Archive for July, 2013

Deadbeat At Dawn!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2013 by Brain Hammer

He quit the gangs. They killed his girl. He became…

DEADBEAT AT DAWN (1988)

Goose (Jim VanBebber) is the crank snortin’ and kung fu fightin’ leader of the notorious street gang the Ravens. Goose and the Ravens got beef with a rival gang called the Spiders and their punk ass leader Danny in particular. Goose warns the scumfucks to stay off his turf, but they refuse to listen. The gangs have a showdown in a graveyard and Goose and Danny both end up badly wounded in a knife fight and swearing bloody revenge. Goose takes shelter in the arms of his occultist girlfriend Christy, who stitches up his wounds and offers him a prophetic warning that death will be coming if he stays in the gang. Goose tries to ignore her warning, and Christy threatens to leave him if he doesn’t leave the gang.

Goose ultimately decides to quit the Ravens and start a new life with Christy somewhere outside of the city. He plans one last drug deal before leaving that will finance their happy future. Danny and the Spiders have other plans. Danny sends along his demented henchmen Stubbs and Bonecrusher to pay Christy a special visit. When Goose returns home from his dope deal he discovers Christy’s horribly mutilated corpse waiting for him. Overcome with grief, Goose tosses Christy’s disfigured dead body into an incinerator. He then spends some downtime making a drunken ass out of himself in a local dive, and pays an extended visit to his incredibly loud and annoying junkie father.

Goose eventually winds up back on the streets and at the mercy of his old pals in the Ravens. His old gang now has a new leader named Keith, and Keith is planning on teaming up with Danny and the Spiders for a big time armored car robbery. The gangs both force Goose to participate, and he vows to rip out Danny’s fucking throat in return. The robbery predictably turns into a deadly double cross and then degenerates into a total bloodbath. Goose barely survives the shootout and winds up on the run from the law while seeking his final revenge on Danny. He quit the gangs. They killed his girl. He became DEADBEAT AT DAWN.

DEADBEAT AT DAWN has the sad distinction of being an almost perfect low budget drive-in film that came out at the exact moment when the drive-in era was dying. In 1988, the days of grimy, independent action and horror flicks and the type of grimy, independent theaters and drive-ins that showcased them were quickly becoming a thing of the past. It didn’t help that Hollywood had a hard on for the sort of good looking, morally upright crusaders that would bust gangs of drug dealers instead of doing crank and planning robberies with them. Jim VanBebber is the type of badass filmmaker who follows his own path, regardless if that path is an easy one to follow, or if it eventually leads to mass appeal and fame and fortune. Much like “The Evil Dead,” and the other clas-sick DIY films that inspired it, “Deadbeat At Dawn” took a long time to be finished. It’s to Jim’s credit that he had the guts to keep the dream alive for three years while the perfect market for his film was disappearing.

DEADBEAT AT DAWN is an unbelievably tough little film. It looks like it came from the decade before it was actually released and it feels like it would be been absolutely brutal to make. Jim not only wrote, directed, and edited the film, he also served as fight choreographer, special effects coordinator, and stunt man! The stunts in this film are nothing less than insane. There are at least two or three moments along the way that clearly defy death. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite moment, but the scene where Jim throws himself (no budget for stunt doubles) off a bridge certainly deserves a mention. The numerous fight scenes are also top notch. Jim VanBebber displays some really impressive fighting skills, and the epic final showdown between Goose and Danny is a highly choreographed display of power violence.

The storyline is the definition of highly effective action flick simplicity. It’s a classic 70′s kung fu tale of revenge and redemption. He quits the gangs, they kill his girl, the film gets padded a bit with a visit to Dad, and then Goose gets his bloody revenge and is ultimately redeemed by his final selfless act. My only minor complaint about the film would be the rather pointless scenes that feature Goose and his deranged and drug addicted father, but it’s obvious why they are there. The film clearly needed a boost in running time and it’s the only part of the film that stands out in a bad way and drags. The rest of the film is a non stop blast of action packed, good gory fun. This is one of my all time favorite action flicks and I have been singing it’s praises for years. It still amazes me that this flick isn’t more well known. Everyone needs to get hip to this one immediately. Independent filmmakers of today should really do themselves a favor and repeatedly watch this one while taking notes.

Dark Sky Films released an incredible box set in 2005 titled Visions Of Hell: The Films Of Jim VanBebber. This 4-disc collection includes Jim’s two feature length films “Deadbeat At Dawn” and “The Manson Family,” along with the short films “My Sweet Satan,” “Roadkill: The Last Days Of John Martin,” “Doper,” “Kata,” and “Into The Black.” I can’t recommend this collection highly enough. I think all of Jim’s films should be considered must-sees for fans of take no prisoners independent films. Take a quick look at your dvd collection. I’m willing to bet you own at least a couple mainstream action flicks that are total shit and you should be ashamed of yourself for not having “Visions Of Hell” instead. Buy or die!

KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

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Tourist Trap!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 16, 2013 by Brain Hammer

Every year young people disappear…

TOURIST TRAP (1979)

A group of five young people go traveling through the desert when one of their vehicles get sidelined with a flat tire. One of the youngsters – Woody, takes the tire and goes looking for a gas station. He manages to find one, but it appears to be deserted. Woody wanders around looking for help and discovers a room full of bizarre looking mannequins, that laugh maniacally and begin leaping out at him. Then to his horror; the door locks itself, the windows close themselves, and random objects including bottles and knives begin flying at him. In a panic he manages to break a hole in the door, but someone or something on the other side grabs his arm and pins him against the door. Then a large metal pole flies across the room and violently impales him.

When Woody doesn’t return, the other kids eventually decide to go looking for him. As they drive further down the highway they see a sign for a tatty “tourist trap” called Slausen’s Lost Oasis. The gang thinks that it must be where Woody had went for help and decide to go check it out. Then their jeep suddenly stalls and the headlights break. The sole male of the group – Jerry, stays behind to try to fix the jeep while the three girls decide to do the smart thing –  go skinny dipping in a nearby lake. That’s when they meet Mr. Slausen (Chuck Conners), the rifle toting proprietor of Slausen’s Lost Oasis.

Mr. Slausen thoughtfully offers to help the gang fix their jeep, and gives them a ride back to his house so he can fetch his tools. His “house” is actually a large old museum filled with western memorabilia and realistic looking wax dummies. Mr. Slausen explains that his business was ruined thanks to the new highway system (shades of “Psycho”) and that his wife had died, leaving him all alone. Even his brilliant artist brother Davey eventually left the Lost Oasis to take a job at a big wax museum in the city. Most of the kids are creeped out by the place, but one of the girls named Molly seems oddly interested in the story and sympathetic towards Mr. Slausen.

Slausen and Jerry leave the girls in the museum and go off in the middle of the night to repair the jeep. The girls wander around the museum marveling at how realistic the mannequins look and feel. One of more adventurous girls decides to check out the large house next door the museum. She quickly regrets it when she meets a maniac in a hideous looking mask that uses deadly powers of telekinesis to strangle her! The masked madman eventually captures the rest of the kids and ties them up in the basement.

The kids are forced to watch the monster suffocate another young girl with a face full of plaster. (“So pretty!“) Molly manages to escape the museum and runs to Mr. Slausen for help. That’s when the murderous secrets of the Lost Oasis are finally revealed. Illusion and reality begin to blend together and Molly has to fight to stay alive and save her friends. But who will survive, and what will be left of their sanity?

Writer and director David Schmoeller’s TOURIST TRAP is a long time personal favorite of mine. It’s an unbelievably creepy combination of the supernatural and slasher sub-genres. It reminds me of a cracked out combination of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “House Of Wax,” and “Phantasm.” First time viewers will no doubt be caught off guard by the many sensational shocks along the way. I purposely left out a lot of the key moments in my review because I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. People with an abnormal fear of mannequins should avoid this flick like the plague. The maniacal mannequins in “Tourist Trap” dementedly laugh and scream at the terrified victims to be and quickly drive them (and the viewer) insane.

The late, great Chuck Connors is simply fantastic as Mr. Slausen. As to be expected, he commands the screen. This time chewing up the scenery as a horrific hybrid of Ed Gein, Norman Bates and Leatherface. The rest of the cast is also surprisingly very good. Jocelyn Jones in particular does a great job as the sympathetic lead who slowly loses her grip on reality. The one and only Tanya Roberts (“Purgatory,” “Charlie’s Angels”) co-stars and her two major talents can be seen defying gravity and boldly stretching the limits of  her tight blue tube top! Everything about this flick is superior, including the spooky score from Pino Donaggo. The body count is relatively low compared to the slashers that would follow in the next few years, but very few low budget horror flicks are as unnerving, or as original and intense as this.

The fine fiends at Koch/Full Moon Releasing were responsible for the 20th Anniversary Edition dvd release of TOURIST TRAP. The film is presented completely uncut and digitally remastered. There’s also a commentary track from director/co-writer David Schmoeller that dishes the dirt about the film’s low budget origins. Add to that the clas-sick original trailer and several trailers for other rad Full Moon releases and you’ve got an essential purchase. Fans of chilling and thrilling late 70′s horror should consider this one a must have. Buy or die! “We’re going to have a party!”

KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!