Sunday, March 10, 2013

Deadbeat at Dawn (Jim Van Bebber, 1988)

When you think of the all great synth flourishes that have occurred throughout the history of modern cinema, the sight of Gene Davis stalking the rooftops of Los Angeles in 10 to Midnight and Joe Spinell lurking in the dark alleyways of New York City in Maniac are the two that immediately spring to mind. And it's no wonder, both films feature what I consider to be two of the most finely crafted synth flourishes ever created by human hands. Well, I think they're ready for some company, as the synthy goodness that accompanies Jim Van Bebber, the writer, director, special makeup effects artist, editor, stunt coordinator, and star of Deadbeat at Dawn, as he plays around with his nunchucks in a Dayton, Ohio cemetery is definitely a worthy addition to the pantheon of great synth flourishes. Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. You're putting the synth flourish that occurs in a Dayton graveyard on the list of great cinematic synth flourishes, a list that includes synth flourishes that transpire in films that take place in Los Angeles and New York City, is that what you're telling me? It looks that way. It would seem that everything Les Nessman, news director of WKRP, has said about Dayton over the years has been false. Apparently, and I was shocked to hear this just as much as you are, Dayton is not a place for a faint of heart. It just goes to show that you shouldn't believe everything an accident prone, fictional newsman has to say about cities in Ohio. Just ask, well, just about everyone who appears in this film, and they will tell you, living in the Day-to-the-T.O.N. isn't all it's cracked up to be. 
Rife with gangs, destitution, despair, and in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint, the Dayton depicted in Deadbeat at Dawn is a desolate, Dickensian dishrag, one that's been soaking in a giant vat of socioeconomic distress for ten days straight. In other words, no, actually those words, despite the mild alliteration abuse, are a pretty accurate when it comes to describing the Dayton that appears in this flick.
A singular vision, in that, it comes from the mind of just one man, Deadbeat at Dawn makes The Warriors look like an after school special. Again, I've never seen an actual after school special. But trusted sources tell me that, in this particular case, the idiom is quite apt. Anyway, why is it apt, you say? All right. I'll tell you why: The film is violent, gritty, no-nonsense cinema at its most visceral. And I feel I should emphasize the word "gritty," as the film is probably the grittiest thing I've seen in years.
After leaving a meeting with a fellow psychic, Christy (Megan Murphy)–a woman who is so proud of her mouth-watering thighs, she has torn her jeans in a manner that accentuates their scrumptiousness–is confronted on the street by Danny (Paul Harper), a mask enthusiast/lowlife who leads a gang of scumbags called The Spyders. Luckily for Christy, a cop comes by just in time (from the looks it, Danny was preparing to rape her before the cop came along). Unable to get his rape on. Hold up, "rape on"?!? What? No good? That's a horrible expression. Okay, uh. I got it. Unable to set in motion the loathsome events he had envisioned, Danny decides to have rough sex with his girlfriend instead.
I wonder if that's the main reason Goose (Jim Van Bebber), the leader of The Ravens, and Danny, who, like I said, leads The Spyders, don't get along so well. Yeah, I like that. Danny is jealous of Goose for having a sexy, cool, psychic girlfriend. I noticed you threw the word "cool" in there. Why not? I mean, how else would you describe a girlfriend who dutifully attends your rumbles? Did you see any other girlfriends at the cemetery rumble that kicks off Deadbeat at Dawn? No. But maybe all the other guys are gay. I guess. Either way, The Ravens and The Spyders face off with one another in a local cemetery.
At first, both their leaders confront each other with guns; Goose is carrying a rifle, while Danny is wielding a pistol. In order to keep their fight on the down-low, they decide to use knives instead. A brutal knife fight ensues, with both Goose and Danny getting cut up pretty bad. However, I'd say Goose was the one who came out on top.
Standing over his vanquished foe, Goose tells Danny, "fuck your noise." As he's saying that, a Spyder pulls a gun on Goose. Don't worry, though, Goose blows his hand off with a tiny pistol he had hidden in his jacket.
Proving that she's an even cooler girlfriend than I had previously imagined, Christy tends to Goose's wounds. That being said, after he's recovered, Christy starts to put pressure on Goose to leave The Ravens (not cool, Christy, not cool). Trying to make him wear this weird-looking cross necklace (a Wiccan cross, maybe?), Christy, who seems to be wearing a red sleeved blanket, seems extra determined to extricate Goose from the gang lifestyle. As expected, Goose resists her attempts to change him, and he refuses to wear the cross.
Frustrated, Goose heads over to the cemetery to clear his head. As he starts to play with his nunchuks, the synthy, Detroit techno-eque music of Ned Folkerth and Mike Pierry starts to percolate on the soundtrack.
When he gets back, Christy is still no mood for Goose's tough guy bullshit. You go, girl! Don't let this "fuck up" get you down. To the surprise of almost everyone, even Christy seems shocked, Goose decides, just like that, to leave The Ravens. According to Goose, what he and Christy have together is too special to ruin, especially over something as trivial as a street gang. To signify their love, we're treated to a romantic montage that reminded me of an ad for Wrangler jeans–you know, if their were trying to appeal exclusively to headbangers who collect ninja stars.
Breaking his ties with The Ravens, who are now being lead by Keith (Ric Walker)–who had the gall to make an alliance with The Spyders while Goose was frolicking in the woods–and making one final score (he sells some heroin to some local gangsters), things are looking up for Goose and Christy. In fact, I predict a long and fruitful relationship for the pair. Where's my knife? I wanna carve something into that tree over there.
   Goose + Christy - Together forever!   
Yay! That was one of the most heartwarming love stories ever captured on film. Roll credits. I said, roll credits. What do you mean there's forty minutes left? I don't understand. Wait. Why am I watching Danny talk to a guy called Bone Crusher? Oh, man. It looks like Danny has decided to target Goose. It would seem that Goose is now a marked man (being a member of The Ravens offered him a certain amount of protection). I guess the wedding plans will have to be put on hold.
I hope you understand, but I'd rather not go into much detail about what happens when Bone Crusher (Marc Pitman) pays Christy a visit when Goose is out selling drugs; I'm way too distraught. Let's just, forget it, I'd rather not say anything. When a guy called "Bone Crusher" shows up at your door, nine times out of ten, something messed up is about to occur. We get a taste of what Bone Crusher is all about when Marc Pitman delivers the misanthropic monologue to end all misanthropic monologues: "I hate people! I don't care! "I'm the baddest motherfucker you ever saw!"
On the road to rock bottom, Goose wanders aimlessly across the open air thrift store that is Dayton, Ohio. After a bizarre scene involving Goose's heroin-addicted father ("You took my last beer!"), Goose heads over to a local dive bar. Nursing a pitcher of beer, Goose is suddenly approached by a vision of loveliness named Iris (Maureen Allisse), a brunette goddess who knows all the angles. The type of woman who never has to pay for anything, Iris, using her slinky frame, which is sheathed in a super-tight zebra-print two piece number (a leather jacket and boots tie the rest of her ensemble together), tries to extract a free drink out of the disgraced former gang leader.
When she realizes that Goose is not worthy of her attention (he's got no money), she quickly moves on to someone else. As I watched her shake her zebra-print encased butt in the direction of another bar patron, it became clear to me that Iris knows exactly what she's doing.
Just as Goose was about to hit rock bottom, he's given a second chance. Invited to re-join the Ravens/Spyders (they want him to participate in an elaborate armoured car heist), Goose reluctantly agrees. While the heist itself goes relatively smoothly, the aftermath doesn't. After an act of  treachery decimates the ranks of The Ravens, Goose yet again has to fend for himself. Which culminates with a totally awesome brawl that takes place at a train station.
The word "gritty" can't be used enough to describe the atmosphere of Deadbeat at Dawn. Taking place in a world where almost everything is broken, Jim Van Bebber, who directed the music video for the Skinny Puppy song "Spasmolytic," simply points his camera and let's the decrepitness speak for itself. On the other hand, he also uses dream sequences and these kaleidoscopic intros thingies to give the proceedings a touch of the unreal. Gritty, gory, sexy (don't forget, Maureen Allisse is stunning in zebra-print), and surprisingly romantic, this is bleak, action-oriented exploitation at its best.
Oh, and it should go without saying, but Jim Van Bebber is a badass.

uploaded by brian15243


  1. This is a great review, and you've definitely captured the essence of this movie. I watched it over a year ago..even if the plot has faded from my mind, the atmosphere hasn't. There are times when you feel like you're watching documentary footage. Cartoonishly exaggerated doc footage, with some blood and gore thrown in.

  2. I lived in Columbus for a few years. Ohio is a bleak place.

    This looks awesome.

  3. @Dusty McGowan: Thanks, Dusty. Essence-capturing is my middle name. ;)

    @ido: I once spent the night in Toledo.

    Two of my favourite Winona Ryder movies take place in Ohio (Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael and Heathers).

  4. @yum-yum: I need to rewatch "Heathers." I only saw it once, and that was 15 years ago. God, I feel old now.

    I've never seen "Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael."

    I think I need to hunt down some Winona movies and pretend I'm young and the world is bright (in a dark kind of way) again.

  5. Just once?!? Yikes. ;)

    Let's just say I've seen it more than once. :D

    Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael was the first Winona Ryder movie I ever saw.

    Heathers takes place in Sherwood, Ohio; and Welcome Home in Cylde, Ohio.

  6. This movie has a scene where a man dressed as Elvis orders breakfast for himself and God.