3 out of 5
Directed by: Jim Van Bebber
The commitment put toward making this no-budget, trashy actioner into something more than a trashy actioner, pushing at the confines of that no-budget by any means possible, is definitely what helps to elevate it, and nudge it into notable territory. Jim Van Bebber’s Deadbeat at Dawn would seem to be a fairly normal revenge tale – Bebber is Goose, leader of the gang The Ravens, and will presumably be triggered into an enemy-slaughtering rampage when his girlfriend (Megan Murphy) is offed by a rival gang – but while it starts to head down that route, it takes an odd detour: we meet Goose’s drug-addicted father; we see Goose descend into a drunken depression; and Goose’s ire seems to be curved by rejoining with his gang, but now as a low-level thug for a bank robbery. None of this is effected in any real soul-searching way, mind you, but it gives some context to Goose’s character, which makes the film’s “progression” a bit more sensible – seeing as how we meet Goose calling his girlfriend trash, and then a scene later professing love for her; he’s an unstable dude, and we’re not especially supposed to see him as a cool, Death Wish-style revenger, but instead, as per that title, a deadbeat.
Meanwhile, though, you’ve got exploitation notes all over this thing, with lots of extreme violence and spraying blood, and a generally nasty look and feel to the whole thing, shot (I’d assume) on some derelict streets in Dayton, where it takes place. Bebber, editing with cinematographer Michael King, gives the flick a pretty competent look, though, with motivated camera angles and cuts that make the gore suggestive without having to have the makeup to actually show it, and an inventive use of a kaleidoscope for transitions, adding to the oddly beat vibe of the movie. Plus, pretty sure that’s Bebber dying for his art as a stuntman throughout, falling off tables and running from cars a foot away from him. And was that snake real? Probably.
Deadbeat at Dawn is like an 80s action flick, as told by someone with a love for horror and icky exploitation films like Street Trash, but inspired to try to provide a somewhat serious story through all of those influences. It’s weird. It’s schlocky, but not bad. I’m also not sure if it’s good, but it’s definitely something, and that something keeps you watching while it’s on, keeping track of how many times Bebber does karate kicks and spits blood throughout.