Deadbeat at Dawn: Special Edition (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Nov 25, 2018
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Deadbeat at Dawn: Special Edition (Blu-ray Review)


Jim Van Bebber

Release Date(s)

1988 (October 23, 2018)


Smodeus Productions Inc./Synapse Films (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: C-
  • Video Grade: B
  • Audio Grade: B-
  • Extras Grade: B+

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Deadbeat at Dawn, written by, starring, and directed by Jim Van Bebber, is about two rival criminal gangs in Dayton, Ohio – the Ravens and the Spiders. Goose (Van Bebber), leader of the Ravens, is content with his macho swagger, showing off his skill with nunchucks, and stealing motorcycles. His girlfriend, Christy (Megan Murphy), is worried and urges him to leave the gang. Not wanting to lose Christy, Goose agrees.

Danny (Paul Harper), leader of the Spiders, isn’t about to accept Goose’s “retirement.” He orders Christy’s murder and makes sure Goose knows who’s responsible. Goose also discovers that the two gangs have called a temporary truce so they can collaborate on an armored car robbery.

This cult film is over the top at nearly every turn. The story is familiar but Van Bebber packs it with gruesome special effects and choreographed fights. By shooting much of the film in public places in and around Dayton, often without permission, he gives this low-budget movie fresh locations and the look of a much more expensive feature.

Acting is not Shakespearean caliber but the cast make up for it with enthusiasm. Van Bebber comes off best as the conflicted Goose, the kind of dumb bad boy a girl can fall for. He stages and performs his own stunts, many of which are really dangerous, for the sake of exciting moments. He rappels down a three-story parking garage, is dragged by a speeding car next to a brick wall, and jumps onto a moving freight train.

The film contains extreme violence, brutality towards women, angry soliloquies, nudity, a body thrown into a trash compactor, a drug-crazed Vietnam vet wielding a meat cleaver, decapitation, cocaine sniffing, bitten-off fingers, an open wound being stitched up, and blood spurting out of gunshot wounds. Dialogue is characterized by considerable rough language and macho pronouncements such as “I’m going to pull your eyeballs out of your head and eat ’em” and “that ain’t nothing compared to the rush you get when you’re killing someone... it’s power.”

Cinematography is very good, with many big scenes covered from multiple angles. Sound on the indoor scenes is echo-y, and several outdoor scenes are dubbed, probably to reduce ambient sound in noisy locales. It’s very difficult to make a feature film, especially one with such a large cast, elaborate fights, car stunts, intense special effects, and diverse locations. An extremely tight budget makes the job exponentially more difficult.

Clearly, Deadbeat at Dawn was a labor of love for Van Bebber. Though imperfect, the movie is exciting, fast-paced, and involving – traits even mainstream movies sometimes can’t achieve.

The high definition Blu-ray (1080p) release is a brand new 2K restoration from original film elements, supervised and approved by Jim Van Bebber. Aspect ratio is 1.37:1, audio is uncompressed English LPCM mono. The unrated film contains optional English subtitles. As in many recent Arrow releases, bonus materials are plentiful.

Deadbeat Forever – Writer/director Jim Van Bebber waxes poetic about film, noting that there’s “nothing like a celluloid print” in terms of clarity. The featurette is divided into three parts. Part 1 deals with Van Bebber’s initial attraction to making movies as a teenager. Part 2 features his short film White Trash and notes that Van Bebber dropped out of school and used his $10,000 educational loan to complete Deadbeat at Dawn. Part 3 deals with the making of Deadbeat at Dawn.

Behind-the-scenes documentary (1986) – This was shot by Nate Pennington on VHS during the making of the movie. It shows the staging of a fight scene and was slightly edited to accelerate the pace.

Outtakes – Transferred in HD, these are silent with no accompanying descriptive narration and show mostly fight scenes.

Four Jim Van Bebber short films – Made between 1983 and 2013, they are: Into the Black (with a new score by Nate Seacourt), My Sweet Satan, Roadkill: The Last Days of John Martin, and Gator Green.

Jim Van Bebber’s Music Video Collection – Never-before-seen director’s cuts featuring heavy metal music.

Chunk Blower – This is a promotional trailer for an unfinished Gary Blair-Smith produced gore film, with optional Jim Van Bebber audio commentary.

Audio commentary – The filming in Dayton, Ohio is discussed. Van Bebber talks about guerrilla filmmaking – shooting without permission and moving on before the police arrive. The cast and crew were thrown out of several area cemeteries, and filming at a parking garage prompted a “livid” reaction from the owner. An armored truck was rented for a key scene. The car scene involved 72 camera set-ups in 6 hours. Van Bebber got hurt when filming this dangerous scene. Some influences were Dirty Harry, Night of the Living Dead, James Bond movies, and martial arts flicks.

Also included is an image gallery containing never-before-seen stills and an insert booklet. The cover artwork by Peter Strain is new.

– Dennis Seuling