something I really want to see, entitled The Evil Guy Who Kills People. That has GOT to rock. Of his shorts, included on this disc you will find an unrealized pitch trailer for a film called Chunkblower. If you had any question about Van Bebber's abilities as a filmmaker, you won't after you see this trailer -- this guy needs to find money and start making movies on a regular basis, like, today. Another impressive entry is a short called My Sweet Satan, about a violent crime committed by a teen (played by Van Bebber -- yes, that's him). If you have the stomach for it, it's a very interesting short to watch, and it shows how far Van Bebber and crew have come since 1988 (My Sweet Satan was shot in 1992).

Along with the shorts are a series of commentary tracks, including one on the film with Van Bebber, King, a British film distributor that tried to get the film released in the UK (unsuccessfully) and the actor who played Bonecrusher. The track is edited, so there are no gaps, but they cram a lot of information in there. These guys are just crazy, and when you hear what it took to make this flick, you won't know what to think. There are also commentary tracks on the two shorts, and some outtakes presented without any sound. And if you have the where-with-all, you might find a hidden video on this disc that Van Bebber directed for Skinny Puppy. It's weird, man.

Deadbeat at Dawn on DVD is an interesting gift from Synapse. Genre fans know what I'm talking about, when I say that this is something you just have to see for yourself. If you like fun flicks, you'll really enjoy this. Van Bebber is a talented guy, and it's a damn shame that more people don't know about him. He has style that blows most big budget newcomers out of the water. I can't imagine what this guy would create with $25 million. But I can tell you that I'd be right there in line to see it, whatever it was.

Todd Doogan

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