• Deadbeat At Dawn (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: October 23rd, 2018.
    Director: Jim Van Bebber
    Cast: Paul Harper, Jim Van Bebber, Megan Murphy
    Year: 1988
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    Deadbeat At Dawn – Movie Review:

    In the late eighties, Jim Van Bebber took the loan that he was supposed to use to finish film school and instead used the money to make Deadbeat At Dawn, a cross between The Warriors and Combat Shock. Not only did he write, direct, and do the stunts for the film but he also stars in it as Goose, the leader of a street gang called The Ravens. Goose’s old lady Christy (Megan Murphy), a psychic, wants him out of the gang for good but before he quits he decides he’s going to pull off one last drug deal. Before all of this happens, however, his girlfriend is brutally beaten to death by a rival street gang called The Spiders.

    Understandably devastated by the murder, Goose decides he’s going to pay The Spiders back in kind and so he buries her body in a trash compactor and sets about plotting his revenge. After spending some time with his father, a junkie with problems of his own, Goose eventually hits the streets and wages a one-man war against the Spiders.

    While Deadbeat At Dawn might be a fairly typical action/revenge movie in terms of set up, plot and pacing what makes it interesting is that there’s such a fierce spirit behind it. Van Bebber is basically a one-man wrecking crew here, doing all of his own stunts and handling the fight choreography in addition to his directing and acting duties. You can tell that this was a deeply personal project for him because the guy really does give it his all. This enthusiasm and, some might say manic zest for cinema shows in every seedy frame of this scuzzy fucked up fight film. This is evident from the opening sequence in which Goose’s lady friend deals with her future to the blood-soaked finale in which our ‘hero’ goes balls out nutso on his enemies. In this finale, he uses every resource available to him to give them the fight of their lives.

    Ven Bebber and his cast might be a little on the wooden side in terms of acting here (something that would change with The Manson Family, where the cast is excellent all around in that regard) but they make it for it with drive and determination. A lot of the characters are very over-the-top, with bad guys like Bone Crusher, played by Marc Pitman, really coming across as larger than life but in this gritty piss-stained world that these characters inhabit, it works.

    The fights pack a serious punch (especially in that last brawl) and they deliver some serious hurt. Whatever shortcomings might be inherent in the acting and the storyline are more than compensated for by the right atmosphere, the wanton violence and the time capsule aspect of the film that captures seedier parts of Ohio at the height of their urban decay. Van Bebber couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop for this picture, the locations giving the film the same sort of vibe that worked so well in many of the NYC-shot films of the seventies and eighties (think Tenement or, again, Combat Shock).

    Deadbeat At Dawn – Blu-ray Review:

    Deadbeat At Dawn arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow with a transfer taken from a ‘brand new 2K restoration from original film elements by Arrow Films, supervised and approved by writer-director Jim Van Bebber.’ The image retains the proper 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio and is presented in AVC encoded 1080p on a 50GB disc and it’s a pretty massive upgrade over what we’ve seen in the past. Not only is there considerably stronger detail than previous DVD releases have provided but there’s much, much better color reproduction here. Black levels are now quite deep and the red blood really pops, without ever looking artificially boosted. Skin tones are nice and natural and there’s pretty solid texture here as well. This still looks like the low budget, 16mm production that it is, but the appreciably film-like presentation here is a very good one indeed. There are no noticeable compression artifacts to contend with nor is there any obvious edge enhancement. The prevalent film grain looks nice and natural here and you won’t notice any obvious noise reduction at all. There are some small white specks here and there but otherwise, the image is pretty clean all things considered. A great job from Arrow in the video department.

    The LPCM Mono track on the disc is understandably limited in range by the original elements, but it sounds fine. The score in particular sounds pretty good here, while dialogue remains easily discernable throughout. Levels are properly balanced and while there is some occasional sibilance there isn’t really any hiss or distortion to complain about. Optional English subtitles are provided for the feature.

    Deadbeat At Dawn includes some great extras starting off with a new audio commentary with Jim Van Bebber, Paul Harper and Cody Lee Hardin, moderated by filmmaker Victor Bonacore (who directed the Diary Of A Deadbeat: The Story Of Jim Van Bebber documentary. It’s a good track and while it seems like they’re all flying by the seat of their pants here, there’s a lot of information about the making of the film in here. They talk about locations, casting the picture, stunts, financing and quite a bit more.

    From there, check out Bonacore’s Jim Van Bebber, Deadbeat Forever! retrospective documentary on the history of the film and the man who made it. This eighty-minute piece features plenty of interviews with people who have known Van Bebber, some since his teenage years, as well as some great clips from a lot of very early projects he was involved in. Van Bebber himself is also interviewed pretty extensively here, offering up his typically blunt observations on his career and his best-known film. He also talks about his intentions to make a sequel. Interesting stuff.

    Arrow also throws in an eighteen-minute behind-the-scenes documentary shot in the late eighties by Nate Pennington. Taken from a VHS source, it’s a little rough looking in terms of quality but it’s interesting to see as it shows off what it was like on set and gives us some insight into how some of the fight scenes were staged.

    Also on hand is a selection of Van Bebber’s short films, each available with optional commentary tracks from the director that provide some welcome background and anecdotal information about each movie. First up is My Sweet Satan, Van Bebber’s nineteen-minute take on another notorious though far lesser known killing. The film tells the story of Ricky Kasso (played here by Van Bebber), the self-proclaimed ‘acid king’ of Long Island who wound up murdering a fellow teenager by the name of Gary Lauwers in the woods. Kasso, a supposed Satanist, takes his knife and basically carves up the unwitting Lauwers as a sacrifice to Satan and, when the film ends, winds up in an asylum where he kills himself two days later.

    From there? Roadkill: The Last Days Of Jon Martin. Made in 1994, the same year as My Sweet Satan, this gory fourteen-minute shot was made with the intention of getting investors interested in financing a full length feature version of the story. Mark Gillespie plays the titular Jon Martin, a cannibalistic serial killer who ‘helps’ out stranded highway travelers by picking them up, taking them home and butchering them. The little details in this one, like the masks of human skin hanging on the wall and piles of beer bottles on the floor make up for the fact that Gillespie spends a lot of time yelling at the TV. That said, the violence in this short hurts and its’ interesting to see Martin butcher his male and female victims with equal amounts of overzealousness.

    Into The Black is a thirty-five-minute feature that stars a very young Van Bebber as a dude in prison. We learn how he kicked a bunch of people in the face, swam across a river, got into some fights and out-toughed some bikers before wailing on some bad buys with nunchucks. Bad guys kidnap a girl and he runs out to save her and winds up in all kinds of trouble. Made in 1983, you can see the seeds of Deadbeat At Dawn starting to take footing in this ultra-violent and fast paced movie that, like its better known counterpart, finds Van Bebber doing a ton of crazy stunts and martial arts moves on a bunch of his friends.

    Also included with this release is Van Bebber’s latest short film, the sixteen-minute-long 16mm production entitled Gator Green. The story, set in the early seventies from the looks of things, revolves around a few deranged Vietnam vets lead by Van Bebber who operates a roadhouse shaped like a giant alligator somewhere in rural Florida. When their drug dealer comes by to sell them a bag of weed, Van Bebber’s character snaps and… well, we won’t spoil it here but doesn’t take rocket scientist to figure out that things go from bad to worse very quickly.

    The Jim VanBebber Music Video Collection section features previously unreleased director’s cut versions of videos for Pantera's Revolution Is My Name, Damien Storm's The Legend Of Damien Storm, and Superjoint Ritual's Fuck Your Enemy and The Alcoholik.

    Finishing off the extras is the Chunkblower promotional trailer with optional Van Bebber commentary, three-minutes of outtakes from Deadbeat, an excellent and very thorough selection of six separate still galleries, menus and chapter selection.

    Hardcore fans may want to note that previous DVD editions have included additional shorts not included here, a featurette called Deadbeat At Dawn: Half-Desperate, Half Crazy, And Totally Dangerous and an older commentary track also not included here.

    Deadbeat At Dawn – The Final Word:

    Deadbeat At Dawn is one of the finest micro-budget action films ever made. Van Bebber and his team aim pretty damn high with this and more often than not, they hit their mark. The film is fast paced, gritty and at times quite brutal, but it should easily please fans of action and revenge pictures. Arrow’s Blu-ray release doesn’t quite carry over all of the existing extras from past additions but it’s still a stacked disc and it offers a substantial improvement in the audio and video departments. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Deadbeat At Dawn Blu-ray screen caps!