Deadbeat at Dawn (1988) Review

Have you ever watched a horror film and thought “I could do better than that!” We all have but very few of us have the brains, budget, brilliance and sheer balls to do it. Jim Van Bebber has all four and his 1988 ultra-low budget gore filled film Deadbeat at Dawn proves how far they will take you.

30 years old this torrid tale of violent gang life, righteous vengence and urban decay still out does other action movies of the same period especially in the makeup and gore effects which see beaten bodies and wicked wound detail many movies would never deliver.

Written, directed and starring Jim Van Bebber, who quit film school after one year using his student loan to fund this movie instead, we are thrown into the world of Goose the leader of the Ravens who are caught up in constant brutal brawls with the Spiders a rival gang lead by Goose’s nemesis Danny (Paul Harper).

Little more than a violent thug no one has much love or hope for Goose save his girlfriend Christy (Megan Murphy) who is determined to get him out of the perilous life he leads before its too late. Succeeding in convincing Goose to fly free of the Ravens claws she is unaware that Danny has not only joined the gangs together but also plans an evil reckoning against his enemy that will tear him apart mentally and emotionally. Spiraling into depression and defeat Goose sees everything he cared about torn apart and vows he will have his revenge whatever the cost.

Blending The Warriors gang warfare with martial arts weapons and fights found in many action films around the same time all inspired by Bruce Lee and the influx of sensational Shaw Brothers Studio movies Deadbeat at Dawn innovates with its uncompromising uncovering of the squalor and sadness seeping into the city all around the characters.

The very real locations which like Mad Max may have been used out of necessity more than anything else end up adding a heightened realism to the film especially in the most shocking and serious scene of the movie when Goose visits his Father who is a mindless addict more concerned about his next hit than the loss his son has seen.

Deadbeat at Dawn contains some truly unhinged characters and performances all of which add to the anarchic atmosphere the film exudes. It is not a masterpiece by any means and the miniscule story, sketchy script and uneven acting constantly remind you you are watching something made on a shoestring. At times tragic, at times laughable the film puts all its attention into the action and it is here it excels even considering its limitations.

Reasonably well shot with some stunts that are on a larger scale than you may expect from an amateur filmmaker the fights are frequent and insanely gruesome. Limbs break, skin shreds and blood gushes from every orifice and if you like action it’s great.

80’s action fans unaware of this cult classic need to get their hands on it immediately as it combines everything they will love from the genre and the period. It is also a must have for anyone who needs inspiration in becoming a filmmaker as Deadbeat at Dawn proves not only can you do it yourself but it can look bloody great as well.

Movie Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

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