They say that there are only five or six stories in the world and thereafter, just different ways of telling them. During the composition of this review I was exposed to Mandy, in which Nicolas Cage goes on a rampage of revenge against the bad guys who killed his girl… a synopsis that hardly does justice to Panos Cosmatos’ astonishing vision but when you get right down to it, that’s what it’s all about. Jim Van Bebber’s Deadbeat At Dawn (1988) is nothing like as druggy a film as Mandy (though various comments in the supplementary materials suggest that a lot more drugs were consumed during its four-year production) and clearly made on a fraction of Mandy’s budget, but sure as goose shit, it follows (give or take a Cenobite biker or two) the same narrative arc.
As well as writing, directing, editing, choreographing fights, performing stunts and applying make-up (he probably knocked up lunch every day, too) Van Bebber stars as Goose, a prominent member of the Ravens, battling for turf against rival gang the Spiders on the mean street of Dayton, Ohio… the only trick JVB missed, perhaps, was not composing a couple of West Side Story-style numbers for the OST. When Goose’s girl Christy (Meghan Murphy) is offed by a Spider, he ransacks his arsenal of nunchakus, shurikens and manrikigurasis (you bet your ass James Ferman stamped all over this one when Dave Gregory and Carl Daft submitted it for home video release, back in the day) and we’re off, on a relentless gonzo adrenaline rush to a predictably bleak denouement.
Arrow have done a creditable job here of making a thirty year old 16mm effort look as good as its ever going to and the assembled array of impressive extras serve as a primer for any unwary aspirant regarding the level of dedication required of the zero budget auteur (Nat Pennington’s short VHS documentary records the day’s effort that went into a couple of set ups, only for a jammed camera to render all footage unusable). Van Bebber famously signed up for film school and absconded the moment his student loan arrived, utilising it to start shooting DAD. Plenty more colourful anecdotes emerge during Victor Bonacore’s Deadbeat Forever! documentary and the various commentary tracks. The participants all seem to be collaborators / friends / boosters of Van Bebber and sometimes you find yourself hoping for a more balanced, neutral view, though I guess enthusiasm is of the essence in this particular cinematic demi-monde. The long running Charlie’s Family saga is glossed over in favour of talking up JVB’s proposed Day Of The Deadbeat sequel.
Other extras include outtake footage that reveals one participant sporting an incongruous Moody Blues T-shirt, some rather jolly video promos that Jimbo shot for Pantera and others, a trailer for the so-far unrealised, Chas Balun scripted Chunkblower, chunks of another work-in-progress, Gator Green and restorations of Into The Black (1983), the Ed Gein “inspired” Roadkill (1994) and My Sweet Satan (1993), all with commentary tracks. The last-named title is probably Van Bebber’s best effort so far, a docudrama treatment of the real life Ricky Casso murder case that echoes Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge (1986) with its depiction of the nihilisitc milieu in which that crime unfolded.