The 1988 film Deadbeat At Dawn is one of the best examples of an independent, passion project film you will ever see. Taking years to complete, it is the product of Jim Van Bebber who also happens to be the writer, director, editor, and star of the film.
The story takes place in Dayton, Ohio in the 1980s and concerns “Goose”, played by Van Bebber, the leader of a local gang called The Ravens. His gang is always into it with the rival gang, The Spiders. Violent street fights between them are always taking place. Goose’s girlfriend wants him to stop as she fears he isn’t going to be walking the streets much longer in this line of work.
Goose decides to quit the street gang life and settle down in the much safer occupation of drug dealer long enough to get enough greenbacks to take himself and his girlfriend out of their life of poverty.
While he is out making a drug deal a couple of the spiders break into their house and play a round of golf using Goose’s girl as the fairway. Goose comes home to what’s left of his beloved and doesn’t take it too well.
After dropping her into a garbage compactor, he slides into suicidal depression. Getting into a fit with his nutcase Dad, gets drunk and kicked out of a bar. Finally he ends up in an alley while a crack head laughs at him and encourages him to shoot himself.
Goose is brought out of his suicidal slide into depression by some of his old gang members telling him that the spiders want to put aside their differences long enough to pull off a huge robbery. They pull off the robbery and meet back together at a place that turns out to be a trap. All of the ravens are killed except Goose who expected as much.
He gets away from the ambush and manages to make off with all the ill-gotten gains. Goose intends to give the money to his dead girl’s sister and take his revenge on the rival gang. The explosive, action-packed ending takes place right on the dirty, sleazy streets of Dayton and will make you wonder if the film inspired 80s and 90s video games like Double Dragon.
What follows is a masterpiece in gritty, sleazy, low-budget, bloody violence and it is magnificent. With what appears to be about 12 bucks of budget, Van Bebber and his crew pull off a miracle.
Deadbeat At Dawn was not easy to find for a long time. Synapse released a DVD of it several years ago which I paid 40 Yankee greenbacks for. Luckily back in 2019 Arrow gave it the attention it deserves and released it on Blu-Ray.
Deadbeat At Dawn is a triumph of small-time indie filmmaking and despite its low budget, it is a masterpiece. It was made at a time before irony and meta bullshit took over. It has the two things that make exploitation films great – heart and earnestness.
I recommend it to everyone if you like blood-soaked, action-exploitation films. If you fancy yourself a filmmaker or you want to be, you will really appreciate what was pulled off with this movie.