Arrow Video: Deadbeat at Dawn (1988) - Reviewed

With renewed interest in mid-80s no-budget homegrown shockers such as Combat Shock, Street Trash, The Driller Killer, The Last House on the Left, Mad Foxes and Devil Story, it was only a matter of time before Jim VanBebber’s ultraviolent urban gang warfare film Deadbeat at Dawn rejoined the ranks thanks to the studious efforts of Arrow Video.  Somewhere between The Warriors and Class of 1984 with a fraction of those films’ respective budgets, this very do-it-yourself homemade endeavor shot on rough 16mm film over the course of four years by writer-director-star VanBebber is a gleefully over-the-top dose of outlandish ultraviolence and bloodletting. 

An exceedingly simple visceral exercise in madness and mayhem, this grimy, nasty little number chronicles the exploits of Goose (VanBebber), a brutal and ruthless gang leader armed with nun chucks and a shotgun who tries to go straight at the behest of his occultist girlfriend Christie (Megan Murphy).  Having been around the block numerous times before with the likes of Death Wish and the far classier Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, we know the protagonist’s hiatus from violence will only be brief and the rest of the picture is a gradual buildup in between his depressed drunken sauntering through the urban landscape amid junkies and drunks towards his inevitable thirst for revenge.

Not a film one needs to think too hard about while watching, Deadbeat at Dawn is basically a student film designed to unleash extreme hyperbolic and sometimes cartoonish ultraviolence and gore you’ll never seen in a polished mainstream film from the Hollywood system.  Acting of the misogynistic thugs, impoverished reprobates and leering creeps is serviceable at best though some performances from the cast members made up of friends and family are stronger than others.  Mainly though, this gritty underground shocker is mostly a check-your-brain-at-the-door compendium of VanBebber slicing and dicing his way through gang members with some death defying homegrown stunts that would make Sweet Sweetback’s Melvin Van Peebles blush. 

The most apt description one could give of this resurrected exploitation flick is that it is an unadulterated trashterpiece.  While I myself enjoyed the Hell out of it, this absurdly outlandishly violent thing is liable to turn most casual moviegoers off.  Fans of the trashterpiece theater, however, are likely to get a good swift kick out of Deadbeat at Dawn which as is leaves an impression on the viewer that’s hard to immediately shake.  There’s just something about clumsily rendered roundhouse kicks, heads being bashed in, throats being ripped out by bare hands, multiple stabbings and hands blown free of their fingers that makes fans of Troma-era gore fests giddy.  Deadbeat at Dawn won’t win any elite film accolades anytime soon but bloodthirsty hounds foaming at the mouth salivating for a chunk of fresh meat will find plenty to chew on with this certifiable gut cruncher.


- Andrew Kotwicki