Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Deadbeat at Dawn (1988, Jim Van Bebber)

Deadbeat at Dawn (1988, directed by Jim Van Bebber)

Version reviewed: Uncut DVD from Dark Sky (part of the "Visions of Hell: The Films of Jim Van Bebber" collection). I also own the Synapse DVD, which featured a different transfer and an audio commentary from Jim and guests.

This is one of my favourite indie exploitation releases. How to describe it? It's a low budget, 16mm gritty, rock & roll, horror-flavoured, kung-fu, action fantasy. That's the best I can do. It's one of the most straightforward things Jim has ever directed and one of the best.

Van Bebber manages to make a film that's pretty serious but all in good fun at the same time. There's definetely some intense stuff in here, but it is pretty over the top and a little comic book-y at times, which makes it all more digestable.

Director Jim Van Bebber as Goose

Goose, leader of the Ravens, often takes part in gang-rucks with the Spiders which always end with violence, until his girlfriend begs him to leave it behind. Agreeing, they leave it behind and are happy, until Goose's lack of affiliance lets his girlfriend get killed. Beaten down, Goose grows facial hair as he ceases to care about the world. His father is now a massive junkie and his old gang have joined forces with the enemy to pull off a huge job. Recruited to help, Goose finds himself in a unique position to exact revenge and pull off some semblance of justice.

The story is engaging enough but it's the style of the piece you'll remember. The tone of the whole film is nihlist, but fun. Good company for it would include films like "Combat Shock", "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer", "Street Trash" and "Hardware". Films (for the most part) shot on 16mm, pretty much devoid of hope. "Deadbeat..." is probably a more lightweight film than any of the others I've offered, with the possible exception of "Street Trash". The mood of the film will change at any given moment - some of the film is intended as giddy action setpieces, other as bizarre and arty nihlism (such as the infamous scene where Goose 'buries' his girlfriend using a mechanical rubbish compactor). While inconsistant in this regard, it really does not matter. The big discovery in all of this is director Jim Van Bebber, who does such a fantastic job pacing and decorating his grim story, it's striking to think he also does a fairly good job as lead character Goose.

Looking at this movie, you might be expecting something as downbeat and gruelling as "Combat Shock" or even Van Bebber's own later "Manson Family". While there's a lot of nasty stuff here, it's nowhere near as depressing as those two films. Sure, Deadbeat's world is a bleak one, but it's no-message, hard-trash aestethic always has the audience's entertainment at heart.

It's also very funny in parts ("Give me your gun, grandma!").

As far as I know, this movie is still (ridiculously) banned in the UK. I think this is for two reasons - one, lots of gory nunchuck violence in this one, and we all know how the BBFC hates nunchucks for no good reason, and two, it involves (and doesn't condescend to the audience so much as to denounce) gang-violence, something the BBFC and Mediawatch are terrified for people to imitate. This is true especially of Deadbeat at Dawn, who's stunts are not sophisticated - usually the person is actually doing the things you see in the film - the hero jumping off buildings, getting dragged down and alley by a car as a wall wears away his leather jacket. It's a great looking indie release.

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