Deadbeat At Dawn

Deadbeat At Dawn (1988)
Synapse Films
Cast: Paul Harper, Jim Van Bebber
Extras: Audio Commentary, Filmography, “Chunkblower” promo, Skinny Puppy Video Outtakes, Short Film

You may have read reports on the Internet recently regarding the controversy over the ’Deadbeat at Dawn’ DVD, and the accusations/threats made by director Jim Van Bebber against Synapse Films president Don May, Jr. Well, after viewing the DVD, I’m still trying to figure out what all of the fuss is about, with both the film and the DVD.

’Deadbeat at Dawn’ tells the story of Goose (played by writer/director Van Bebber). Goose is just your average gang-leader who enjoys selling drugs and having knife-figths with rival gangs in the local cemetery. But, when his girlfriend Christy (Megan Murphy) threatens to leave him, Goose decides to quit the gang and try to lead a more normal life. When Goose goes out for one final drug deal, members of the rival gang break in and kill Christy. After finding her corpse, Goose throws it in the trash compactor (ah, young love) and moves in with his junkie father to plot his revenge. Goose then forms a plan to kill his enemies and get enough money to start over.

Van Bebber definitely shows a flair for action filmmaking. Despite the obvious low-budget, ’Deadbeat at Dawn’ has some wonderful stuntwork (coordinated by Van Bebber) and fight scenes. Van Bebber also shows that he’s no slouch with the camera, give the film a kinetic energy, that is only undone by some occasionally sloppy editing.
However, the story and tone of the film leave much to be desired. The whole ’gang/revenge’ plot is far from original and none of the characters are likable. The film presents us with unappealing characters doing despicable things and I found it very hard to become engaged in the story. While it’s obvious that the ’over the top’ antics in the film aren’t to be taken seriously, Van Bebber plays it all straight, making some of the scenes come off as silly.

The Synapse DVD of ’Deadbeat at Dawn’ offers a new transfer and several extras. The film transfer is full-frame and was created from the original 16mm A/B roll negatives of the film. As with any 16mm digital transfer, there is some grain at times, but for the most part, the image is clear. The digital transfer does reveal some flaws in the source print, but no major ones. The color balancing appears to be accurate and image is never dark. The audio mix on the DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono, which offers clear sound, but with little depth or range.

The DVD features an audio commentary with writer/director/star Jim Van Bebber and producer Mike King. They discuss the origins of the film and the challenges of low-budget filmmaking. Van Bebber’s short film ’My Sweet Satan’ is also featured on the DVD. There is a music video for the band Skinny Puppy, which was directed by Van Bebber (and having been shot on 35mm film, looks very good). There are outtakes from ’Deadbeat at Dawn’ and a filmography for Van Bebber. There is also a trailer for the as of yet unproduced film ’Chunkblower’, which was written by horror-film critic Chas. Balun and was to be directed by Van Bebber, but never materialized.

After viewing the ’Deadbeat at Dawn’ DVD, I fail to see why anyone involved with the film should have any complaints as Synapse Films has created a very nice DVD package. But, I also fail to see why this film is considered a cult-classic. It did nothing for me.